By  on September 22, 2008

PARIS — Like a baby talking its first steps, the premiere edition of the Mode City lingerie fair had its ups and downs.

The three-day event that closed at the Porte de Versailles here on Sept. 8 had been staged in Lyon, France, for 24 years. But over the past several years the marketplace had become increasingly global, especially with trade show producer Eurovet’s entry into Asia with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Mode Lingerie fairs.

As a result, the venue of the long-established Lyon show had become a regional destination that lacked the commercial panache of Paris, which also is the stage for the Salon International de la Lingerie in January.

Despite a growing global credit squeeze, visitor turnout was impressive, with 25,040 buyers, an increase of 24.8 percent compared with a year ago in Lyon. About 60 percent of international attendance reflected a significant spike from Northern Europe and Germany, with the remaining 40 percent made up of French visitors.

In all, attendees arrived from 113 countries, said Marie Laure Bellon-Homps, chief executive officer of Eurovet. Inaugurating the launch of the new Parisian fair, Eurovet hosted a Sunset Party at the Palais Brongniart, the landmark Paris Stock Exchange building.

“We invested a lot in this show and we worked very hard to make it a success, and it’s paid off,” said Bellon-Homps. “There were even a lot of crossover visitors from the ready-to-wear shows next door, like Prêt à Porter and Who’s Next.”

While the presence of American retailers was diminished compared with previous years, primarily because of the strength of the euro against the dollar, there still was a solid contingent of stores that included Dillard’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co., Chico’s and its Soma lingerie division, Lane Bryant, Nordstrom, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret.

However, U.S. retailers were tight-lipped about discussing trends or buying plans. Chuck Nesbit, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Chico’s, said only: “We’re looking for anything trims, laces...anything innovative and new.”

Ensconced in a 70,000-square-foot space spanning four pavilions, Mode City and Interfilière textiles shows each featured some 700 brands, as well as twice-daily runway shows for lingerie and swimwear that highlighted key trends for next summer. Despite efforts by show management to facilitate logistics with information stands, many visitors became disoriented because of the lack of signage, making it difficult to navigate the huge twisting and winding format. In some cases, exhibitors said appointments showed up hours late or not at all because buyers could not locate booths or find exits to enter another pavilion.

The main venue, Pavilion 4, surprised a number of visitors by featuring a first-time mélange of swimwear, beach-related accessories, loungewear, bodywear for yoga, Pilates and dancewear in three areas: Young Fashion focused on beachwear by brands such as Elomi, Banana Moon, Waxx and Lolita Angels; a Designer Labels & Creation section offered a mix of swimwear and at-homewear by brands including Chantal Thomass, Blumarine, Max Mara, Ritratti, Sucrette and Serenissimo, and a venue called Cocooning focused on loungewear and sleepwear labels such as Jane Woolrich, Feraud Paris, Derek Rose, Daniel Hechter Paris, Diamond Tea, Shyla N.Y., Flora Nikrooz and Jonquil.

Visitors had to cross an outdoor walkway blaring with disco music and a display of barefoot surfing (that is, without a board) in an undulating pool to be able to reach the Essentials section in Pavilion 3. The focus there was more swimwear and corsetry from big brands like Chantelle, Cosabella, Kenzo, Simone Perele, Lise Charmel, Empreinte, Maidenform and the sprawling Lycra stand by Invista. The Interfilière continued the winding maze into six venues in which a GPS device would have proved helpful.

Comments from innerwear executives were as mixed as the fair’s format.

Josie Natori, ceo of Natori Co., who was scouting for new fabrics, laces and trims, said, “This is all very confusing. There was swimwear, then loungewear, then prints, then more swimwear, then lingerie, then fabrics and laces. I definitely heard a lot of unhappiness on the part of others, and there was a lot of moaning about how bad business is globally, whether it was a lace manufacturer from Taiwan or an Italian supplier. The Interfilière part was smaller, too, but I found some prints for spring 2010. But I can’t say I saw anything terribly new. I’m glad I didn’t bring my crew.”

Steve Chernoff, president of Rago Inc., said, “This is my 24th show exhibiting with Eurovet, but I’ve had lots of problems with this year’s setup. I only did business because I specifically arranged appointments to tell my customers where to find me at the show. Some people couldn’t find my stand.”

But Mark Kimmelman, vice president of sales for Flora Nikrooz at the Age Group, said he was pleased with the pace of business.

“About 90 percent of our business is done with Arab countries, even though the timing of the show coincides with Ramadan,” Kimmelman said. “I think the business here was being driven by the difficulty for [Arab] customers to get visas to come to the New York shows. Paris is their base.”

Rob Gardner, vice president and general manager of the licensed Donna Karan Intimates and DKNY Underwear at Maidenform Inc., said, “We were busy every day from 8:30 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. A lot of people said the collections looked great, like Donna 10 years ago. We sold to Galeries Lafayette, Harrods, Fenwick andSelfridges in the U.K. and Palmer’s in Austria.”

Sonia Vara, sales director for London-based Myla, said, “We received a lot of interest from clients who placed orders at the show rather than afterward. We also found clientele interest from Russia and the Baltic countries, whereas before it was more Western Europe.”

Aliza Reger, president and designer of British brand Janet Reger, said she opened a “number of new accounts in Australia, Italy, Singapore, France, Germany and the U.S., but I did not really like the new format and my design team who were working in the Interfilière section found it very confusing.”

“I did not like the fact that the lingerie brands were split into two halls and many buyers said they found it very hard to find their way around,” Reger said.

Eurovet’s Bellon-Homps said she was “aware” of the logistical complaints.

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