PARIS -- French designer Eric Bergere, known for his updated Paris chic style, is closing the ready-to-wear business he founded in 1996.Bergere told WWD Thursday the decision was prompted by a steep decline in sales over the last two seasons. Sales in Japan, his main market, had diminished by 75 percent. Last year, Bergere, who employed 10 people, had sales of about $750,000."It's a very difficult decision, but maintaining the business had become sheer suffering," said Bergere, 40. "In the end I was sacrificing my life to my business, and only breaking even. It's time to reevaluate my situation and decide how to move forward."Bergere did not preclude an eventual comeback. "I'm putting my business to sleep for a while. Who knows what the future holds?"Bergere said he has consulted to German accessories firm Goldpfeil, among others, and that he will continue to do so. Before striking out on his own, Bergere had designed freelance for Hermes and Lanvin.He said he is unsure if he will make deliveries of the fall collection he showed on the runway in March. Bergere was sold in about 30 stores around the world, but not in the U.S. He has shuttered the 600-square-foot shop he opened two years ago here on the Right Bank.Bergere is the latest independent designer to fall on hard times. Belgian Olivier Theyskens didn't show a collection in Paris this March due to financial difficulty.Bergere had sold a minority stake in his business to Sarah Guillet-Tenot of France a couple of years ago. He said her financial backing eventually dried up."I don't know how an independent designer can make it today," said Bergere. "Either you sell to a big group or you work for one."""

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