By  on October 31, 2007

PARIS — Japanese retailers were out in force at the boutique apparel shows that ran here this month alongside Paris Fashion Week. But buyers from many regions cited tighter budgets, compelling them to play it safe with jersey tops, clean lines and muted colors.

Retailers at the events from Oct. 3 to 8 were looking for the next hot brand to give their stores an edge.

"There are some real treasures to be found and it's a wonderful opportunity to get niche versions of the runway trends," said Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of women's at Macy's. "The shows reflected the catwalks with feminine and sporty styles and deconstructed pieces."

However, this season some buyers at Paris sur Mode, the Vendôme Luxury Trade Show, Atmosphère d'Eté, Tranoï and Rendez-Vous weren't prepared to order risky items.

"We're looking for what worked earlier this year — natural-looking, simple cotton tops with accents of excitement from colorful citrus prints," said Jeanette Giese, co-founder of Zebra, a chain of four 1,600-square-foot stores in southern Sweden.

"Gray leather jackets will make the transition between safe and racy," Giese added, shopping at Paris sur Mode in the Tuileries Gardens.

Budgets were a main preoccupation at the shows, where some buyers were spending 15 percent less than last season. U.S. retailers were hardest hit.

"We've been coming to the Paris shows for the past 25 years and this is the toughest one for us by far because of the strength of the euro," said Deborah Skyrms of Deborah Kent's, a 3,000-square-foot store in Tampa, Fla.

Other U.S. retailers were hoping for more newness.

"Our clients continue to put out great collections, but there were no new surprises," said Ludivine Grégoire, whose store in New York's West Village, Ludivine, specializes in the latest Parisian styles.

Grégoire, who placed orders with Golden Goose and Forte_Forte, among others, said she expects bright colors — especially yellow, stripes and shirtdresses in cotton and linens belted at the waist — to be musts next summer.

"We'd like to see some longer lengths," added Betsy Prince, shopping for her own 3,000-square-foot store in Birmingham, Ala. "All the skirts and dresses are teeny-tiny."Fortunately, that style was exactly what the Japanese retailers were looking for. The organizers of all the salons cited a sharp increase in Japanese attendance and a drop in American traffic. Virginie Lefèvre was picking up "doll dresses and petite cuts with a French touch, which is still huge in Japan," for her 650-square-foot store in Fukui City. She had her eye on items from Manoush and Honoré at Paris sur Mode.

At Tranoï, meanwhile, Misaki Konno placed a large order with U.S. brand MK2K for Futaba, a chain of four multibrand stores in Tokyo. "We're buying pieces that are easy for all ages to wear, nothing complex or transparent," she said. "Cute jersey tops and short dresses in blush, gray and black will be strong sellers."

Japanese brands also proved popular with buyers at the salons. Gasa, showing for the first time at Atmosphère d'Eté, has been picked up by Journal Standard, a Japanese chain of ultraexpensive apparel stores.

At Tranoï, organizers even dedicated part of the salon to 10 new Japanese brands, including standout Lungta de Fancy. Designed by five Japanese women based in London, the brand plays with tailoring to create multifunctional pieces like a cotton belted shirt, which can be tied at the front to create a dress, and wholesales for 95 euros, or $133 at current exchange.

Another popular new feature of the boutique shows this season was the increase in accessories.

"It makes it much easier to buy because it saves time as labels have full outfits," Grégoire said.

Fischelis observed, "They also added a great touch of color to the shows."

To create a more complete offer, the organizers of Rendez-Vous plan to add 15 to 20 beauty brands to their show next March. "More and more retailers are including these items in their stores, so we thought, why not make their lives easier?" said Vidya Narine, co-organizer of the salon. She is talking to L'Oréal, with an eye to bringing in items by Kiehl's, among other companies.

Narine's colleague Nick Jones, who founded both Rendez-Vous and Colette-style Paris boutique Surface to Air, said that as a buyer, he was looking for "clean collections and geometric patterns."A sought-after brand at his show was Martin Lamothe, designed by Spaniard Elena Martin, who had picked up five new clients in the first two days. Her silk cape, in blocky triangle prints and pastel colors, was a strong seller at a wholesale price of 60 euros, or $84.

Also in demand was Australian brand Material by Product. Inspired by tailoring and drapery, the two founders, Susan Dimasi and Chantal McDonald, create blotting effects on silks and cotton jerseys. Their eye-catching double T-shirts, which can be worn in multiple ways, wholesale for 50 euros, or $70.

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