Premiere Classe Accessories Show Sees Fewer Buyers

Foreign visitors to the Premiere Classe accessories show in Paris drops 15 percent this year, while hats and scarves emerge as major trends.

PARIS — Mirroring declines at trade fairs across Europe, foreign visitors to the Premiere Classe accessories show at the Tuileries Gardens here dropped 15 percent compared with last year, and total visitor numbers fell 7 percent.

This story first appeared in the March 16, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

U.S. visitors to the show, which ran concurrent with the Paris runway collections and ended on March 9, dropped by almost a quarter. Retailers from Japan, though the strongest international showing with 1,600 visitors, decreased 18 percent from last year. Attendance by U.K. buyers, hard hit by the weaker pound, declined 28 percent.

Amid the economic downturn, retailers at the show looked to hats and scarves as key pieces to brighten up their offer.

“Hats are making a comeback in a quirky way,” said Ann Comerford, group buyer for Dublin’s Brown Thomas department store.

One-off creations at French hat maker Benoit Missolin were popular with retailers such as London’s Liberty and On Pedder in Hong Kong, including styles like headbands adorned with flowers or with blooms made from woven fabric from Uzbekistan. Prices ranged from 80 to 116 euros, or $102 to $149 at current exchange.

“Contemporary millinery is really strong in the U.K.,” said Selfridges buyer Sarah Strong, who was disappointed by the selection at the show.

Strong predicted Forties styles and felt fabrics would be among strong fall-winter trends. “We will try to bring that to Selfridges in a cool way,” she said.

Scarves are a key recessionary item for the way they dress up a look, retailers said.

“If you’re watching your budget, you can put on a scarf and feel like you’ve got a whole new look,” said Lilli Hamrah, co-owner of the 10,000-square-foot boutique Hamrah’s in Cresskill, N.J., whose budget was down 10 percent.

Although business was slower than usual at Epice scarves, sales manager Virginie Tasser said the brand’s printed wool collection for women featuring early 20th century circus iconography for 50 euros, or $64, at wholesale, was a hit.

“They’ve gone away from somber black,” said Hellen Tanchel, director of specialty store That’s It in Johannesburg.

Wendy Foster, owner of a four-store clothing and accessories chain of the same name in Santa Barbara, Calif., said ethnic-inspired scarves from the Himalayan Cashmere Co. were on her shopping list.

In handbags, Brown Thomas’ Comerford predicted a return to “a more grown-up look,” including square bags on chains and suede styles, plus Gothic studded bags.

“Our customers are looking for craftsmanship and something from Europe, not China,” said Hamrah, who purchased bags from Italian brand Majo, which also picked up new accounts at Neiman Marcus and Galeries Lafayette.

Designs in black, bottle green and sage green were popular, sales manager Carla Coppari said. Coiled and hand-stitched bags in washed leather wholesaled for 130 to 190 euros, or $167 to $243.

In jewelry, understated items with a twist were key sellers, such as Monegasque brand Miss Bibi’s quirky collection of gold plated and silver jewelry featuring miniaturized everyday objects like corkscrews and shoes. The brand’s best-selling shoe ring wholesales for 36 euros, or $46.