By  on March 21, 2011

PARIS — A dip in visitors failed to dampen spirits at the recent edition of the Premiere Classe accessories trade show here, with exhibitors content with the quality of buyers attending the show.

The four-day event, which ended March 7, saw attendance figures slide 17 percent from a year earlier to 11,524 visitors. International visitors, who represented 60 percent of attendance, were down 15 percent, while French visitors decreased 19 percent.

Expressing surprise at the fall in numbers, a spokeswoman for the show said she believes more buyers had opted to attend the first round of Premiere Classe in January, which was buzzing. Wielding budgets up by as much as 20 percent, buyers were looking for standout pieces to distinguish their offer from the competition.

The trend focus was on natural materials. Mirroring the European runways, fur was everywhere, from scarves to pom-poms on hats and trims on bags. The natural theme carried over to jewelry, with brass and tarnished tones key.

Gail Rothwell, owner of a namesake boutique in East Hampton, N.Y., bemoaned the lack of novelty at the show.

“I felt the designers had not moved on,” Rothwell said. “I have found great things at Premiere Classe before, but I cannot keep repeating in my store. We need more energy.”

Others disagreed.

“This fair is incredible,” said Christine Barro, managing director of Christine’s Accessories in Melbourne, Australia. “There’s an explosion of jewelry.”

Barro highlighted chunky items from U.K.-based ST Erasmus as a standout among the 450 brands on show. ST Erasmus, distributed in 70 doors, including Franck & Fils, Harrods and Henri Bendel, has seen a lot of attention since First Lady Michelle Obama was photographed wearing one of its statement necklaces. The brand picked up an order from Harvey Nichols Hong Kong on the first day of the show, founder and designer Pieter Erasmus said. The company’s trademark is using bronze-colored metallic thread to encase acrylic stones and pearls, shaping them into flowers.

London-based jeweler Adornithology by Jacey Withers, whose clients include Anthropologie and Maria Luisa in Hong Kong, featured a collection of tarnished silver and gold pieces in animal forms including owls and mice.

“Paul Smith, which stocks the brand in the U.K., will soon be taking it to America,” Withers said.

Asos.com also picked up the brand at the show. Best-selling pieces included a mouse ring and double-skull necklace, priced at 62 pounds and 145 pounds, respectively, or about $100 and $235.

“I loved William Sharp’s cashmere throws with baby Swarovski crystals, and matching hats and gloves,” said Diane Firston, owner of three boutiques of the same name in Nantucket, Mass., Palm Beach, Fla. and Cincinnati.

Lin Art Project’s line of graphic sequined and embroidered scarves and cashmere tops stood out as an exception to the natural theme. Retailers, including Joyce in Hong Kong, picked up the collection, according to designer Caroline Beeser. Its top-selling camouflage scarf wholesales for 198 pounds, or $275 at current exchange, while a cashmere jumper with an embroidered motif, one of Joyce’s choices, sells for 179 euros, or $249.

In order to encourage young designers, Premiere Classe unveiled an online competition, where designers publish their portfolio online, and are voted on by a jury of Premiere Classe executives, a buyer, a journalist and a blogger. Fifteen runners-up in three categories will be given a free stand at the show’s September edition, and three winners will be offered a second showing in January.

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