MONTREAL — With the Canadian economy still keeping its head above water and expected to outpace the U.S. economy by more than 0.5 percent in the next two years, trade-show and market-week organizers are anticipating a strong start to 2003.Overall, Canada’s economy is expected to grow by 3.8 percent next year, up from 3.4 percent in 2002.Canada’s premium fashion trade show, the 21st edition of the North American Fur and Fashion Exhibition (NAFFEM) will take place May 4 to 7 at Montreal’s Place Bonaventure, a 200,000-square-foot exhibition hall. The only show of its kind in North America, and third largest in the world after Milan and Hong Kong, NAFFEM will feature exhibitors who will present shearlings, luxury leathers and high-end fabrics such as cashmere and silk. The show usually draws around 250 exhibitors, but organizers say more are expected in May.New this year are luxury accessories, with such exhibitors as Toronto’s Christine Kozak, Nathalie Bruneau, Mode Joan and SPI from Montreal, and Italy’s Giovine Donato.In addition to fashion shows on May 4 and 5 and an opening-night gala fashion show on Sunday on the mezzanine level of the hall, there will be two seminars. One will focus on retail trends entitled "From Fur Salon to Concept Store," with speaker Kevin Graff, a retail marketing specialist from Ontario, weighing in on marketing luxury concepts. "Kevin really understands the fur business," said Alan Herscovici, executive vice-president of the Fur Council of Canada, the national association representing all sectors of the fur trade. The second seminar is on fashion trends entitled "The Democratization of Fur," with the speaker still to be determined. The seminars will be given on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, in the Events Area of the hall. "NAFFEM has steadily evolved into North America’s premium luxury outerwear show with a high proportion of shearlings and leatherwear," Herscovici said. "There is a much greater outreach to high-end specialty stores." Because of unusually warm weather, last season was slower than normal, added Herscovici, but with a colder fall than in 2001, he expects this year to see improved sales. Still, innovative fur designs are driving export sales of Canadian furs, whose wholesale volume reached $213.7 million last year, double the figure of a decade ago. "Free trade and the globalization of markets has pressured everyone to introduce new products and revise costs," noted Paula Lishman, one of Canada’s leading fur designers and president of the Fur Council of Canada.Another Montreal show growing with each season is the fourth edition of Montreal Fashion Week, slated for March 3 to 7 at various locations around town. The third edition of MFW in September drew more than 30 of Québec’s top designers, including Kamkyl, Rudsak, C’est pas Grave, Luc La Roche and Report Collection. The second edition of MFW last March attracted 19 designers. The September lineup was strong enough to attract some first-time U.S. buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, among other stores.About a dozen designers have already signed up for the March show, according to MFW director Lynda Brault who expects the spring edition to have more of a national and international look, with the possible inclusion of designers from Ontario and Western Canada. "We also have the top Belgian models and industry people coming here, because they want to see what we’re doing. We have many similarities since we both focus on styling and design. And Belgium is in the shadow of Paris, while we’re in the shadow of New York." Brault has also received some interest from Italy and she has visions of MFW becoming a jumping-off point for some European companies wanting to crack the North American market. Although the inclusion of European designers might take the spotlight off Québec designers, Brault said it could put the focus on Montreal as an international fashion capital. The Montreal International Fashion Mart holds four market weeks a year, mostly for the 165 industry-related tenants at 555 Chabanel West, considered the center of Canada’s fashion industry. Last year’s shows attracted 6,700 buyers, some 5 percent coming from the U.S., according to Mart coordinator Eyal Cohen. "We represent about 850 collections that are not all at this address, but which represent about 65 percent of all Canadian collections," Cohen said. In March, the Mart hopes to join forces with Montreal Fashion Week for some type of promotion, with details still to be worked out. One issue the Mart is struggling with is whether to allow importers to participate in its market weeks. "For the last 18 months we’ve been trying to convince people to include imports, because a lot of imports are designed by Canadians," Cohen noted. "For example, Simon Chang is a Canadian designer who manufactures off shore."Toronto is home to Mode Accessories, which claims to be Canada’s only trade show devoted exclusively to women’s fashion accessories, casual apparel and fashion items. Held twice a year at the Plaza International Hotel, the MA is a marketplace for retailers to source products from wholesalers and importers. Products range from accessories to lingerie to casual apparel. The January 26 to 28 edition is expected to feature about 220 exhibitors and attract some 3,500 buyers, with between 5 and 10 percent coming from the U.S. Selling space is also being increased to 50,000 square feet from 40,000 square feet. Another Toronto show, the Ontario Fashion Exhibitors, operates two of the largest fashion trade shows within Canada in March and September. It features mostly women’s wear and footwear. The next show will be March 22 to 25 at the Toronto Congress Center. This past March’s show featured 157 exhibitors versus 150 in 2001, according to show director Serge Marchelli. Attendance was also up by about 10 percent from the 2,300 buyers who showed up a year earlier.

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