By  on February 26, 2008

MADRID — Citing shrunken budgets and the domestic retail decline, exhibitors at Madrid's SIMM trade fair weren't afraid of the "R" word — far from it.

"Recession? We're feeling it," said Juan Rodriguez, commercial director of Dikton's. "Consumers are readdressing their priorities and apparel is being affected. The domestic market is going into single-brand retailing; multibrand stores are not doing well and basic retailers are suffering. Nobody needs more basics, so we're trying to promote impulse buying with a 'wow' factor."

Rodriguez said Dikton's, a high-end knitwear producer based in Barcelona, is chasing new business with a fall collection that features a range of mid-to-long cardigans with allover loop trim and dresses with a tulip-shaped skirt, fuller sleeve treatments or contrast stitching in gray, oatmeal, grape, jade and black. The line wholesales for 50 to 90 euros ($74 to $132 at current exchange).

With 1,000 points of sale worldwide, Dikton's sells to 150 wholesale accounts in the U.S. — or 10 percent of sales — including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Spain absorbs 30 percent of total business with the remainder shipped to international markets.

Skittish consumer spending and a rising inflation rate in Spain, where it's currently 4.3 percent, has "reduced customers' economic horizons, causing a general recession," claimed Joyce Antaki, Spanish agent for After Six, a division of Medici, a U.K. producer of eveningwear and special occasion dresses. "It's not the best of years; it's not the best moment. Consumers have priorities other than fashion, like a mortgage. Retailers are cutting back; they're buying smaller quantities but they are buying."

Antaki said easy-going silhouettes with less embellishment and short lengths in black are "really hot, and for every long gown, we sell nine short dresses." Other key items include Empire-waist styles and shifts in velvet, poly-chiffon and lamé with cascading pearls or oversized sequin trim (wholesaling for $161 to $191).

According to official figures, the biannual fair, held Feb. 15-17, drew 17,813 visitors, a 6 percent hike over last September's show. Foreign attendance rose 7 percent, to 2,151. Exhibitors — about 800 — remained the same.The fair's eclectic offering featured midmarket brands and classic silhouettes; a flood of knitwear with mixed elements, particularly for coats, sweater dresses, cardigans and coordinated accessories; short party dresses with toned-down frou; updated outerwear; a smattering of denim (major brands have generally switched from the Madrid show to Bread & Butter Barcelona), and past-season carryovers like metallics, wrinkled fabrics and animal prints. Key colors were black, gray, pewter, brown, beige and the lilac family.

With one of the show's most spirited lines, Ana Velasco, owner-designer of Anauve, a Madrid-based knitwear brand, said the label's sales jumped 27 percent in the last six months. Having seen buyers from Italy, Belgium, Portugal, India and Kuwait, she called the Madrid fair "fantastic."

"We do a compulsive sell with one-of-a-kind pieces. I always say I want to make knitwear that looks and performs like fabric. We have the product and everybody wants it," said Velasco.

Buyers snapped up a crossover-cable vest and cardigan coat in dusty mocha-gray (wholesaling for $80 to $139, respectively) and ingénue knit coats with three-quarter sleeves and puffed pockets in rustic pumpkin and raspberry-colored wools.

The 25-year-old line, which included Empire-style nappa leather dresses with a wholesale tag of $442, sweaters, shawls and accessories, is distributed through 350 domestic doors. In the U.S., the spring line has been picked up by Bloomingdale's and about 30 specialty stores in Texas, California and Florida, according to Sever Garcia, of SGN Group, the company's New York representative.

International vendors said participation in the Madrid fair broadens regional export options. "Ninety-five percent of our visitors are Spanish; this is strictly a local fair. That's fine by us because with 50 high-profile shops, Spain is our second market after Scandinavia," said Trina Lind, international sales manager of Becksöndergaard, a Danish accessories company.

She reported retailer caution. "Buyers are insecure about where the [economic] situation is going and our business reflects that." The Copenhagen-based company's star product is natural eel skin, for handbags and small leather goods.

SIMM's next edition will be held July 17 to 19, slightly earlier than in the past.Held just before SIMM, Madrid Fashion Week's Pasarela Cibeles runway shows from Feb. 11-15 featured 37 designers, two more than last year. Industry observers said creativity and innovation did not top designers' priority lists. "It's one thing to play it safe, another to send out boring clothes," said one industry observer. Once again, the Madrid shows continued to attract few foreign buyers.

Trends played up short, pencil skirts; slim waist and huggy dresses or minishifts and a few balloon shapes; seasonless rompers and very brief shorts; strong shoulders and volume plays in techno fabrics; tailored high-waisted pants and scrunched stovepipes; still a little Sixties-Seventies retro, and loads of black — with shots of pink, orange, citrus green and plum.

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada tempered her explosive palette of red, lime, purple and tangerine with softer combos like berry and grape in cozy wools, flannel and velvet for a coherent grouping of waistless dresses, minishorts, long caftan-styles and playful skiwear with mix-match heart motifs and new this season, a robot print.

Barcelona-based Lydia Delgado, one of Spain's most popular designers showed knubby wool rompers, refined embroideries and Oriental references; Twenties silhouettes à la Peggy Guggenheim, and skinny fringe-trimmed cocktail dresses in black, white and fuchsia. Delgado sells through her own stores — one each in Madrid and Barcelona — and scattered wholesale accounts in Italy, Germany, Greece, Dubai and the U.S.

Newcomer Carmen March sent out supershort skirts in printed silk jacquards, easy dress separates, small strong-shouldered tops and ruched jackets and gloves to the armpit. Colors were chestnut, slate and dark wine. In her fourth season at Cibeles, the 35-year-old March opened her first freestanding boutique on a commercial alleyway in central Madrid last fall.

Juanjo Oliva stayed with exaggerated shapes — for instance, a voluminous cape in white silk taffeta over a swingy Fifties skirt and petticoat, and shapely feminine dresses including a series of floor length styles in black and white satin and silk crepe. The 37-year-old designer has a trendy following here and sells — mostly made-to-measure — through his Madrid store-workshop called Egotherapy.

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