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Innovation Beats Out Malaise at Premiere Classe

At Premiere Classe in Paris, many exhibitors, particularly from the high-end jewelry sector, said they were weathering the economic storm just fine.

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PARIS — The global economic crisis couldn’t help but pervade the recent edition of Premiere Classe at Jardin des Tuileries here, although many exhibitors, particularly from the high-end jewelry sector, said they were weathering the storm just fine.

This story first appeared in the October 27, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Buyers at the show, which ended its four-day run Oct. 6, said they still looked to accessories to fan business, counting on statement pieces to differentiate assortments and stimulate foot traffic in stores.

“Where we really saw innovation was in jewelry, from the delicate to the bold, with unusual mixes of stones and metals,” said Ed Burstell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of jewelry and accessories at Bergdorf Goodman. “We are looking seriously at Isabel Marant and Mawi for jewelry, and Stephane Verdino for bags. Our favorite colors were those that were slightly off from a conventional palette: muted mustard, flesh tones and a blue-green combo.”

Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director at Henri Bendel, said, “We realize that this financial crisis will have an impact on spring, so every buy is strategic and with a Bendel point of view. Tough chic accessories still remain strong in a lot of categories. In particular, we liked belts and jewelry with silver studs, small spikes and chains.”

Maria Kerner, accessories buyer for Moscow department store Tsum, said, “Natural colors are big, as ready-to-wear featured lots of nude tones. I noticed lots of smaller…handbags. There’s definitely a more feminine, ladylike direction for spring.”

Marcia Borg, owner of the 1,100-square-foot upscale fashion store Marcia’s Place in Florida, had increased her budget by 10 percent, spending on hats at Grevi, recycled wood eyewear at I-Wood and bags with ribbon trimming at Maria La Rosa.

“We’re carrying more sure sells and adding just a couple of new labels,” she said.

Buyers thronged around Barbara Rihl’s Italian leather handbags featuring playful, travel-inspired drawings.

“You can still do very good business in the midst of the financial crisis,” said Rihl, adding the brand’s biggest development is the Middle East and the Russian market. Plans include 10 corners in the Middle East, plus a corner at Moscow’s Tsum department store. The line, which retails between 200 and 400 euros, or $270 and $540, also caught the eye of key U.S. department stores.

Several exhibitors voiced concern for 2009, with retailers said to be wielding an iron grip on budgets.

“I expected to be on a level with last season, but we will not make it,” said Vienna hatmaker Klaus Mühlbauer. “Despite improved exchange rates for the yen and dollar, it’s extremely tough, with buyers prioritizing entry lines. I’m concerned for the summer.”

Citing a “brilliant winter season,” with sales from its Vienna flagship representing one third of the brand’s volume, Mühlbauer plans to develop its own store network to strengthen the company’s positioning. The brand has opened a store in Salzburg, Austria, and is next eyeing Berlin and Tokyo.

Doris Pang, commercial director for French bag brand Jerome Dreyfuss, said, “It’s been very quiet. It’s now vital to go and see retailers. I’ll be making trips to the States and Asia over the coming weeks.”

Others claimed business has been strong.

“We’ve never had so much business from this salon, including from American buyers. There’s strong demand for unique pieces,” said jeweler Jacques An Lanh, citing as an example a giant wild Polynesian oyster pendant on a twisted pearl choker. “The more times are hard, the more retailers prefer standout pieces.”

Jewelry exhibitor Helene Zubeldia said, “I was scared that retailers would zone in on the smaller pieces, but expensive, statement pieces have worked really well.”

“We’ve moved our product on a level to a more luxury level and I feel like that market hasn’t been affected,” said Tim Awan, director of high-end British jewelry brand Mawi, adding statement crystal pieces worked best. “We’ve been to New York, London and Milan, which was particularly slow, but this is good. This is the show.”

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