By  on September 15, 2008

PARIS — Although they noted a lack of new trends, retailers were pleased with the broad offerings at the Premiere Classe and Eclat de Mode trade fairs, as well as the upscale quality of collections.

Myriad themes emerged for jewelry from delicate, metal-based styles dusted with semiprecious stones to humorous stories, such as N2’s sweet-tooth candy necklaces strung with fake chocolates, buyers said at the fairs, which ended their four-day runs at the Porte de Versailles here Sept. 7.

For handbags, retailers noted a continued focus on exotic skins and natural leathers in neutral tones.

Premiere Classe registered a 15 percent increase in visitors compared with last year, though entries are also for the Who’s Next salon, which shares the same hall. Figures were boosted by a 16.3 percent increase in French visitors.

“The natural trend is driven by the environmental movement, but I did also pick up on the absolute extreme — accessories with a lot of flash,” said Astrid Chazournes, buying director for Le 66, a 13,000-square-foot store on the Champs-Elysées, where women’s accessories account for around 45 percent of sales.

Among standout items, Chazournes listed gladiator sandals and washed leather bags from Italy’s Vive la Différence, silver-encrusted leather jewelry from U.S. brand Chan Luu and printed silk scarves by France’s Jean-Jacques Rogers.

Phil Luan Grath, owner of PNF, a 1,000-square-foot luxury handbag store in Miami, said, “The exchange rate is horrible for us,” referring to the dollar-euro currency valuation.

Grath said exotic-skin bags are still hot in the high-end market, with classic designs a better investment than fashion-forward product.

“Women want something that’s going to last more than a few seasons,” he said. “I’d love to go for trendy colors like purple, but sober colors like black, chocolate and tan are always going to sell best.”

Visitors praised the level of creativity at Eclat de Mode.

“We discovered some great new methods and new material mixes such as resin and horn,” said Livia Chioccarelli, owner of the jewelry boutique of the same name in Rome.

“We’ve found some great brands, very stylish and affordable,” said Salama Alabbar, a buyer for Symphony in Dubai, praising Otazu’s bold range of bracelets and cuffs in embossed gold.

Meanwhile, Marie Francoise Stouls, director of the beauty department of Le Bon Marché, bemoaned the poor selection of hair accessories.

“We come here for creativity, but the offer is poor this time around,” she lamented, adding business has slowed for the category.

Certain designers said they were starting to feel the pinch, with retailers said to be dragging out payments.

Though business for French jeweler Philippe Audibert grew 40 percent over the past year, with many women looking to jewelry to spice up cheaper outfits, clouds are gathering, according to the brand’s commercial director, Stella Junius.

“Typically we generate around 25 percent of our sales from this salon. This time it looks like it’ll come to around 5 or 6 percent,” she said, noting lower prices are often the first talking point with buyers.

“We’ve been riding a rising star, but I’m not sure if next year will be the same,” said a spokeswoman for Epice, which specializes in India-made printed scarves. “We haven’t been impacted [by the economy] so far as there are few competitors in the luxury scarf category.”

Takashi Mitsui, a commercial agent for a number of Japanese department stores, including Takashimaya, Daimaru and Mitsukoshi, was among several retailers scouting fresh jewelry collections.

“Jewelry works the strongest, as it’s smaller, easy to travel with. What counts for the Japanese market is that it’s made in France,” he said, praising Cécile Boccara’s “fresh” jewelry range, comprising vibrant beaded necklaces and feather designs.

A spokeswoman for the French contemporary fashion chain Et Vous also confirmed jewelry as the store’s best-selling accessories category for the past three seasons.

Lower-price brands cited brisk business. Playful French jewelry brand N2, for example, the secondary line of Les Nereides, had its best fair so far, picking up a round of new distributors, including a possible deal with America’s Hatch, which distributes for the likes of Paul & Joe, Alexander McQueen and Lacoste. E2 and Les Nereides will open their first joint concept store in Paris’ Marais in October.

Paul Diamond, president of Los Angeles-based bag brand Lodis, which presented at the salon for the first time, said the event had opened up contacts in the European and Japanese markets.

Looking to stimulate sales, many brands added new categories. This included a new costume jewelry line for Lollipops and Vive la Différence’s collection of leather sandals that were scattered among its main bag line.

“The idea is to add a new idea each season,” said Francesco Comotti, Vive’s assistant designer.

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