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Los Angeles trade shows buffet their business against a slowing economy with value-added services and unique offerings.

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Los Angeles — Organizers of Los Angeles trade shows and markets aim to build buzz amid poor economic news.

This story first appeared in the December 5, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Unlike the go-go days of the recent past, when fashion buffs carried seemingly bottomless shopping bags, slumping consumer confidence and tepid retail forecasts have vendors and buyers anxious about what’s to come. But organizers are attempting to lighten the mood and keep business humming by jazzing up events with runway extravaganzas and building on the success of previous efforts such as those to internationalize and green local trade shows.

At the California Market Center, vice president of services Joanna Lee said fashion shows that started at recent markets would continue to be a part of CMC’s market and trade show repertoire in the coming seasons. The fashion shows give buyers a break from trolling trade show booths and a chance to view outfits on live models.

“It is not really to compete with Smashbox, it is more to offer something else to the buyers who shop the market,” said Lee, referring to the Culver City, Calif.-based cosmetic company that hosts L.A. Fashion Week. “All of the shows [at the CMC] did really well. They all had a line to get in.”

During last October’s contemporary and junior market at the CMC, Plastic Island, Maria Bianca Nero and Yana K, which lured singer Kelis to help attract audiences, were among five brands that set up runways at the CMC to showcase their spring collections. The CMC’s patio was the venue used most regularly, although Lee pointed out that alternative locales could be tapped in the future.

“It was really important to me to have the event during L.A. market so all of our buyers could attend,” said Yana K of her fashion show. “It was definitely a challenge balancing the market and the runway show, but it was completely worth it….I had an outstanding venue. The CMC looked amazing. The energy of everyone attending was incredible.”

Lee predicted that the number of fashion shows during next year’s markets would surpass the number held at last October’s market, although she couldn’t confirm exactly how many there would be just yet. “As soon as the shows ended [in October,] we were getting calls from other reps and vendors wanting to show for ’08,” she said.

Buyers will have to adjust their calendars to make sure they’ll catch the action. Dates for the March and October markets have been modified because of shifts in the international market and trade show schedule. Those markets in L.A. are currently slated for March 14 to 18 and Oct. 5 to 7. The unaffected summer fashion market is from Jan. 11 to 15.

“It all stems from Première Vision and their dates,” Lee said. “They bumped up earlier, and I definitely believe L.A. is growing and should be more on the international level. As a result, we are moving our dates earlier.”

In 2007, Designers & Agents began shortening its show in Los Angeles to three days from four. The three-day timetable will be used in 2008 again for D&A, including its first show of the year from Jan. 11 to 13, which is likely to be housed at the New Mart and the adjacent Cooper Building.

Although there was one less day, D&A found that buyer attendance — at 2,250 for the latest October show, compared with 2,492 for the year-ago event — hasn’t changed much. “Our traffic was roughly exactly the same. We were all very pleased,” said Ed Mandelbaum, who produces D&A along with Barbara Kramer.

Despite economic concerns, D&A’s weekly windfall of vendors applying to exhibit their wares hasn’t ebbed. Mandelbaum estimated that anywhere from 25 to 75 vendors request every week to be included in the show. He said that D&A accepts about one out of 20 applicants. “It [the applicant pool] is greater than it has ever been as our reputation has grown,” Mandelbaum said.

In terms of buyers, both D&A and the CMC reported that their reach overseas has expanded. Lee said, for example, that the number of attendees from Europe jumped 32 percent in 2007 over the prior year. Overall, she said there was a 5 percent increase in traffic during the latest October market and a 15 percent hike in the number of new retailers participating.

“L.A. is becoming a destination. We have great resources coming out of here, and it should be a stop,” Lee said. “We are making our presence [known] on the international scene.”

Certainly, the skyrocketing euro has made local goods relatively cheap and encouraged foreign buyers to scour L.A. markets and trade shows for bargains. But the CMC has also been proactive in drawing international contingents to their events. Lee said that she’s been working to secure more international buyers and exhibitors, especially at the Los Angeles International Textile Show from April 14 to 16.

“Definitely, with the dollar being so advantageous to them [international buyers], the amount of orders placed out of the U.S. has been growing,” Mandelbaum said of D&A. “I look at the [business] cards at the shows, and we see people from everywhere.”

Organizers can’t rely on the plummeting dollar alone to snag buyers. The CMC has been beefing up hot categories to keep interest mounting. At Transit, a footwear and accessories show scheduled for Jan. 12 to 14, Lee said that the selection of handbags, belts and other accessories are growing to complement footwear.

In early 2008, the CMC is launching a permanent upscale contemporary space with clothes and accessories called Area 4, on the building’s fourth level. Lee didn’t release the tenants’ names because deals are still being finalized. “Our current contemporary floor is maxed out so there was high demand,” she said.

D&A is pushing forward with a Go Green initiative that it kicked off in 2007. In a program that is continuing from last year, about a dozen exhibitors will be given booths in a space set aside for environmental brands. Also sticking around is the Green Leaf initiative that gives booth signs to brands made up of at least 25 percent eco-friendly components.

“It was super successful,” said Kramer of the Go Green launch last year. “We started it in New York and then it was so good that we moved it to L.A. and then we decided it was a commitment for us.”

Jennifer Bennett, director of sales and marketing at Suki, said the natural skin care brand’s participation in D&A as a green exhibitor exposed Suki to people who might not otherwise have encountered it. She added that the brand is contemplating signing up for a booth at D&A in 2008.

“As the demand for high-end eco-fashion continues to soar and extends to other facets of personal care and pampering, we are finding that more and more boutiques are adding sophisticated luxury skin care to their offering,” said Bennett. “Of course, [we] wanted to be associated with a show that emphasized the integration of luxury and responsibility because that is what we are all about.”

As for the economic jitters that have many vendors and exhibitors on edge, Lee wasn’t worried. She was enthusiastic that business at upcoming trade shows and markets would be on par with, if not better than, those that came before. “I have spoken with a lot of tenants, and they all agree that this past October market leaves us optimistic for 2008,” Lee said.

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