By  on September 10, 2007

LYON, France — The growing importance of Asian exhibitors, distributors and retailers permeated the traditional French setting of the Lyon, Mode City lingerie and Interfilière textile fair here.

This year, in particular, represented a transition period for many brands and retailers, especially European resources trying to adapt to changes in manufacturing, sourcing and distribution.

Over the past several years, the 25-year-old trade show has successfully transformed itself into a three-day global melting pot of cultural trends as well as brands and visitors from the international marketplace. The number of visitors at the fair that closed Sept. 3 was 17,404, with 11,461 representing the international marketplace and 5,943 French guests. In all, 519 lingerie and swimwear brands were exhibited from 36 countries, show officials said.

The giant trade fair organizer Eurovet began addressing the demand for networking in the Asian market, as well as sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and licensing pacts among vendors when it launched the Shanghai Mode Lingerie fair, aimed at the Chinese market, in October 2005, and the Hong Kong Mode Lingerie show, which was introduced in April 2006.

Marie-Laure Bellon-Homps, chief executive officer of Eurovet, said the move into Asia addressed two major factors that are a prerequisite to be competitive in the global arena: providing a platform for private label, innovation and product development, and developing a tighter lead time for distribution of branded merchandise. The next show in Shanghai is scheduled for Oct. 26 and 27. A date for the next Hong Kong fair has not been set.

The thrust into Asia was cause for concern among some U.S. and French exhibitors, many of which have shown at the Lyon fair and its sister show, the Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris, for years. However, next year's dates for Lyon have been already scheduled despite speculation that the Lyon edition might be discontinued because a growing majority of retailers and manufacturers have completed their trend and concept packages for spring 2009.

"We continue to look at the question of timing for the [Lyon] show, but the dates for 2008 have been set for Sept. 6, 7 and 8," Bellon-Homps said. She added that a preview of European textiles and laces last June at the Palais des Congrès in Paris was a "huge success" and that Eurovet plans a second session this June as a jump-start to the Lyon fair.Regarding Eurovet's growing investment in Asia, Bellon-Homps said, "There are a lot of big investors in China and there is a lot of innovation as well. I have a lot of respect for Asians. But it's difficult to know what's going on there from afar. It's much better to go there and know who the main players are."

As a result of the interest in the Far East, a key move in Lyon this year was a major focus on private label development of textiles and laces from China, which coincided with a strong contingent of Chinese lingerie companies presenting names with a Westernized flavor such as Milan Lingerie, Aimer, Lorenza, Jealousy, Jennifer, Bla Bla Bra, Maidens, No Romeo and 6ixty 8ight. Another moniker, Aibuxi, represented the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

European and U.S. innerwear executives said the number of companies based in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan that exhibited private label products has more than doubled in the last two years. There were some 41 lingerie makers from China, 18 innerwear firms from Hong Kong and 184 textile and lace concerns, including Taiwan, according to the show catalogue.

"There's more private label from Asia than I've ever seen before,'' said Steve Chernoff, chief executive officer of Rago, a Long Island City, N.Y.-based maker of shapewear. "I believe they must be transitioning from the shows they are doing in China. All in all, it's been a good show, but it's caused me a lot of anxiety."

Willy Mrasek, creative director for private label and brands at Felina Lingerie, maker of Felina and Jezebel bras in Chatsworth, Calif., said, "We had plenty of time to see our people and resources, but it seemed a little bleak in terms of brands."

Liss Hydinger, director of merchandising for the Felina and Jezebel brands, said, "We went to Lyon for early spring 2009, but there weren't that many textile resources who were prepared."

The size of the Asian contingent underscored a substantial turnout of U.S. retailers who sent product development designers and merchandising teams from major brick-and-mortar, e-commerce and catalogue businesses to create proprietary labels and merchandise one to two years in advance. Retailers exploring the private label realm included Nordstrom, Dillard's Department Stores, J.C. Penney Co., Soma by Chico's, Victoria's Secret and Lands' End.But while a number of exhibitors said traffic was sporadic, there were also executives who raved over the pace of business.

Ann Deal, founder and ceo of Ce Soir Inc., a Van Nuys, Calif.-based intimates firm that owns a factory in China, said she was "extremely pleased with scores of new business opportunities."

"We've shown here for five years, and business has been very brisk," Deal said. "We opened up a dozen new European accounts, and worked with Soma and Nordstrom's private label. Nordstrom said they would like to stay here another three days because of all of the interesting new trims and embroideries. They work two years in advance."

Guido Campello, vice president of product development at Miami-based Cosabella, a daywear, foundations and at-homewear company, said: "It was like the United Nations around here. We were so busy with people from countries like Japan, Russia, Brazil, Germany, England and Scandinavia. It was amazing."

However, major specialty stores that sell top lingerie brands and work on shorter lead times, such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, were absent for the first time in memory, as were several major French brands that were missing from the lingerie action at the EuroExpo, including Aubade, Simone Pérèle and Lejaby. Also absent were two big U.S. names that traditionally show in Lyon: Warnaco with its Warner's, Olga and Calvin Klein Underwear brands, and VF Intimates, which has the Vanity Fair, Lou and Belcor labels. VF Corp. sold its intimate apparel business to Fruit of the Loom this year.

A European innerwear executive, who did not want to be identified, said, "The focus on private label from Asia has angered quite a few French brands. That's why some marquees did not exhibit at the show last year and why some this year have rented hotel suites in Lyon to privately show their clients."

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