By  on July 29, 2008

MADRID — Earlier dates and a sharp decline in consumer confidence in Spain — reportedly at its lowest level since 2004 — were blamed for a poor showing at the biannual apparel fair SIMM here. Overall attendance at the exhibition fell 60 percent to 6,598 visitors, according to official figures, while overseas attendance also declined sharply to 973 from 2,010. Exhibitor participation at SIMM, which ran July 17 to 19, dropped almost 30 percent, to 571 from 811, over last September’s spring-summer edition. Oscar Vargas, managing director of Fuentecapala, an upscale manufacturer of traditional women’s and men’s apparel, said, “Domestic consumption is at a standstill and trade fairs are a reflection of what’s happening in the country.” For the first time in SIMM’s 30-year history, show dates were moved up from early September to July, but the resulting soft traffic is “not just about dates,” he maintained. “A lot of Spanish retailers didn’t come because of the economic crisis. There is a general uneasiness in today’s market. Companies that aren’t where they should be are facing a bad moment and chances are they won’t survive.” The Madrid-based producer, with about 50 U.S. accounts, is planning to roll out a third store in Russia in three months’ time, he confirmed. “Our retail projects — including the recent launch of two locations in China — are going well.” Key items in the women’s division were tailored separates in cotton blends like an elongated vest with zipper trim over straight pants, full-skirted Sixties-style dresses and oversize floral prints for dressier silhouettes. “The Madrid show is always the same; it doesn’t make a strong fashion statement. There is no merchandise here that makes a difference. I would like to see more local designers participate,” said Evina Papanicolaou, head buyer for Tsantilis, an Athens-based company that operates a chain of nine multibrand stores in the Greek capital and neighboring suburbs. In addition, Tsantilis has inked licensing deals with Barcelona jeweler Tous and Spanish ready-to-wear designer Roberto Verino. “Because of the early dates, fabrics are missing and most of the factories aren’t ready. It’s just not a convenient time for them because everyone is on vacation,” she added. Papanicolaou said she bought what she usually buys at the Spanish show — dresses and evening looks for a mature customer. “We dress from 25-year-olds upward, but that’s not what we buy here.” The fair’s product offering featured classic midmarket brands and eclectic party clothes; laid-back summer dresses and separates; lots of vibrant swimwear, especially from Brazil, the fair’s guest country, and novelty knits with complex, generally lightweight yarns and spaced-out stitching. Colors ranged from white and muted pale shades to bold mixes of pastel and acid tones such as pink and berry shades with neon green. Pola Iglesias, SIMM director, defended the earlier dates, which were the exhibitors’ idea in the first place, she said.The timing coincides with Spain’s traditional summer sales “so retailers have been selling and they are more optimistic,” she reasoned. As for the crisis, “Obviously established brands will suffer less.” On the other hand, “The dates are definitely too early for the domestic market but for manufacturers like us that focus on international business, the sooner the better,” said Juan Rodriguez, commercial director of Dikton’s, a high-end knitwear manufacturer. The weak dollar, or what one vendor dubbed “a terrible theme,” is forcing manufacturers to energize design strategies, exhibitors confirmed. “The dollar and global economy are against us so the only way to survive is to offer really distinctive items; basics aren’t good enough,” said Dikton’s Rodriguez. The Barcelona-based producer’s summer line features woven fabrics with knit trim and a new twisted viscose yarn crafted into a full product line of short and long dresses, sweater variations, cover-ups and scarves.Wholesale prices for the range average $64 to $127 at current exchange. “I love these dates, but I see less and less foreigners,” commented Yolanda Moreno, women’s product manager of Mirto. “Domestic buyers are not animated and Spain is economically turbulent.Both factors are affecting the apparel industry very negatively.” The Madrid-based shirtmaker’s women’s collection featured less rigid fabrications and masculine silhouettes with stripes and coordinated micro-striped cuffs and collars; paisley prints in cotton voile; a signature white grouping in cotton poplin-linen, and tunic styles to go with belts and stovepipe pants. Moreno said Mirto’s prices in the U.S. (which average $140 at retail) are about 5 percent higher with reduced margins to move the merchandise “but we’re doing well there.” Not everyone had negative views about the Spanish fair. American-born designer Diane Freis said she opened 10 to 15 new accounts from domestic retailers. “We’re doing very well with the range.” Her eponymous label featured glitzy fiesta wear with colorful pattern mixes and sparkle at wholesale prices of around $175. Headquartered in Hong Kong, Freis was popular in the Eighties with her one-size-fits-all polyester print dresses.Currently, the label is manufactured in China with distribution networks in the U.S. and Canada and franchised stores in Cairo and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, she said. Andrea Butler, a two-unit retailer on Spain’s Costa del Sol, said she sells “hundreds” of Freis’ dresses to resident foreigners and tourists.

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