By  on July 2, 2009

PARIS — As the Paris runway shows ushered a trend toward pared-down elegance for men, boutique trade shows here presented a return to relaxed, casual styles equally in tune with recessionary times.

Among the trends at the shows — which ended their three-day runs here Sunday — was the comeback of classic sportswear and a marked preference among buyers for brands that focus on producing specialty, or heritage items of high quality, be it shirts, jeans or bags.

“Buyers liked the pared-down look, because this is not the time to go crazy,” said Deirdre Maloney, a spokeswoman for the Capsule trade show.

As well as Capsule, men’s wear collections were shown at Tranoi, Rendez-Vous and Under the Louvre.

Echoing reduced budgets for runway collections, retailers at the trade fairs said they were spending carefully, either on fewer labels or brands with strong propositions.

U.S. shirtmaker Gitman Bros. was lauded by several buyers for capturing the prevailing mood with washed oxford and colorful chambrays, which the company culled from late Seventies and early Eighties archives.

S.N.S. Herning, a Danish knitwear specialist that dates back to 1931, was another favorite, thanks to its minimalist, high-quality merino knits based on archival patterns.

“Fashion isn’t about expensive or luxurious stuff anymore. It’s about originality,” said Rasmus Storm of the Copenhagen concept store Storm. “S.N.S. Herning is a good example of originality. I think it’s a cool story because they only do what they do well.”

Japanese label Haversack managed to capture the country gentleman-artist look that was also the highlight of the Hermès show, and the buzz at the trade shows was that it’s set to gain from this coincidental association.

Maloney said while retailers are cutting budgets and are buying selectively, some brands are still selling strongly, regardless of the economy. “Buyers’ orders are not as aggressive as in seasons past, but as soon as a brand is successful with customers, they immediately reorder,” she said.

It’s a view shared by Lanita Layton, vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s wear and men’s footwear at Holt Renfrew. “Overall, we are planning cautiously,” she said.

Layton said she found the trade fairs in Paris to be a great opportunity to find new and emerging talent, saying “budgets are developed as such, with exclusivity and unique products in mind.”

Storm admitted he “didn’t buy too much” at the trade shows. He has cut his budget by 30 percent compared with last year and is now buying less, with a preference for smaller brands. He has now divided his budget into three parts: designer labels, cutting-edge brands and impulse purchases.

“If I see something really cool during the season, I buy it,” Storm said, mentioning he recently placed an order for T-shirts he spotted on a blog. “That’s the way forward because you never know what will happen in six months. You need to be very flexible.”

But the economic downturn isn’t only downsizing buyers’ budgets. Travel budgets have also been streamlined, affecting the number of buyers attending trade shows, vendors complained. “Everyone is traveling a lot less,” said Jimmy Collins, who represents British-based brand YMC.

Conscious of dwindling attendance, trade show Rendez-Vous has launched a Web site where buyers can place repeat orders or discover new brands before traveling to shows. According to the organizers, the site — lenewblack.com — has been a hit with Australian-based retailers.

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