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Fear of War Pervades Paris

PARIS — The beat of war drums overshadowed the typically carefree ambience at the fall-winter 2003-2004 Salon International de la Lingerie trade show here.<br><br>Despite the requisite chocolates, champagne and disco music resounding from a...

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PARIS — The beat of war drums overshadowed the typically carefree ambience at the fall-winter 2003-2004 Salon International de la Lingerie trade show here.

Despite the requisite chocolates, champagne and disco music resounding from a number of the exhibitors’ booths, where fashion shows were staged continuously, an eerie disquiet permeated the air, as retailers, manufacturers and distributors went through the motions of buying, selling and schmoozing.

American retailers from major stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sears and Victoria’s Secret hit the floor early in the four-day show that closed Jan. 27, but they generally were reticent to discuss plans or strategies during what many described as “uncertain times.”

As one retailer said before President Bush’s State of the Union Address last Tuesday: “We came here to do business, got it done, and now we’re going home.”

Tom Ward, chief executive officer of Maidenform Inc., said: “We had a lot of customers from our European divisions and we received lots of good reaction to our One Fabulous Fit bra. I think we’ll start to have the same success with it that we had in the U.S. But people were concerned at the show and I think it all comes down to consumer confidence. [War] is weighing heavily on people’s psyches and it’s impacting retail sales right now. It’s one of those unknowns. There’s no market in the world that’s not being affected by it.”

Victor Lee, president of NAP Inc., said the tension was “very noticeable.”

“We were very busy with appointments, but I quickly got the sense that there was not the casual interaction we normally see,” Lee said. “The American buyers who came here were very efficient in doing their business. They simply came and left as soon as they could.”

However, Lee noted that NAP signed a deal at the show with Bologna, Italy-based Gruppo Arcte to exclusively distribute the $60 million Argentovivo brand in the U.S. The 15-year-old label, which first surfaced in the European market as sleepwear and swimwear, now encompasses an entire range of daywear and foundations.

Marvin Backer, ceo of Flora Nikrooz Lingerie, a U.S. firm that has exhibited at the Paris show for more than a decade, said, “I don’t think it was one of the best shows and traffic appeared to be off. Retailers were being very cautious because they just don’t know what’s going on or what will happen. Even the amount of orders were done without enthusiasm. Stores just wanted to cover themselves with immediate merchandise.”

Backer added that the prospect of a war prompted a number of his Middle Eastern accounts to buy less than usual.

“In some cases, it kept accounts from Kuwait to the United Emirates from showing up,” he said.

Despite the gloomy outlook, Backer said retailers were buying colors and novelty items mainly for spring 2003 that “lifted the spirit,” particularly contemporary daywear and sleepwear pieces that were embellished in a less-lavish manner than a year ago. Top-booking colors were café latté and mocha, he said.

“This turned out to be a fabulous show for us, despite all of the fears. We signed up 12 distributors the first day,” said Ann Deal, ceo of Fashion Forms, a foundations accessories specialist. “But all of the buyers were gone by the third day. Every American visitor I talked to said they felt they were on alert, had their papers in order and plan to exit Europe if a war does happen.”

Alain Kowalik, director of marketing for French lingerie and swimwear brand Eres, noted: “The mood was different for the first time at this show, and of course we are concerned.”

Ugo Campello, vice president of Miami-based Cosabella, said: “The buyers were as professional as ever and we were doing the same even though everybody was obviously very concerned.”

Campello said the anxiety did not prevent new accounts from Sweden, Switzerland, France, the U.K. and Canada from buying looks such as a printed burnout group of daywear; loungewear and sleepwear of nylon, Lycra spandex and cotton called Annabella, and Infinity, an ultralight group of polyamide and Lycra microfiber daywear and underwear. Another top-booking group of polyamide and Lycra daywear trimmed with Leavers lace was Verona, he said. The top color: rosewood.

Jose Natori, ceo of Natori Co., said she was “extremely impressed” with the fair’s prototype retail environment called Atelier Lingerie. The concept, created by fashion forecaster Jos Berry of Paris Concepts, has focused on the crossover potential of lingerie with innovative merchandising and display ideas for the past three editions.

“I loved the Atelier and I think it’s the best one they have done. It provokes thought and shows how a lingerie department can be redefined with no boundaries in presentation,” said Natori. “We also spent a lot of time at the Interfilière [textiles] show and were very pleased with the innovation of color in laces such as soft blue and pink with brown.”

At the sprawling DuPont Textiles & Interiors booth, the big news was the partnership betweem DTI and Italian silk manufacturer Ratti Setamarina in which DuPont’s East Set Lycra will be used as part of a “silk and milk fiber chiffon” in the new Nina Ricci lingerie collection called Sylphide, said Kim Scheffler, North American business manager for DuPont intimate apparel.

Scheffler said the advantage of Easy Set Lycra is it can be processed at lower temperatures and is suitable for heat sensitive fibers including silk, wool and cotton to produce stretch fabrics with dimensional stability and a soft hand.

Ratti has used very fine gauge mixtures of silk and milk fibers which enhances the softness of the silk. Easy Set Lycra was chosen to provide the elasticity needed for pliable, soft comfort.

Other highlights at the fair included a formal runway show of intimates staged twice daily, which highlighted 56 brands on 276 styles, and The Best of Lingerie Forum, which displayed 55 lingerie brands on forms.

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