Byline: Godfrey Deeny, with contributions from Katherine Weisman, Paris; Sara Gay Forden, Milan, and Katy Stanlake, London
PARIS--International fashion retailers hit Paris this week with one key goal in mind: Find something new. And that search is precisely what draws many of them to the Carrousel de la Mode in the Tuileries gardens. This city has always had a slew of small trade shows that flank the big fashion houses' runway extravaganzas. What's different about the Carrousel de la Mode is that it assembles four distinct salons in one center. That means variety. In the Paris sur Mode salon there are contemporary resources such as Nacho Ruiz and Gianluca Gabrielli; in Atmosphere, cutting-edge houses such as Anvers and Kassim Mawji; in Groupe des Halles, specialists such as Le Garage and Joseph Tricot, and at Premiere Classes, modern accessories from milliner Fred Bare, glovemaker Antipast and eyewear maker Alain Mikli. Compared with salons in New York "the Carrousel de la Mode is more well-rounded, with the addition of shoes and accessories all being under one roof," said Bonnie Pressman, Barneys' senior vice president of women's ready-to-wear. "At Premiere Classe, Paris sur Mode and Atmosphere, we are hoping to find new ideas such as the important and detailed extras that fill in the gaps and give life to a boutique," added Caroline Collis, a buyer for Browns in London. "I'm talking about the small people who are very creative and have original ideas, not necessarily students, but those who are just beginning to emerge, who have the backing of a good company and can supply good products," she went on. Said Rosi Biffi, owner of the fashion-forward Biffi boutique on Corso Genova in Milan and a faithful follower of the Carrousel salon, "There's a group of young people that have struck out on their own and they are the freshest of them all, true artists." But Biffi declined to name whom she picks up at the show, insisting they were her secret. "In Italy they had a hard time accepting outsiders. In Paris, they have been able to offer much more, both to the designer and to the buyer," she said. Biffi also raved about the logistics. "The organizational structure is impeccable--it's easy to find where you need to go, to move around," she said. Foreign visitors seemed to like the multinational flavor of the Carrousel de la Mode exhibitors. "We have seen and bought from not only European exhibitors, but also very good British firms who exhibit in Paris, such as Calver & Wilson, who make great accessories," explained Browns' Collis. "We have bought jewelry and knitwear. We look at everything, walking up and down the exhibits for one day and noting down things to go back to in detail on the second day," she said. Katie Jewett, a buyer from Harrods, sees the event more as a way of keeping an eye on the market than a show at which to place orders. "However, if I do see something that catches my eye, it's an ideal place to get a quick appointment and place a small order, which I wouldn't otherwise have been able to do if I had had to go traipsing around to each individual studio in Paris," she explained. "I have bought Indies, a small French collection of separates that was young, fashionable and reasonably priced. And we had a lot of success with Scooter, which had a fantastic suede and mohair collection--very Miou, Miou--with short suede A-line skirts and mohair Empire-like dresses," Jewett added. According to Pressman, Barneys shops the Carrousel for rtw, shoes and accessories. "Our office will preview many of the resources showing at the Carrousel de la Mode, identifying the most important collections and trends," she said. "We have found mostly classification types of merchandise, like knitwear and shirtings, as well as new accessories designers, such as hats and scarves." French retailers talk less about the effectiveness of Carrousel de la Mode, but that's perhaps because so many of the resources are French, and local buyers have access to them all year. Galeries Lafayette's top fashion buyers, for example, have done most of their purchasing prior to the autumn session of Carrousel de la Mode. But they go anyway to make sure they haven't missed anything. "By now, I have already seen any new designers," said Claire Perrin, the designer buyer for Galeries. "But it's good to go [to the Carrousel] to see the fashion all together." Suzanne Lecomte, Galeries' general merchandise manager for shoes and accessories, goes to the second session of Premiere Classe at the Carrousel to catch late-coming but important trends. "Shoe and handbag collections have been finished since last month," Lecomte explained. "Fashion jewelry lines are the ones that can be ready this late." Dominique Linet, Printemps' leather goods and shoe buyer, added that the grouping of fashion and accessories resources in an overall show is a big service, not only for working, but for seeing the trends in both product categories. Linet finds the earlier session of Carrousel more helpful for her buying schedule, but attends the second one to see new resources. While it is a good show for department stores such as Printemps, she feels it might better serve fashion-forward boutiques. "The final client is very targeted," she said. Well-known Parisian boutique owner Maria Louisa loves the fact that Carrousel de la Mode and the big French fashion shows are located in one area. She buys 95 percent of her designer fashion and accessories in showrooms here, and uses the Carrousel to check out the "l'air de temps" and perhaps find a new company. "I'll go this season, because there are a few new names, like Geoffrey B. Small, where I know I will go," said Louisa. On the accessories side, Louisa doesn't rely on Premiere Classe or Carrousel. "I have rarely found interesting things at Premiere Classe," she said. "The first show they had several years ago was wonderful, but now it's too big and too mundane." Pupi Solari, owner of the well-known Milan boutique of the same name on Piazza Tommaseo, has a different approach. She stopped going to Paris altogether several years ago. "It's as though I've become the matriarch of the Italians," Solari said, laughing. "I've become very family-oriented and conservative--and that has kept me from making new discoveries abroad."
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