After making and canceling travel reservations five times over the past two years, I was finally able to walk into the exhibition halls of MIDO for the first time in three years, starting on April 30th. MIDO is the largest optical trade exhibition in the world and this year’s trade fair, while slightly smaller than in 2019 due to lockdowns and quarantines in China, was still massive in size and scope.
The exhibition hall for MIDO is Fiera Milano which lies on the northwest outskirts of metro Milan to the northwest the city to the west by a few miles. It is easily accessible by auto, bus, or taxi, but I and many of the visitors to MIDO choose to ride the subway, which is an easy 30-minute commute from central Milan via the Red Line.
Fiera Milano is the largest exhibition center in Europe with 753,000 square meters of space or over 8 million square feet. To give you some comparison, the entire Javits Center, which Vision Expo doesn’t fill, is 814,000 total square feet in size. Even the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, which is home to Vision Expo West, comprises a total footprint of 2,250,000 square feet. Like Vision Expo and the two exhibition centers I spoke of earlier, MIDO does not use all of the pavilion space possible. MIDO this year consisted of five pavilions, instead of the usual seven, but even still, I would venture a guess that MIDO is easily two and a half to three times the size of Vision Expo East. It shows the moment you walk into any of the five pavilions and see the massive size of practically every booth there.
The night before MIDO started, we were able to join in on Made In Italy preview event put on by the Italian Trade Association. Plenty of food and drink combined with just a taste of what would be available over the next three days whetted the appetites of all who came.
This year, MIDO took place starting at Pavilion 13 and consisted of Pavilions, 15, 18, 22, and 24. The walkway from the entrance of the convention center to the last pavilion is over 1 kilometer long. It took a good 15 minutes to walk from the front entrance right off the Rho Fiera subway line to the entrance of the trade show itself. That’s the same 15-minute walk each of us had to make going back every day as well. But the show made the walk worthwhile and of course, the great Italian food we all had for dinner each night needed to be burned off somehow anyway.
Optical exhibitors are not constrained by the pricing of the booth spaces or the union rules in bringing things in or setting up that almost every vendor at Vision Expos complains about. At MIDO you can do almost anything so long as it meets fire and safety codes, and businesses were free to unleash their creativity in so many ways. I love walking the aisles of MIDO. They are as wide as the booths are massive. This wasn’t just a COVID thing, but people love to stop and chat in the aisleways and MIDO gave everyone plenty of opportunities to do so safely.
Italy was under a fairly strict mask mandate when we arrived in Italy. Masks were mandatory on all public transportation and in most indoor public spaces, except for bars and restaurants. However, masks were only worn by about half the visitors and vendors inside MIDO. Most everyone seemed comfortable enough when sitting down to meet with people to do so without masks due to the uncrowded nature of the exhibition halls.
The most crowded space at MIDO was the Lab Academy. Originally set up to highlight new and up-and-coming brands, the Lab Academy is a favorite of many brands who don’t want to spend a fortune on big spaces, but let their eyewear and their people do the talking. So in addition to some wonderful new designers and brands, we were also able to visit with such old favorites as Kirk & Kirk, Francis Klein, and Emmanuelle Khanh. The Lab Academy has a standard setup with a single tall table and shelves to either side for each brand with only the only space to brand being at the back of the booth with a set poster size area. Unlike the blank walls found at Vision Expo or even The Loft, the space had a forest theme with trees in the background and foreground with common area tables that tied everyone together in the space. The Lab Academy is where some of the most unique new designs in eyewear were to be found, this year as in years past.
In Pavilion 13 were several smaller brands and well-known medium-sized companies in the front of the hall. As one moved to the rear, the well-known conglomerates had massive booth spaces. This is where one found De Rigo, Safilo, Marcolin, and Marchon. The biggest optical brand was conspicuously absent there this year. They may have been missed, but I certainly didn’t mind missing their chasing me from their booth despite my press credentials during the last MIDO. Pavilion 15 is where most of the lens companies, equipment companies, and a number of Korean and Chinese companies were this year.
Pavilion 18 across the way, was a bit difficult to get into from the outside. This is one time having so many Italian smokers made things easier, as many doors were blocked open so they could run outside for a smoke. There was a tunnel entrance from Pavilion 22 to Pavilion 18 as in years past, but that meant one had to already be inside Pavilion 22 to get there. Pavilion 22 and 24 were where most of the eyewear companies were displaying this year. Intermingled in were other equipment and case companies which made searching for one specific item to compare a bit more complicated, but perhaps exposed many of those companies to buyers they had never seen previously when housed together in other pavilions.
MIDO is massive and exhausting. It is however well worth the trip to Italy. As magical as any of us might think a Vision Expo might be, I’ve yet to see a Vision Expo that comes even close to the beauty, the breadth, the expanse, and the sheer majesty of MIDO. While Vision Expo East sees around 15,000 visitors on a good year, MIDO this year said that some 22,000 people visited their exhibition in 2022, which is down from years past, but still a mass of humanity all interested in what’s new and exciting in optical. Come and join me in 2023 and see what MIDO is all about. Next year the show is scheduled to take place February 4th -6th in Milan. So dress warm, as all the great cappuccinos in the morning and prosecco in the afternoon will only help so much. For more information, bookmark. MIDO.com