By  on March 24, 2010

PARIS — Exhibitors at the Premiere Classe accessories fair were well prepared for the higher numbers of North American and European buyers, who focused on jewelry and were careful about how much they spent.

Many brands diversified to offer lower price points for budgets that were mostly flat, but added pricier designs to maintain their prestige, said Nathalie Kabiri, owner and buyer of the British jewelry store Kabiri.

“The middle market’s fallen away,” she said.

As an example, Kabiri cited Ahkah, a Japanese jewelry label, which added a yellow gold-plated collection to its lineup that typically consists of diamond-encrusted pieces. Similarly, fine jewelry line Ruby Kobo, which showed at Tranoï, presented its lower-price diffusion line Shashi that was launched for fall 2009.

Jewelry was the fair’s strongest category, particularly necklaces, buyers said.

“Statement necklaces are still important,” said Brooke Jaffe Scott, Bloomingdale’s fashion director for handbags, shoes and fashion accessories.

“There’s lots of delicacy, either tiny, tiny pieces or very big and nothing in between,” Kabiri said. She noted a move away from chrome silver toward yellow gold for fall. Standout proponents of the teeny jewelry trend were French designer Vanessa Tugendhaft and Ahkah. “It’s so delicate, you can feel the integrity,” said Yasmin Sewell, a fashion consultant for Liberty of Ahkah’s tiny diamond-encrusted necklaces. Holt Renfrew, meanwhile, was hunting for long pendants to match the elongated silhouettes seen on the runways.

Shopping for “quintessentially French” accessories lines for a Gallic-themed showcase in September, Opening Ceremony buyer Humberto Leon picked up Guy de Jean’s ruffled umbrellas and tiny beaded portrait brooches by Marianne Batlle. This season, Batlle added the faces of Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo and Yves Saint Laurent to her lineup and had picked up 10 new customers by the second day.

The weak pound continued to dampen spending by British buyers. “I’m not buying much here,” said Julia Aitken of Stanwells designer boutique, based in Hampshire, U.K., who placed orders for “reasonably priced” handmade jewelry by British designer Jacey Withers.

“It’s one euro for a pound, which is a huge challenge,” said Amanda Ware, accessories, lingerie and men’s wear buyer for London department store Fortnum & Mason.

Fall’s fur trend, as seen in fur-trimmed scarves at French designer Léa Clément, posed another challenge.

“English buyers are going to miss out, most are anti[fur],” Aitken said.

“I’m not allowed to do fur,” Ware said.

Not that it is damaging business. Fortnum & Mason’s accessories sales have increased 35 percent year-on-year, with scarves selling particularly well. Ware placed her regular order for knitted and crochet scarves at Sophie Digard and snapped up the Elvis and rock ’n’ roll-themed collection at Charlotte Sparre.

Chunky knitted scarves to swaddle in are key for fall, said Bloomingdale’s Jaffe Scott. “Many runway designers were focusing attention close to the neck, wrapping scarves around a million times but then adding a choker, or there was a collar peeking out.”

Barbara Atkin, vice president and fashion director of Holt Renfrew, said: “We’re seeing the eternity ring scarf, which you wrap around and around.” She noted a trend to natural-looking, undyed fur scarves.

Bags, meanwhile, were getting smaller. “There’s a direction toward long shoulder strap, cross-body bags, whether in beautiful hardwear or very ornate with fringing,” Atkin said.

In gloves, Maison Fabre’s fingerless, shearling styles won praise. “A lot of people with BlackBerrys want this kind of glove,” said Ludivine Grégoire, owner of Ludivine New York. In hats, trapper and Twenties-inspired were the predominant styles.

Seeking unique pieces for a novel concept — an accessories boutique on wheels set to open in the Hamptons in June — Joey Wolffer and Trish Carroll lauded jewelry by London designer Blank and French label Thierry Lasry’s shades.

The four-day fair, which ended on March 8, reported a 24 percent rise in visitors, led by a rebound in retail attendance from North America, which increased 46 percent to 746 buyers, and Europe, including a 45 percent gain in U.K. attendees to 666. Europeans, excluding France, comprised 5,162 visitors. Buyers from Parisian boutiques and department stores were the most numerous at 3,458. A 28 percent rise in Italian retailers, to 1,788, made Italy the second most represented country after France.

The number of buyers from Asia, the second most represented continent, was flat compared with last year at 1,884. There was a 3 percent decline in retailers from Japan to 1,542. Korea doubled its visitors to 102 and China increased its turnout 33 percent to 138.

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