By  on February 22, 2008

DUSSELDORF — The German women's wear market is trading up again, but this time it's more a matter of taste than price as the premium or bridge segment expands its reach.

A move toward less flashy looks in more sophisticated fabrics and silhouettes from previously midmarket vendors was in evidence here during the CPD trade fair Feb. 10 to 12. Emozioni was a perfect case in point. Now owned by the Miro Radici Group, the former Steilmann subsidiary has been repositioned at the upper end of the Nienhaus & Lotz division. About 90 percent of the fabrics used are Italian, with the emphasis on virgin wool, cashmere-wool blends and silk. The buttons are made of horn, the palette richly neutral, the shapes updated and clean but detailed with a contemporary kick.

Looks like a white cotton blouse, long tunic sweater and mohair-wool skirt; a tailored, high-waisted wool dress with a curly bouclé bodice; a short, boxy, square-necked wool coat, or a boyishly trim pantsuit worn with a high, wing-collared satin striped shirt are geared toward professional women who don't want a uniform and have their own style, noted company executives.

"There's definitely a new segment in the German market that values more high-quality apparel. The Geiz ist Geil ['stinginess is cool'] days are over, and there's a clientele that's taking pleasure in fashion again," commented Josef Kämmerer, director of Nienhaus & Lotz. On the retail end, he added, there's a readiness to experiment a bit with new and higher-quality ranges.

The newly positioned range is now in its second season. "We're not after huge turnover with Emozioni, but to develop a quality line with its own identity. And we've been very surprised at just how good the reaction has been, especially as we haven't put millions in advertising," Kämmerer said. "The more mass-oriented end is pretty well saturated. Not much new is coming from there, but we believe there's a good opportunity at this level."

"I don't know if a taste revolution is taking place in Germany," said Oliver Berger, German sales manager for the German bridge collection Luisa Cerrano. "But the bridge or the premium segment, as it's called here in Germany, has been growing 12 percent on average, while the classic segment is declining. Retailers used to want to buy more carefully, but they see they can make more money with fashion than basics. The trust in fashion has come back, and that's where the growth is."Like most German brands, export is of prime importance, and Luisa Cerrano generates 70 percent of its sales abroad, including the U.S., where it's carried in 17 Neiman Marcus doors. The hot looks tend to be the same in all markets, according to Claudia Schild, vice president of international sales, who noted, "The key word for next season is individuality, with mixed pieces in colors and interesting fabrics and combinations. That's how they've been buying it."

Both Luisa Cerrano and Emozioni presented their collections in sleek new showrooms off the fairgrounds. The fair itself drew about 33,500 visitors to its men's, women's, intimate apparel and global sourcing platforms. CPD, the women's event, featured 1,415 collections, split into a variety of smaller, specialized segments.

Targeting the 35-plus crowd, the Dutch label Bandolera is an anchor of the New Womenswear area. "The market has gotten more fashion-advanced and the trend is more single-item oriented," said Ralf Schmitz, the brand's German sales manager. "We still need a bit of decoration and detail, but it's not so bling-bling as in the last two years."

Bandolera's sales have been booming in Germany, and the company is projecting a 25 percent gain for the fall season. Schmitz said the fair was "surprisingly good Sunday. If you look at Hall 11, there aren't so many of our competitors around, so we didn't know if [buyers] would come. Plus the date was late. We began selling Jan. 20. But things got going at 8:45, which is really unusual."

The traditional Carnival pushed the Düsseldorf shows back this season, but despite — or perhaps because of — the late timing this season, exhibitors reported stepped-up ordering activity. In the new contemporary Concept 11 fashion area, which featured some 20 vendors, Derk Breyer, sales manager for the Munich-based Ana Alcazar collection, said, "There weren't many customers, but the quality was good. And what was unusual is that we wrote fall well." However, he also said there was a continued need for summer dresses. "Our clients tell us that while winter used to be the main season, it's now shifted to summer."

One Düsseldorf debut that didn't function was WEARe, the Igedo Co.'s new "trade fair for contemporary fashion culture." The show drew 874 visitors during its stretch from Feb. 8 to 10 in a new hall on the fairgrounds. "The first days were nix," said Barbara Gebhardt, owner of the appropriately named Berlin label Nix. "We thought the shows were parallel. Small multilabel stores can't spend five days at a fair, and they certainly won't come [to Düsseldorf] twice. Plus I personally find it a bit thin when it comes to the assortment."All, however, wasn't lost. "I come to Düsseldorf because all my customers are here, so I used this as my showroom and had appointments for Sunday. But the rest was wasted time, especially in terms of reaching new clients."

The next round of Igedo Fashion Fairs (CPD, HMD, Body Look and Global Fashion) will be held July 27 to 29, though no decision has been made regarding a second edition of WEARe.

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