DUSSELDORF — German retailer Peter Schütte has a theory. "The worse the situation gets, the better the mood is at the CPD trade show."With apparel retail sales declining for the ninth year in a row, unemployment at an all-time high, consumer confidence at an all-time low, bankruptcies a common occurrence, plus a string of financial and political scandals, one could argue that the situation in Germany could hardly get worse. And thus, to everybody’s surprise, spirits were exceptionally high at the three-day mega trade fair, which closed here Aug. 6.Schütte’s theory aside, it seems it was the fashion offered — item-oriented, fanciful, trendy yet realistic — that did the trick. As Schütte himself noted, "the collections were very salable and lovely, and we found what we were looking for."Summing up CPD, Jürgen Dax, managing director of the German Retailers Association, said: "The fashion was a pleasure, the fair was a pleasure, and the atmosphere corresponded."Nevertheless, he too emphasized that the mood was "better than the real situation. We can’t talk of a breakthrough yet, but everyone could feel a new energy."As of this season, the women’s wear event has become a dual-gender fair, changing its name to "cpd woman•man" and including, for the first time, men’s apparel resources. Three hundred men’s wear makers and another 100 who produce men’s and women’s joined the CPD lineup of approximately 2,000 exhibitors, drawing a total of 60,000 visitors, the highest number in recent memory. Last August, 45,000 buyers checked into the Düsseldorf show.The marriage of men’s and women’s wear vendors helped populate the fairgrounds with new buyers, and indeed the men’s exhibitors — who’d previously shown concurrently in Cologne — helped fill gaps that would have been left by the numerous German ready-to-wear manufacturers that have gone out of business this year.But this edition of CPD was not just about closing telltale gaps. It was marked by some important new beginnings.Hugo Boss Woman is back in Germany in a big way, moving its operations from Milan to Boss headquarters in Metzingen. On the occasion of CPD, Boss further unveiled its four-floor, 21,500-square-foot, harbor-front showrooms with breathtaking views of the Gehry buildings in the trendy Düsseldorf Hafen area. And on Saturday night, Boss presented its only runway show planned this season of the much-awaited and reconceived Boss Woman collection."The idea of the event was to show that this is a new era for Boss Woman," said Lothar Reiff, board member and creative director of the German apparel giant, "and to bring a more positive and emotional feeling to people…showing a beautiful girl who’s not trying too hard to be special and modern." The new image on the runway: natural hair, natural makeup, good bones and clothes that are well detailed, well finished but easy-going and sexy.In the showroom, the collection made the same impression up close."We did a lot of work on fit and make," Reiff said. "We wanted a very sensual and more feminine collection, but also one with more individual pieces that can be combined and mixed," like a romantic blouse in silk with a more rustic skirt and leather coat. Or a sheer floral wisp of a tea dress under a sturdy canvas coat. The palette celebrates lightness with pale, soft tints, while fabrics range from fluttery sheers to butter-soft suede and crisp cottons, and silhouettes are somewhat edgy but not over-the-top cool.It was too soon to say how the collection was selling, but Reiff said the initial reaction has been positive.Boss aims to break even with the women’s collection by the second half of 2003 and turn a profit by 2004. The collection is currently carried by about 4,500 doors worldwide. Ten years from now, the goal, according to a Boss spokesman, is for women’s to generate 35 percent of company turnover.Another German giant, the Steilmann Group, is also presenting a new and restructured face to the industry. Britta Steilmann, who returned to the family firm as chief executive last year, has had to cope with sinking turnover, sales again slipping in 2001 to $547.7 million from $606.4 million. (Dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates.) Nonproductive divisions, like KS Collection, were axed, and companies within the group have been more clearly differentiated from each other. At CPD, buyers got the first look at the core Steilmann division, now strictly focused on moderately fashionable women, age 35 and up. The formerly no-name collection will also now be available under the Steilmann label as well as via private label. The Nienhaus & Lotz division, which previously covered much the same fashion territory as Steilmann, has now been targeted at a younger consumer via the Emozioni collection, with 47 delivery themes a year.Britta Steilmann said the company took a risk shifting the range of Emozioni from modern classic to a younger fashion segment. "But the [Steilmann and Nienhaus] collections were competing with each other, and we couldn’t do this anymore. You have to go young, and the customers love it. Emozioni has given the whole company a kick."She said the fair "has been great. Putting men’s and women’s together was important for the dynamics. It was a change, a break with tradition, and for companies like us, it’s easier for sales and marketing budgets."Next step for Steilmann: a push for Stones, its contemporary men’s collection, and overall tweaking. "We’ve moved so fast and changed rapidly, with our frequent deliveries and new consumer profiling," she said. "It’s now time for fine-tuning, but we’re confident."Traditionally a stronghold for coordinates, the German women’s wear market has taken a more "itemized" approach to spring-summer. Collections were built around items with individual appeal, playing on folkloric, hippie and romantic themes. Embellishment and fanciful detailing were a must, regardless of fabric or classification.At the same time, companies have taken a more realistic approach to the consumer’s — and the market’s — needs. "It’s no longer about being an unreachable designer," stated Tristano Onofri, who has created an exclusive line for the Kaufhof Department Store chain in addition to his own collection. Known for his love of the spectacular, especially on the runway, Onofri has toned down his look while keeping it feminine, and he’s considerably lowered his price points and improved the make of his collections, thanks to the cooperation with Kaufhof. The special Onofri collection is sold in about 30 Kaufhof Galleria doors, including 22 in-store shops."We had our reservations regarding the Kaufhof deal," Onofri remarked, "but in these times, no one could turn down such an opportunity. Today, surviving is a success." Plus the prices he can now offer — with wool and cotton jackets wholesaling at $78 to $88, skirts $34 to $38 and pants at $49 to $55 — "are due to Kaufhof, because with 20,000 to 30,000 extra pieces, we now have the quantities we needed," he explained. "It’s time for collections that don’t merely dream, but that are wearable. Even as a designer, my main goal is to offer good quality at a price many can afford."
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