With Franco-American relations uncomfortably tense and SARS disrupting travel around the world, French trade show organizers face stiff challenges for the upcoming season. Nonetheless, organizers voiced optimism and said they will do everything possible to calm visitors’ fears and frayed emotions. They’re also promising sharper merchandising, often by price category, to make shopping trips more efficient.

“In many ways, this short war [in Iraq] has been a blessing,” said Stephanie Keukert, director of Texworld, the textile fair organized in Paris by Messe Frankfurt. “A long war would have done more harm than anything else.”

As for SARS, which recently wreaked havoc on Baselworld, the Watch & Jewellery Show, when the Swiss government banned exhibitors from affected Asian countries, Keukert voiced confidence that the epidemic would soon be controlled.

“We just hosted a show in Hong Kong and it went relatively smoothly,” she said. “For Texworld, we will take all of the necessary steps to assure safety. But we believe the situation will have improved by then.”

Texworld, with some 630 participants, features exhibitors from countries including China, South Korea, Indonesia, India, Turkey and Brazil. It will convene at the CNIT complex at La Defense, the business district just west of Paris, from Sept. 16 to 19.

Other organizers expressed more caution about SARS. At Lyon Mode City, the innerwear and swimwear fair in Lyon from Sept. 6 to 8, director Claire Jonathan said the fair has yet to accept exhibitors from infected regions in Asia.

“It’s a very delicate situation,” said Jonathan. “Our policy is to wait and see how things evolve before we confirm exhibitors from infected countries. We want to avoid what happened at Basel. It’s better to look the situation in the eye and face the consequences than to pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Jonathan said potential fallout from SARS remained small for the fair, which runs concurrent with its sister event, Interfilière, an innerwear fabric and yarn show. Only 10 firms from Asia, out of 850 exhibitors, have been put on standby for the event.

“Otherwise, on a more positive note, the shows just keep growing,” said Jonathan. “We’re adding 10,000 square feet of exhibit space to both Interfilière and Lyon Mode City.”In other developments, Lyon Mode City will partition exhibitors by category this year, from high-end to junior. “Our aim is to make the show easier to shop,” said Jonathan. “Overall, we want the show to get younger and more energetic.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan said Lyon Mode City wanted to smooth over tensions between American and French fairgoers, stemming from diverging foreign policies on the war in Iraq.

“America is of utmost importance to us,” said Jonathan. “Not only for business, but as a friend. We want to do everything we can to welcome Americans very warmly this time around. We don’t want any hard feelings.”

At Bijorhca/Eclat de Mode, the jewelry forum at the Porte de Versailles, Sept. 5 to 8, marketing director Patrice Sinthon also spoke of efforts being made to appeal to Americans.

“We’re trying to make sure they feel welcome at the fair,” he said. “We’re contacting people directly to help with planning and facilitating the registration process.”

Sinthon said the fair would continue to feature fashion and creativity. “People come to Paris for creativity,” he said. “We can’t let them down. That’s the best service we can provide.”

Sinthon added that he hoped SARS would be brought to heel by September. “I was at Basel and it was a ghost town,” he said. “It could have a big impact on the high-end jewelry sector.”

For the upcoming session, Sinthon said brand-name fashion houses, such as Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Christian Lacroix and Balenciaga, would be grouped together near the fair’s entrance.

Meanwhile, the fair is co-sponsoring an exhibit with Swarovski, the crystal company, of 30 designers who will be commissioned to create accessories according to five themes, including opulence, mysticism and optimism.

Renewal efforts have preoccupied organizers at Paris’ trade shows over the last few seasons. Nowhere has change been as drastic as at the Pret, the premiere ready-to-wear show here.

Since the arrival of a new management team two years ago, the show has grown, improving its selection and services.Armand de Boissiere, the show’s managing director, said the house cleaning would continue this fall, when the show convenes Sept. 5 to 8 at the Porte de Versailles.

Two new forums — Jardin Secret, for romantic young women’s apparel, and Pick-n-Mix, for young men’s and women’s separates, will replace Les Halles, a forum that had lost its appeal.

A forum for high-end accessories, called La Gallery, will also be introduced.

“We want to continue to get better,” said De Boissiere. “The competition around the world is stiff. And to get people to come, we have to have the most appealing products.”

Meanwhile, De Boissiere voiced optimism for the fair’s ability to attract international visitors. “We could look around and say that everything now is so bad that it’s no use trying to attract new business,” he said. “But we’re not giving up.”

De Boissiere said the fair had targeted some 2,000 trendy shops in the U.S. as potential visitors.

“SARS could be a big problem if they don’t find a vaccine,” said De Boissiere. “Some 3,000 people from Asia come to the Pret. We have 100 exhibitors from the region. We’re waiting to see how the situation evolves before we make any binding decisions.”

Xavier Clergerie, who runs the Premiere Classe accessories show with Bertrand Foache, said SARS could have a “very big” impact. “But I have a wait-and-see attitude. We can’t cry wolf yet.”

Meanwhile, Clergerie said the difficult global economy has forced the fair to become stronger each season. “We have been breaking our backs to assemble the best exhibitors. Quality and creativity are the only things that bring people to your shows.”

Premiere Classe will convene with some 200 exhibitors from Sept. 5 to 8 within the larger Pret show. It will gather from Oct. 10 to 13, on the heels of Paris’ runway shows, in the tents in the Tuileries Gardens.

Clergerie said he was preparing big changes for Premiere Classe in January, when the show will decamp from within the Pret and move to a separate hall at the Porte de Versailles.“We’re also planning big changes in January for Who’s Next,” said Clergerie, who also administers that fair, at the Porte de Versailles from Sept. 5 to 8.

“This season’s an intermediary one,” he said. “But that means we have to be very strong to weather the challenges.”

At Europe’s foremost high-end textile fair, Première Vision, Daniel Faure, president, said, “We’re not going to be pessimistic. We’re going to be realistic and we’re going to fight to remain a strong show.”

Despite the current problems between France and America, Faure said he hopes the American contingent will not forego PV. “In any case, PV takes place in Paris, but it is a European fair,” said Faure. “There are more Italian mills at the fair than French ones. We also have a big British contingent.”

Faure said his main concern for business was the weak dollar. “That could have a big impact on business for European mills,” he said.

PV will be held Sept. 17 to 20 at the Villepint exhibit halls just north of Paris.

Expofil, the yarn fair, will run at Villepint, June 17 to 19. About 160 exhibitors are set to show. “This season we’ve grouped exhibitors according to sector,” said a spokeswoman. “We want to make the show easier for exhibitors to shop.”

Paris is also known for its innovative small fairs. Workshop, the designer forum run by Sarah Tenot, is getting bigger. For its next edition, Oct. 8 to 12, it will convene at its usual Cercle Republican venue, on the Avenue de l’Opera, but it will also add a new venue, at the salons at the Regina hotel.

“The Regina will feature about 30 accessories collections,” said Tenot. “Last season we had 70 exhibitors at the Cercle Republican.”

Meanwhile, Tranoi, the fashion fair organized by Muriel Gamboa, intends to show at the Espace Austerlitz from Oct. 9 to 12. Tranoi Shoe, dedicated to footwear, will show at the same time at the Bourse de Commerce, while Tranoi Preview, with some 30 exhibitors, will convene Sept. 5 to 8 at the Bourse de Commerce.Muriel Guyot will also gather about 80 exhibitors in the tents at the Tuileries Gardens Oct. 9 to 12 for her Paris Sur Mode designer fashion show.

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