PARIS — Contrasts were key at Paris’ latest round of apparel trade shows.

From heavy knits juxtaposed with silky, feminine blouses and elaborate patterns paired with classical jackets, the Prêt à Porter Paris and Who’s Next, held last month at the Porte de Versailles, here, were awash with a mélange of color schemes, feminine details and a lot of layering.

After a tough 2003, buyers were finally upbeat and most reported sales on the rise. Some said they would increase their budgets. Most, however, said they were still being cautious, sticking to the basics and picking carefully.

“I still have to think about prices. People are not buying expensive things anymore,” said Vera Deutgen, owner of Moveri, a 460-square-foot women’s apparel boutique in Helsingborg, Sweden.

“Our budget is more flexible than last year, but we do not want to buy anything too expensive,” agreed Lorenza Dell’Orto, owner of Kinita, a women’s apparel boutique near Milan.

In the face of the weak dollar, some buyers kept a firm hand on their wallets. “The strength of the euro is a big problem. It’s the reason why there are so few Americans and South Americans,” said Raphael Jamous, owner of Creaciones Margaret, a 10-door women’s apparel chain in Mexico.

Buyers remained optimistic, however,that exhibitors would keep in mind the weak dollar when negotiating prices.“Because the euro is so strong, exhibitors have been pretty willing to negotiate with American buyers,” said Eldean Trach, owner of Eldean, a women’s apparel store in Edmonton, Canada, who said her budget remained flat. As for trends, Trach noticed a lot of color combination and feminine details.

“It’s like a patchwork of fabrics and multiple layers with a lot of detail and application,” said Erika Bertamini, buyer for Clizia, a 1,000-square-foot shop in Verona, Italy. Bertamini said she was still being very careful, budget-wise.

The mix of textures and colors on display was met with approval by Banu Bora, design manager for Carsi, a 55,000-square-foot department store in Istanbul. “There are going to be a lot of knits next season. The style is more feminine and less bohemian than last year,” Bora said, adding that the store’s budgets remained on par with last year.Anet Varol, buyer for Bessini, a 2,150-square-foot store in Istanbul, picked up items from knitwear specialist She’s So and Dikton’s. “There is more freedom for creativity and the designs are very lively,” she said. Varol noted her budget was higher than last year.

Buyers agreed that although the Sixties style was still present, the frenzy for miniskirts was subsiding.

More than 1,025 firms participated in the Prêt, with another 480 at Who’s Next.

At the Prêt, exhibitors reported good business overall despite the absence of Americans.

Sophie Rauby, sales manager for Antik Batik, a contemporary women’s apparel firm here, noted the poor showing of Americans, but remained optimistic overall. “People are buying, but are looking for lower prices,” she said. Rauby said a rose wool dress for $69 wholesale and a silk blouse with hand embroidery for $63 were bestsellers at the show. Dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange.

Anika Lena Skärström, a Paris-based designer from Sweden, said things were looking up. “I did about 15 percent better than last year. It’s a very good sign as things have been particularly difficult for young designers.”

Skärström said her Victorian-style blouse for $99 wholesale was a hot item at the Prêt. “Blouses are going to be very popular next season, as women are looking to contrast feminine and classical with sexy,” she said.

Nicola Nicolini, designer for She’s So, an Italian women’s knitwear line, said she was satisfied with this season’s show.

“This year is off to a good start. Clients have been coming back to buy the solid items they sold last season,” said Nicolini. “This year has been very good. I have sold about 15 to 20 percent more than last year.”

Nicolini’s black cardigan for $138 wholesale was one of her bestsellers at the show.

Meanwhile, at Who’s Next, which featured contemporary designers alongside sportswear vendors, exhibitors also reported solid business.

“We have a lot of new clients this year including Japanese,” said Inge Onsea, sales manager for the Antwerp-based women’s apparel line Essential. “We are optimistic, especially after the slow summer and winter seasons.”Onsea said that the mix of feminine textiles like silk skirts for $188 with thick knit sweaters for $125 were hits at the show.

“Despite a difficult season, we were able to keep up with our clientele, especially in France. Everything is stabilizing,” said Fabien Tuil, sales director for Cimeron, a French sportswear and jeans line.

However, some sportswear vendors lamented the poor international attendance and blamed the scheduling of the show. “The show is always a bit slow because it falls right after Bread & Butter, which attracts important international crowds,” said Nick Stavrakakis, export sales manager for Firetrap, a British sportswear label. Stavrakakis said that jeans were back in full force but that washes were cleaner than last season.

The Prêt reported 40,327 visitors up 3.9 percent from last year. Who’s Next said 30,652 people visited the show, up 18 percent from last year.

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