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Paris Buying Holds Steady

PARIS — The specter of war with Iraq might hang heavy in the air and global tourism might be on the wane. Still, most buyers shopping the spate of trade shows here following the runway collections this month said they would not cut their spending...

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PARIS — The specter of war with Iraq might hang heavy in the air and global tourism might be on the wane. Still, most buyers shopping the spate of trade shows here following the runway collections this month said they would not cut their spending budgets for spring.

Most opted for flat spending, a reflection of general economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, those who said they would boost their budgets stressed that customers continue to demand “special” and “unique” items.

Top trends at the shows ranged from ultra-feminine looks and vintage silhouettes to ethnic embroidery. The following is a rundown on the action.

TRANOI & WORKSHOP: Most buyers expressed high spirits at the Tranoi apparel and accessories salon held at the Espace Austerlitz here Oct. 10 to 13.

Vella Gonzalez, at the show buying for her Bilbao, Spain-based store Kalam, had upped her budget for spring by 10 percent compared with last year.

“War is not a problem,” she said. “We are [based] in Spain, so we’re not concerned.”

“In periods of crisis, people with money will always buy,” agreed Paule Pluskwa, owner of Moore boutique in Marseille, France. She said she had maintained a budget on par with last year and was seeking items in pastel shades for spring.

“[Our stand has been] jam-packed,” reported Astrid Martheleur, director of international sales at Diane Von Furstenberg, noting that silk evening dresses wholesaling from $220 to $244 moved well at the show.

Dresses also did well at Betsey Johnson, where a bias-cut floral dress wholesaling at $141 attracted buyer attention, said Roderick Douglas, European director for the brand. Wholesale prices at the stand ranged from $49 for a cotton top to $176 for an evening dress.

“It has been our best season yet,” Douglas said, adding that only smaller clients were reining in their budgets for next season.

But not everyone was upbeat.

“I’m afraid I won’t sell [everything], as customers buy less when there’s a crisis,” said Graziella Piacentile, buyer for Monaco-based fashion and accessories boutique Lounge. “I’m not very confident.”

Nevertheless, Piacentile was eager to snap up items from Juicy Couture, lauding the brand for its “comfort, cut and color.” She added that items like velour jogging suits and baggy pants worn with dressy tops and accessories would be a key look for next season.

Approximately 5,200 visitors attended the four-day show.

Meanwhile, vintage looks made from recycled materials were strong trends at the Workshop accessories fair that ran from Oct. 9 to 13 at the Cercle Republicain.

“It’s linked to the economic situation,” said Aurelie Mathigot, designer at the eponymous French accessories brand, adding that customers want items linked to the past.

Mathigot showcased handbags made from vintage dress material. They wholesale on average for $98.Postbags got a similar treatment at Delle Cose, an accessories label with bags wholesaling from $63 for a canvas shoulder bag to $460 for a painted travel bag.

While the mood was upbeat at the show, brands noted that buyers, especially from Asia, were cautious.

“There’s a lot of hesitation,” observed Kim Martin, marketing manager at lingerie brand Leigh Bantivoglio. “[Japanese buyers] are very careful about price.”

“As the economy in Japan [is difficult], buyers are looking for sure, established collections rather than taking risks,” agreed a consultant for Paris-based Itochu Fashion Systems, a buying office for Japanese stores. “They are very demanding in terms of quality and price.”

“Now is not the time [for buyers] to try new, expensive products,” Martin said.

Designer Marc Le Bihan said service is key to winning Japanese business. He noted that he delivers items earlier there than to other markets and doesn’t impose minimum-order requirements. He said Workshop accounts for 75 percent of his annual sales and that this year volume was up 20 percent to 30 percent. His bestseller was a polkadot dress wholesaling at $352.

Visitor attendance reached 4,814 at the Workshop show, up 10 percent compared with the salon last year.

ATMOSPHERE & PARIS SUR MODE: Ethnic touches and feminine flourishes — with a dash of sexy glamour — were top trends cited by buyers shopping these two trade shows in the tents in the Tuileries Gardens Oct. 9 to 13.

Buyers said bright colors, from orange and yellow to green and pink, looked fresh and hoped they would spark business. Meanwhile, they worried that short skirts, one of the major trends on the fashion runways, would be difficult to sell.

“I think my customers want to escape and be expressive right now,” said Alissa Emerson, owner of Tuesday’s Child, a designer shop in Scarsdale, N.Y. “I like colors like pink, vanilla and blue. The floral prints look strong. I think they deliver an upbeat message.”

Emerson said she liked “feminine skirts and blouses. Instead of the ultra-short skirt, which I find too blatant, I’m looking for more feminine-sexy looks, like skirts with pleating details.”

Although Emerson said she planned to increase her buying budget by 15 percent, she expressed caution. “It’s a difficult market now. Items have to be special.”

Marilyn Blaszka, a partner in Blake, a Chicago designer store, said the season was about “more lighthearted looks with a touch of sexiness.” Blaszka, whose store carries Viktor & Rolf, Marni and Balenciaga, was also not enthusiastic about the micromini. “Short feels good, but really short could be difficult.”

Blaszka said she was not “looking to open new budgets” for spring. “I’m having great business right now, but there’s so much uncertainty that I don’t know what to expect. We’re approaching the season very pragmatically.”

French designer Bali Barret, showing at Atmosphere, agreed that buyers are cautious. Before the show, she worried that her season’s sales would end dramatically down. “The show was great for us,” she said. “I was sweating. But we wrote tons of orders and ended the season with a slight increase. I think that buyers are now waiting until the very last moment to place orders.”

Designer Angeline Kingsley, based in Paris, said buyers were “avoiding anything basic. They want special items.”

Martin Lutz, owner of Berlin designer shop Flair, said the business bottomed out in 2001, but has showed modest signs of recovery in recent months. “Things change very quickly now,” he explained. “If war breaks out, it certainly will negatively affect business. It would ruin our turnaround.” Lutz, who said he was attracted to “very feminine, romantic looks in chiffon and linen,” will keep his buying budget for spring on par with last year.

Organizers at Atmosphere said 5,450 buyers visited the show, up 28 percent from last year, with 223 American stores attending, also up 28 percent.

Meanwhile, Paris Sur Mode reported about 6,000 people visited the show, roughly doubling last year’s numbers. They didn’t provide details. The two shows together featured 200 exhibitors.

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