By  on February 2, 2009

PARIS — The Salon International de la Lingerie was hit by a drop in international retailers, and several regular exhibitors withdrew, putting a damper on a show that had pockets of action.

Attendance declined 22 percent, and officials at Eurovet, the organizer of the four-day fair that closed Jan. 21 at Porte de Versailles, said many stores had reduced buying teams or skipped the event.

“Our budget is really tight this season, so we decided not to attend the salon, which we primarily go to for new brands,” said Charlotte Greenhalgh, an intimate apparel buyer for London’s Harvey Nichols, who did not attend. “We didn’t want to use any of our travel budget on the event.”

Among the regular exhibitors absent from the show were: Calvin Klein Underwear, Princesse Tam Tam, Eres, Chantal Thomass and Invista, which has a long history with the salon, notably with its Lycra brand. It was the first time Lycra did not have a stand since the fair’s inception more than 20 years ago.

“We considered it more important to invest in communicating directly with our clients, though all of our team was on the ground at the salon,” said an Invista spokeswoman.

Complaints aired by exhibitors included the event’s earlier slot, falling two weeks before the city’s key accessories and ready-to-wear shows, such as Who’s Next and Premiere Classe, as well as the addition of a fourth day that flopped, many exhibitors said.

“I’ve been showing here for 20 years and I’ve never seen it so quiet,” said a spokeswoman for the French men’s underwear brand l’Homme Invisible.

“It’s quiet. Business is terrible in England,” said Louise May, owner of the British lingerie Web site Under the Top, who, with a slashed budget, said she was on the hunt for burlesque-inspired corsetry to target a growing niche sector.

Regarding trends, there was a return to the Eighties and a focus on the body, crossing various segments from classic to contemporary fashion brands, and techno shapewear.

Key colors included raspberry, purple and prune, as well as black and gray.

“In the past, it’s all been about molding and bonding,” said Kate Hipkin, owner of Kreate Design Services, a specialist in seamless technology that counts British supermarket chain Tesco among its clients. “Today, there are lots of possibilities for flat seaming. People are adopting new ways of working with it. We’ve been developing a lot of no-sew designs for the men’s innerwear market. Comfort is more and more important.”

Demand for “invisible shapewear” — seam-free control undergarments — continues to be strong and is generating “excellent business,” said a spokeswoman for innerwear giant Wacoal Japan and Wacoal America.

“When we first arrived in France in 1982, shapewear was considered frumpy; it’s evolved enormously,” she said, citing among the bestsellers a sleek black vintage-style techno corset with a new flat stitching technique designed to compress specific areas of the body. “Women are after the benefits of plastic surgery without going under the knife.”

Florence Guette, director of lingerie for Printemps, observed fewer reference brands at the salon, along with a dearth of newcomers. “There was nothing really innovative in the [young designer] Spicy Garden,” she said, adding that Diesel was the only brand that managed to pull off a fun stand and animations. She singled out a return to white as a key trend, especially in eco-friendly fabrics, large-cut panties and “cocooning” loungewear. The triangle bra strap, which was introduced last season, also continues to be strong, she said.

Most retailers acknowledged average budget cuts of 20 percent and voiced concern about second-quarter business.

To offset the apprehension, several brands extended their price offerings. For example, close to one-quarter of Chantelle’s offerings were positioned below the 50 euro price range, or about $70 at current exchange.

“Everybody is asking for more affordable lines,” said Emmanuelle Voisin, brand director of Chantelle. “Our aim is to develop big-volume products each season that will be maintained as reference products. It’s a year of back-to-basics.”

However, Voisin pointed out that maintaining Chantelle’s luxury positioning is vital, especially in a market driven by promotions and discounts.

“There’s nothing we can do about that,” Voisin said. “We can introduce certain offers, but we have to keep our positioning as a high-end brand. The brand is our biggest asset.”

Gaita Mello, fashion director of Scala, a Brazilian lingerie chain that operates 63 stores, said, “Business will suffer in the second semester. We’re looking for less expensive, but good quality lines.”

Trends she picked up on included a return to soft, wireless bras and matching sets.

Japanese distributor Yuki Tsuji of Paris International Ltd., who cut his budget by 20 percent, said he was prioritizing entry-level lines.

“We’re after retro styles, which work well in Japan,” he said.

Chereen Dethian, co-owner of Decadence, a 900-square-foot lingerie and swimwear store in Johannesburg, said its luxury business has not been affected by the recession and her budget was increased by 20 percent. Dethian noted a prevalence of pretty, romantic styles. She lauded After Eden’s luxurious lingerie and Mary Mehlhorn’s swimwear.

Nicolas Forcher, export manager for Banana Moon, said the brand’s export business in 2008 jumped 35 percent, doubling its volume in Spain, one of Europe’s most troubled markets. Counting 51 franchise openings in 2008, the brand has signed 12 franchise deals for 2009, as well as a master franchising pact with a partner in India.

“We’ve been surprised by the number of people approaching us to open stores at the salon,” Forcher said. “I think people are seeking independence.”

He added that Banana Moon’s nightwear and at-homewear segment is growing each season, making up almost half of the collection.

Angelique De Rond, chief sales officer for Marlies Dekkers, said the fair was the brand’s best yet.

“After 15 years of hard work, we’re starting to pick the fruits of our efforts,” she said.

De Rond attributed the success partly to Marlies Dekkers’ rapid-fire collection cycles, with seven deliveries a year. In 2010, the firm plans to add more deliveries.

“We are aiming at introducing a new line monthly for 2010,” said De Rond, adding that the recession has made the company team vet clients, shedding those who pose a liability regarding payments. “You can sell as much as you want, but you have to get the money in. We don’t want to be a bank for our customers. There will definitely be a shakeout. The weaker retailers will fall down, but a crisis also opens opportunities for others.”

Lisa King, general manager of first-time exhibitor B Boy, a fledgling men’s innerwear and swimwear brand, said, “It’s difficult to gauge how well things are going as nobody’s placing orders. It’ll be a question of chasing up retailers to see if they put their money where their mouth is.”

The label specializes in flamboyant, body-contouring designs conceived with Eighties design icon, Bodymap’s Stevie Stewart.

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