MADRID — Tough economic times, confusion over the euro, stagnant domestic spending and higher production costs continue to plague Spain’s apparel industry, said vendors and retailers at the recent SIMM show.

On the other hand, they agreed, innovation sells.

"The entire world has changed. We’ve lost the joy. International business has been damaged," said Joyce Antaki, Spanish agent for Ronald Joyce, a U.K.-based manufacturer of special-occasion dresses and eveningwear that has shown for three seasons at the Madrid fair. "You have to go with the circumstances. Retailers want new things."

Accordingly, Ronald Joyce has modified its range to include knits for a younger customer, less beading and exuberance, black and a darker color palette, "although dark colors are not successful in Mediterranean countries," Antaki said. However, "Sober chic is new, and new equals sales."

She reported solid bookings for a sheer black cardigan, beaded tank — wholesaling $135 for the twin set — side-split crepe pants and a slinky mocha gown with flounced skirt, $143. (Dollars are converted from euros at current exchange rates.) "The Madrid fair is very good for us and it’s well-organized. Too bad it conflicts with Paris ready-to-wear."

Joyce’s agent for Portugal, Irma Rodrigues, said: "Consumer confidence has picked up a little since spring, but something cracked last September.Portuguese retailers are very upset.They’re afraid. The stock market is down, the dollar is down. Retailer fears are reflected in the shops. In Portugal, we are very conscious of the global crisis. The government is issuing advisories that say ‘save, economize, travel, but small-scale.’" Ronald Joyce has 35 to 40 accounts in Portugal.

First-time exhibitor Vitamin C, an established swimwear brand from the Canary Islands, introduced a range of oversized earth-friendly separates, pants, tunics, long skirts and dresses in untreated cotton. A spokesman for the firm, which has 120 sales points in Spain and embryonic export markets in Portugal, Germany and Mexico, said: "Local retailers are afraid to commit. They want to see more [product]. There is a real cautionary note here."

Madrid’s twice-yearly ready-to-wear fair is the second largest in Europe after Germany’s IGEDO. The number of exhibitors increased 6 percent over last September, to 799 from 27 countries, and they stretched over 15 percent more space — 334,000 square feet — of the Juan Carlos I fairgrounds, said IFEMA, the fair’s organizer.Traffic at the four-day show was up 10 percent to 25,000 visitors. Major buying groups came from Portugal, Mexico, Japan, Italy, Chile, Venezuela and Argentina. Vendors pointed out, however,that there were no retailers from the U.S. or France. Spain’s leading export market, France (together with the principality of Monaco) purchased textiles and apparel valued at about $876 million last year.The U.S. was in fourth place with shipments totalling $339 million, according to official figures.

While local mainstream stores are taking a hit, not all retail levels are suffering, buyers confirmed. Carlos Martín, an owner of Bat Cave, a trendy Madrid shop that features distinctive items from Spain’s latest crop of fashion upstarts, said: "The crisis hasn’t affected our sales because we don’t carry basics. Our customers buy on whim, not necessity.They’re loyal and supportive and they keep coming back.

"For next summer, we’ve bought a little of everything, small quantities, but lots of different styles, jackets with novelty linings, dresses and more tops than bottoms."

Martín said he hasn’t cut back on orders. "On the contrary, we always buy more each season, never less.We’re optimistic."

So is Sonia Ruiz, owner of the Deli Room, a small specialty store in downtown Madrid, another showcase for young Spanish talent. "My business is good and I’m optimistic, but the problem here is the euro. Prices have gone up because of it, life in general costs more.Production, raw materials, handiwork — everything is more expensive, but salaries have stayed the same.Consumers are holding on to their money because they don’t know how far it’ll go.

"For me, the Madrid fair is convenient. It saves on travel. And it’s important to tell people that Spain has young designers with personality and a point of view."

Once again, Pasarela Cibeles — the SIMM-sponsored runway shows — did not run concurrently with the trade fair.Instead, Cibeles, which featured 27 designers over four days, officially closed Madrid Fashion Week last Friday night.The finish was not without incident.

David Delfín caused a controversy by covering the models’ heads with what someone called "shoe bags" so they stumbled down the runway — to an orgasmic soundtrack. "The clothes were beautiful, but after all that heavy breathing, who cared," said one observer. To compound the error, the twentysomething designer accessorized surgically wrapped bondage dresses with religious symbols and a silky floor-length number on a bare-breasted Eleonora (Bimba) Bosé with a collar-like hangman’s rope.An outraged IFEMA director Fermín Lucas got up and left, although front-row fashionistas, the hippest of the week, stood their ground.

Some of the key looks at Cibeles included Roberto Verino’s African influences, silk crepe tunics and caftans with hand-finished details, embroideries and a monochromatic palette of ebony, ivory, brown and gray; Roberto Torretta’s supple suedes, easy lingerie dresses and micro-shorts; Jesús del Pozo’s asymmetrical silhouettes and raw-edged pieces on a series of unusual dresses; Agatha Ruiz de la Prada’s effervescent colors, plastic patchwork, hearts and candy-box bows; newcomer Locking Shocking’s full-attitude clothes, like updated knickers and pants variations that were tethered, ruched from the knee down or draped like a Venetian curtain.

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