By  on March 22, 2006

MADRID — The Spanish trade fair SIMM featured novelty and a healthy dose of glamour for fall, but some vendors said the overall show did not meet their expectations and noted the summer edition is usually more robust.

The strongest lines at the show, held here last month, featured novelty knits with spidery textures, cables and asymmetric details for stretched-out sweater coats, cardigans and a few dresses; snappy sportswear with print and fabric mixes such as polyester and corduroy, and crushed or pleated materials, from outerwear to flirty evening styles.

"Glamour is key for fall. In general, women are dressing younger and sexier," said Joyce Antaki, Spanish agent for After Six, a division of Medici, a London maker of special occasion dresses and evening-wear. She reported solid bookings, mostly from the domestic market. Hot items included a short strapless cocktail dress in crinkled taffeta, wholesaling for $105; animal prints; gold; dentelle lace, and pattern mixes in silk chiffon instead of traditional jersey.

In noting their disappointment with the show, some exhibitors cited a thin buyer turnout and less than satisfactory sales.

"The show was weak in terms of sales and contacts were just OK," said Alberto Sobrino, export manager of Fuentecapala, a high-end Madrid label featuring traditional silhouettes and impeccable tailoring for men and women.

"We're targeting retailers from China, Russia, India and the Middle East through the Madrid fair — but mainly for franchising opportunities. Our strategy for emerging markets is to develop franchises and open stores." A franchised unit in Beijing is planned by the end of the year, he confirmed.

With one freestanding store in Madrid and a second location "co-owned" in Moscow, Fuentecapala sells through 750 Spanish points of sale and 40 doors in the U.S., including Neiman Marcus, Saks-Jandel and smaller specialty boutiques, Sobrino said. "We plan to grow the American and Canadian markets and we're expanding the brand in Europe — where the company has a solid customer base — by opening additional showrooms and sales networks."

He said buyer interest focused on colorful yarn-embroidered wool jackets, British-inspired blazers with ribbed elbow patches and striped linings and decorative skirts. Wholesale tags range from $84 to $240.Regarding Asian competition, he said, "We have no problem with China or any other country. They produce a medium- to lower-priced product and we do the opposite."

On the other hand, "Basics are a very tough sell. In today's market, you have to offer something different — a lot of hand-work, for example — and that's expensive. Some makers have no choice but to produce off-shore. You have to justify the price," said Mireia Bisbe, second-generation manufacturer of special occasion dresses whose eponymous label is based in Barcelona. "The fair is disappointing. Retailers are holding back. There's a climate of insecurity and confusion in the market."

Echoing other exhibitors, she pointed out that summer is traditionally a stronger season for Spain's product offering because winter here is short, followed by January sales that last through February. "The weather is to blame for this winter's difficult selling season," she claimed. "It wasn't cold enough."

Her bestsellers were tulle and lace-trimmed dressy separates in a subtle taupe and a lean chocolate brown velvet sheath with embroidered lace detailing. Wholesale prices range from $185 (for the dress) to $285 (for the separates). Velvet and lace are both significant fall trends, Bisbe added.

According to official figures, the four-day fair drew 31,500 trade visitors, down marginally from last winter. Foreign participation increased slightly — to about 10 percent of the total.

"There is a tendency to judge a fair's success by the number of visitors, but international participation and exhibitor satisfaction have to be taken into account," said SIMM director Pola Iglesias. "We measure our success in terms of the quality and quantity of supply and demand. At this edition, the levels of both were maintained; there were no ups or downs.

"Even though foreigners came from 69 countries, there was little change in buying patterns over February 2005, which is consistent with what is happening in the rest of Europe," she added.

Better retailers said fall purchases aren't wrapped up yet, "but I'll spend about the same as last winter," said Sonia Ruiz, owner of the Deli Room, a trendy shop in central Madrid.She skipped the fair — "too mainstream" — in favor of local showrooms and a stop at the SIMM-sponsored Pasarela Cibeles runway shows in the days following the trade show to catch Ailanto, one of her key resources. She said she's picking up a group of Sixties-inspired baby-doll dresses and separates by the Barcelona label.

Pasarela Cibeles featured 31 designers — established Spanish names and newcomers — and 26 shows.

A few of the highlights:

  • Amaya Arzuaga's edgy volume plays, crinkled fabrics and a sober palette of khaki, gray and black — either daring plunge backs and tucked-under bubble skirts or flyaway tops and pencil silhouettes, paired with over-the-knee boots on 4-inch stiletto heels and long punky gloves.

  • Agatha Ruiz de la Prada's schoolgirl jumper dresses and sparkly leggings under puffy heart-trimmed coats and trapeze-style dresses in signature rainbow colors, and her bridal debut — four models only (the full collection launches in June). "Every year, the clothes get more wearable," she remarked backstage after the show.

  • Ailanto's homage to Peggy Guggenheim, including ladylike Art Deco-inspired dresses in burgundy and hunter green, structured Calderesque jacquards and patched rabbit-fur wraps.

  • José Miro's skinny knit dresses with below-knee lengths and a futuristic flavor, high-waisted novelty denim and decidedly Mugler-like cuts — Miro worked for the defunct French house from 1996 to 1999.

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