BERLIN — This city is hot, and not just because the temperature has been hitting 90 degrees in the shade this summer.
With the second edition of the Bread & Butter and Premium Sportswear Couture fairs, Berlin positioned itself as the German jeans and streetwear fashion capital. Trends at the show ranged widely, with vendors running across the fashion board in an effort to keep consumers enthused about the category.
From a fashion point of view, the trends on view for spring 2004 amounted to a free-for-all.
“There’s such incredible variety at the moment,” said Annette Dell, sales manager for Replay. “You’ve got all silhouettes: knickers, slim cuts, wide cuts, baggies, cigarettes, low five-pockets. And as for fabric, I can only say there’s a move to lighter weights and lighter colors. Bleached painted finishes look strong, and so does poplin…Being comfortable is more important than ever, but it has to be sexy at the same time. That means you’ll see softly draping fabrics and more feminine colors.”
Seradr Mazmanoglu, a sales executive for Mavi, which showed at Bread & Butter for the first time, said spring 2004 “seems to be a transitional season.”
“We still think washes will remain important, though the look is getting cleaner, with less moustache effects,” he said. “But there’s no one huge trend; there’s a bit of everything.”
He predicted Mavi’s top sellers for summer would be thin, lighter-weight denims — nine ounces or less — plain and washed poplin and, “as always, low cut, though not as extreme, with flares and some boot cuts.”
“The trend is to go back to the straight leg, but the trend is one thing. What you sell is another,” said Tatjana Verginella, export manager for Guess (Europe). “Italy is one step ahead, and there the trend is very much to straight legs and higher waists, as well as jodhpurs. But that hasn’t hit Germany, Spain or France yet.”
In those markets, she continued, the demand is for low rises, boot cuts and flares.
“It’s not trendy, but it’s what’s still selling,” she said. “Germany is the biggest importer of denim all over Europe, and they do mostly basic.”The two shows ran concurrently July 18-20. Bread & Butter attracted 18,000 trade visitors, up from 15,000 at its January premiere, and 300 jeans and streetwear labels on the grounds and in the halls of the old Siemens cableworks on the outskirts of Berlin Spandau. In the tunnels beneath Potsdamer Platz in central Berlin, about 5,500 buyers showed up for the Premium Sportswear Couture show, where they viewed about 130 high-end jeans and sportswear brands. About 2,000 buyers had made that show’s previous edition.
At Premium Sportswear Couture, exhibitor Reinhard Hasse said, “Nobody really knows where it’s going stylewise, though I still trust jeans.”
Haase is a retailer who also serves as director of the United Fashion Agency, which in Germany represents lines including Juicy Couture, Seven for All Mankind, Joie, Goa and Great China Wall.
“Everybody says the look’s getting cleaner, but Great China Wall is selling like hotcakes in our shop, and they’re not clean,” he said. His shop, Jades, is located in Düsseldorf.
At Closed, which also participated at Premium Sportswear Couture, German sales associate Dirk Dreimann said the prevailing look “remains very sporty and casual and, above all, uncomplicated. Denim and cargos continue, but there’s also a lot of color, with pastels an important theme. Embroidery and special detailing, such as colorful linings you can’t see, are popular, and there’s a strong feel for natural fibers and linen looks on one hand and more high-tech viscose [rayon] and nylon stretch on the other.”
Business conditions in Germany remain very difficult, but that didn’t dampen spirits in Berlin.
“I love my business at the moment,” declared Heiner Sefranek, chief executive of the German jeans company Mustang. “You have better opportunities to increase market share in a crisis, as [retailers] are listening much more. If they’re doing well, there’s no reason to change and you don’t have a chance.
“We all suffer in that the market is losing its traditional jeans retailers. That is, retailers that didn’t invest in time or are too old in terms of their orientation,” he continued. “But we get more and more modern customers which accept the challenge.”He said Mustang aims to be a “vertical jeans brand” and despite German retail weaknesses, the brand’s 50 stores in France, Switzerland and Germany “help a lot.”
“We’re also starting with 15 shop-in-shops and next year will open between 50 and 100 spaces,” he said.
To further lighten the mood, the Bread & Butter team set up an amusement park in front of the exhibition halls, with a swinging-chain carousel, bumper cars and a Berlin souvenir stand plus sandy, fake beach areas with picnic tables, catering, sofas, banquettes and even beds to lounge on. There were also outdoor exhibitor stands, such as that of Mudd.
“The market is not easy at present, but in relation to the bad economic and retail situation, we’re very successful,” claimed Peter Steinacher, division director of Mudd in Europe. Currently sold in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Norway, with Holland in sight for next season, the Mudd collection on view in Berlin was designed for Europe.
The main difference between the American and European collection, according to Kelly Payfer, licensing director from Mudd’s New York headquarters, “is in the fit. It’s a bit smaller and a bit more fashion forward. What’s fashion for the U.S. is basic for Europe.”
At Lee’s European operation, marketing executive Ulrike Jäger said, “It’s a bit tough in the market, but we’re doing well. The German market is growing. And at the fair especially, we’re reaching a younger target group.”
Lee was at Bread & Butter with three stands, Lee, Lee 101 and Lee Originals, and also served up grilled steaks branded with the Lee logo at two after-show parties.
But the real meat of Lee’s presentation was in its fashion offerings, especially in the Lee women’s line, which included a premium package of forward, ergonomic looks. There are curved-seam HotPants, a pieced and patched dress and a little jacket with workwear back-belt inset, all in Lee’s “ used wash.” The women’s range also included white stretch denim with khaki stitching for low-rise jeans; tiny terry sweat pants, jackets and T-shirts with wide knitted stripe banding; three-quarter-length jeans and minis in light-wash denim, and new straight-leg, low-rise jeans in darker indigo.Levi Strauss & Co. was also at the fair with multiple ranges. Levi’s Type One featured shadow washes, green-cast denim and oyster canvaslike denim, while Levis Engineered has evolved in an urban and not always denim direction, growing to include items such as cotton-nylon blend elastic-hem pants.
Levi’s is also going after a younger customer with Lady Levi’s, a new collection targeted at 13-to-19-year-olds and set to retail at between $56 and $73. (All dollar figures are calculated from the euro at current exchange.) Tight, sexy fits in bright colors set the tone, such as a cropped round jean in pink-stitched denim, or skinny, cropped grape cord cargos. Levi’s Red Tab Girls showed dark denim with rust effect finishes and sexy fits, whereas Levi’s 100 Percent Jeans, a line of “purist” jeans with prices around $100, focused on minimal detailing and new cuts based on one piece of fabric. The pockets on the women’s side-button jeans, for example, are a continuation of the trouser leg fabric. Last but not least, the 501 has been updated for spring in a “slightly looser, lower and wider fit,” said Markus Ense, country managing director for Levi’s in Germany.
He described the line as having “no basics,” adding that “fabrics and colors are the areas where we can show our strengths. The brand is making a more multifaceted appearance, and we’ve had very positive feedback on the girls’ line.”
Athletic looks from both authentic activewear makers and all-around fashion brands also picked up speed at the two Berlin shows.
“For the last five years, denim was it,” said Rudy Halsbeck, senior category manager for Adidas. “But now authentic sport is growing. Levi’s is doing sports pants, so it’s obvious there’ll be a change in this market.”
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