By  on June 21, 2011

BARCELONA — In more ways than one, Bread & Butter took Spain’s fashion-related trade fair sector by storm. As president Karl-Heinz Müller put it, “We have our own way of doing things.” He wasn’t kidding.

A heady fun-fest, B&B Barcelona featured directional product offerings and its signature take on premium denim and streetwear in a rollicking commercial environment that included Ferris wheel rides, a swimming pool, endless supplies of regional grog and epicurean tastings.

“It was a new style of retailing for Spain,” said one major industry leader. “Buyers and retailers were having lots of fun — and doing business at the same time.”

“Too bad Barcelona couldn’t hang on [to the fair],” observed Linda Heras, international expansion director of Roberto Verino, a domestic ready-to-wear label. “It was a real happening — young, trendy, good for the fashion business here and good for Spain. And you got a major fashion statement from the kids in the aisles.”

B&B Barcelona kicked off its first edition in July 2005 with 710 exhibitors, of which only 75 were Spanish brands, including such local heavyweights as Mallorca-based footwear maker Camper, Eighties icon Sybilla’s junior line Jocomomola and Custo Barcelona.

At the time, David Dalmau, Custo co-owner, said, “We don’t normally participate in Spanish fairs but we had to, not so much for sales, but for the contacts. B&B is a strong image show; these German guys have done Barcelona a big favor.”

His brother Custo added, “There are trade shows that have been around for 20 years and nobody has ever heard of them. Bread & Butter is less than five years old and it’s already one of the most important trade fairs in the world.”

Shortly after B&B Barcelona’s debut, the city’s ailing fashion week (with its slew of simultaneous runway shows) was dumped by its sponsor, the regional government, which traditionally subsidized up to 91 percent of the trade event. At the time, in January 2006, it was assumed that B&B Barcelona was the culprit. There was simply no room for a competing fashion fair, sources claimed.

At the same time, Pola Iglesias, director of SIMM, Madrid’s biannual apparel fair, said B&B Barcelona “obviously affects us but it’s not a major threat because jeans and streetwear aren’t our strength.” While confirming that 40 vendors from the Barcelona region had dropped out early on, Iglesias praised both the German fair’s ability to attract foreign buyers and the fashion trends seen in the halls.

“Bread & Butter Barcelona had everything in its favor — Mediterranean climate, a huge product mix, space, good organization and parties all over town. It was phenomenal. Those were golden years,” said Julián Carabaña, sportswear buyer for El Corte Inglés, Spain’s largest department store chain.

“We found trends and the best new brands but it was strictly a contacts show. We didn’t buy anything at the fair — ever. Orders came later and sometimes took up to two years to nail down.”

In its final outing here, in January 2009, Bread & Butter Barcelona trimmed down to 800 brands — a drop of 160 from the previous year. Müller said the cut was intentional to ensure the quality of vendor participation. Attendance totaled 79,942.

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