By  on October 5, 2007

MADRID — If the Spanish capital's SIMM trade event is a barometer of domestic market conditions as show organizers claim, the apparel sector here has apparently hit a snag.

According to official figures, the biannual fair drew 16,788 visitors, down 13 percent over last September's show. Foreign attendance dropped roughly 48 percent, to 2,010.

Exhibitor participation slid 7.5 percent to 811. Director Pola Iglesias attributed the lower numbers to continued Asian competition and coinciding dates with major French trade shows. In addition, some regular SIMM exhibitors have defected to Bread & Butter Barcelona, Iglesias confirmed.

On the other hand, she pointed out significant foreign buyer increases from such countries as France and Mexico.

The trade show's offering featured eclectic midmarket brands and loads of elaborate party clothes; casual daytime shapes, dresses and separates; novelty knits, including tops, jackets and coats, and carryovers from past seasons like animal prints, metallics, crinkle and organic cotton/linen.

The color story ranged from gray, silver, anthracite, black and white to brazen graphic prints in purple and turquoise.

"We've put together a very intelligent collection," said veteran exhibitor Joyce Antaki, Spanish agent for After Six, a division of Medici U.K., producer of eveningwear and special occasion dresses. "There is more emphasis on practical styling and wearability; women are tired of beads and Middle Eastern influences. Instead, they're opting for short, sexy, well-priced dresses with a matching shawl or jacket."

Core sellers were a short black number with a built-in pleated bra and a low back-draped black-and-white printed dress. Wholesale prices range from 88 to 125 euros, or $123 to $175 at current exchange.

"The fair's lack of visitors is obvious," Antaki commented. "We have been really busy and we're selling, but the orders are smaller, 30 pieces instead of 80."

According to Oscar Vargas, managing director of Fuentecapala, an upscale manufacturer of traditional women's and men's apparel, "Business is tough; the domestic market is in a strange transitional period." Political uncertainty based on next year's elections is partly to blame, he said.

"The fair needs a big energy injection," Vargas said. "Maybe we'll get it next year when show dates move up to July (for the first time in SIMM history). September is too late; it doesn't make sense."The Madrid-based company, with 50 U.S. accounts, is "increasing our American business," Vargas confirmed, and in October, the brand plans two retail openings in Russia and two additional locations in China.

Shapely, unstructured jackets, "almost like a shirt," are key sellers in the women's division, he said.

Ana Velasco, owner-designer of Anauve, a Madrid-based knitwear brand, said she was "very happy" with business at the fair. Her booth was packed with buyers snapping up personality items like cardigan jackets edged in silk ruffles and summer coats with a small puffed sleeve in purple, "an important color for spring," or off-white, face-powder pink and "there is always, always black," Velasco said.

The 24-year-old label, which includes dresses, sweaters, boleros and accessories, is distributed in 350 domestic doors. The line has been picked up by Henri Bendel in New York and a handful of specialty stores in Chicago, Dallas and Houston, Velasco reported. Wholesale price points in the U.S. are $90 to $200.

In addition, emerging export markets include the U.K., Japan, Saudi Arabia and India, she said.

Laura Schumacher, owner of the Spain-based site espadrillesetc.com, which sells hand-stitched espadrille styles and coordinated handbags, said the show was a big disappointment. "I'm looking for beachwear and beach trends to tie together with the shoes. The fair didn't pull the trends together. In most stands, there were racks of clothes, a mishmash, with no information and no merchandising. It's one thing to show what you have and another to let stores know what you want them to do with it.

"The Madrid fair is fine for local retailers; but that's not me," she said.

Fashion week's Pasarela Cibeles catwalk shows, which ran Sept. 17 to 21 in Retiro Park, featured 36 designers, five more than last year. Retail observers agreed creative juices were kept to a minimum. "There are some pretty clothes, but very little that isn't already in the street," said Hiroko Maruyama, head of a local buying office for the Japanese market.

Trends played up the minidress, shifts and the ingenue smock silhouette; very brief shorts; high-waisted mannish pants; sheer gauze tops and cover-ups; shimmery fabrics; Sixties and Eighties retro, and a color palette of white, black, heavy cream, ice tones, and a range of green, fuchsia and pink.Veteran Madrid designer Jesús del Pozo turned out one of the week's strongest color statements — a clingy pink dress with a wide-open T-strap back in high-tech silk accompanied by a giant (live) poodle dyed to match.

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada also picked pink, and strawberry, orange, yellow, red and lime — not news from the Madrid-based designer and retailer, who has 10 freestanding stores in Europe, New York, Puerto Rico and Santiago de Chile — for easy dresses, hoodies and girlish tops with stretch mini shorts, unstructured swimsuits in an abstract swirl print, Barbarella-style vinyl boots and patent leather platforms with candy-cane striped heels.

Other highlights included:

- Carmen March's superclean silhouettes in soft jersey, cotton and linen faille featuring sharp cuts à la Claude Montana and strong shoulders worked into short dresses with sexy draped necklines and sporty drawstrings. Colors were gray and silver with a splash of ruby-slipper red. In her third season at Cibeles, the 34-year-old March is preparing her first store on a tony retail alleyway in central Madrid. The location is due to open this month.

- Ailanto's ode to the iconic model Veruschka and Sixties London made up of striped knit dresses, shorts, high-rise pants, jumpsuits and long gowns in florals on black grounds, mixed silk jacquards and the Barcelona label's signature geometric prints inspired by "Blow Up," the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni classic. Veruschka, who is 68, was in the front row wearing what the press dubbed "Berlin black," animal-printed leggings and unlaced work boots. 

- Roberto Torretta's feminine, no-frou dresses and separates in glitter fabrics and moiré, a solid group of mini shifts, high-waisted pants, leather cardigans with a wider shoulder and suede shorts.

- TCN's change-of-pace Champagne show at a nearby nightclub featuring designer-owner Toton Comella's deft hand with swimwear and lingerie. Her best pieces were stretched-out tanks and oversize nylon cover-ups, cutaway triquinis and strapless rompers in sugary pastels and traditional nautical stripes.

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