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Accessories Are Standouts at Premiere Classe

With a cost-conscious consumer in mind, retailers flocked to the Paris-based tradeshow to add versatile accessories to their stock.

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PARIS — Accessories are having their moment if the recent Premiere Classe show here is anything to go by.

This was evident in the breadth of eye-popping collections on display and loud footfalls at the exhibition, where visitor numbers rose 47 percent to 15,394 compared with March 2011, when the show saw a 17 percent drop in entries.

Premiere Classe was among a slew of trade shows held during Paris Fashion Week, between March 2 and 5.

Retailers said they were increasing accessory inventories to cater to price-sensitive consumers looking for fashion statements that offer big bang for the buck. Premiere Classe added 28 brands, and some apparel designers introduced new accessory collections.

“People are investing in accessories because you can change the clothes you already have with an accessory that’s more affordable,” said Joey Wolffer, founder of Style Liner, a U.S.-based traveling boutique that operates out of a converted potato chip delivery truck.

Mawi Keivom, founder of the British costume jewelry label Mawi, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, said that she expects to double orders this season. The brand presented an anniversary collection with updated versions of the house’s best-selling lines.

“We came to the show expecting a tough season, but it’s been amazing,” Keivom said, adding that the line’s panther-theme pieces were particularly popular.

Glove designer Cornelia James also “had a great show,” thanks in large part to her vintage extra-short lace glove collection. She said the shorter glove length was a growing trend. Even the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, which specializes in 19th- and 20th-century art, placed an order in preparation for its exhibit about Impressionism.

Italian ceramics accessories brand Cor Sine Labe Doli launched a women’s collection that includes a chain necklace with a ceramic leaf pendant, a ceramic bow-tie bracelet and a ceramic evening clutch.

Buyers were looking for flashes of color and sparkle to complement classic apparel trends. The harness jewelry piece, for instance, was popular for its adaptability — it can be worn either as a necklace or a belt, and has a transformative effect on basics.

“It’s all about adding luxury, adornment. Fashion is saying that women no longer have to be shy,” said Stefan Bartlett, managing director of the London hatmaker Philip Treacy.

Casual accessories were also performing. The Italian hat designer Silvana Grevi focused on supple knits, velvets and felts that could be “carried in your back pocket, so that you keep it with you always.”

Scarves were a hot solution to unruly weather, with stands consistently busy at almost every trade show.

“Our scarf category is on fire. We can’t keep our scarves in stock,” said Julie Satinsky, an Anthropologie buyer for the U.S. She was, “going for light scarves and away from the chunkies,” due to 2011’s warm winter, which was also a “key” factor in a “mediocre” year. “We’re more mindful about flexing some of the lighter weights as part of a larger assortment,” she added. Otherwise her budget hadn’t changed, and she believes “2012 will be stronger.”

Also on Satinsky’s wish list were “handmade, unique products with lots of texture and detail, shimmer and mixed yarns with unique color combinations” as well as hats. “The hats have been the best,” said Satinsky, referring to the color-infused Premiere Classe selection.

Other trends included subtle embellishments with color, ethnic and leopard patterns, a no- rules approach to texture and fabric variety, plenty of leather and furs and explorations of jewelry constructed to evoke woven fabric.

Despite the hunt for bold accessories, buyers said they were mostly sticking with traditional brands to please traditional customers. Asian stores, with Japan at the helm, were the exception.

Nevertheless, Athanasio Kontos, manager of the French jeweler Aris Geldis, signed with as many as 45 new clients at Premiere Classe, he said. The expanding label said that Japanese buyers were tripling orders and that “Americans are back.”

Exhibitors said they were keeping prices as low as possible, despite rising raw material costs, and were forced to take additional financial risks as a result. However, more expensive investment pieces sold well.

“Surprisingly, it’s the more expensive pieces that do better. Sometimes it’s the midrange that struggles,” said Karen Henriksen, designer of her own hat label. Henriksen said that increasing raw material costs combined with buyer caution posed a “real challenge.”

Her solutions included using less expensive materials for more elegant hats, balanced with less labor-intensive, simplified models produced with higher-end materials.

She said 2011 was a period of slower growth, but she remained “quite optimistic we’ll get back on track.”

Overall, buyers said budgets hadn’t changed much from 2011, with the exception of buyers from Italian stores, who cited budget cuts of as much as 20 percent, while buyers from some Asian retailers said they were increasing their spending.

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