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Paris Show Activity Heralds Solid Spring

PARIS — Bold stripes, bright colors, relaxed silhouettes and retro Fifties and Sixties looks were the main fashion messages at the latest edition of the Prêt-à-Porter and Who’s Next trade shows at the Porte de Versailles here....

PARIS — Bold stripes, bright colors, relaxed silhouettes and retro Fifties and Sixties looks were the main fashion messages at the latest edition of the Prêt-à-Porter and Who’s Next trade shows at the Porte de Versailles here.

Despite the downturn in the economy, buyers cited strong sales for the recently ended summer season, as well as for early fall. Many said they would increase their buying budgets for the 2003 spring season by up to 30 percent. Exhibitors were showing looks for spring.

“We’re coming off a strong spring-summer and fall has already been positive,” said Pia Karlsson, women’s wear buyer at Ahlens, a department store in Stockholm. “We’re gearing up for a very strong spring. We will increase our budget by 25 percent.”

More than 1,000 firms participated in the Prêt with another 360 at Who’s Next. Both shows, which had four-day runs this month, have been busy burnishing their images.

The Prêt, which last year installed a new management team, concentrated on increasing the amount of designer fashion and catering to more international buyers.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in improving the show,” said Armand de Boissiere, Prêt managing director. “We feel our efforts are finally beginning to show. We want to make the show synonymous with Paris elegance and chic.”

Meanwhile, Who’s Next organizers Bertrand Foache and Xavier Clergerie got visitors talking about their radically overhauled show. Historically, Who’s Next has featured denim and streetwear. This time, the show featured more young designers, especially in the new “Fame” section, overseen by Sophie Guyot.

Karlsson added that she was keen on relaxed silhouettes for spring. “Obviously, the ethnic trend in neutral colors like white, khaki and green continues to be important,” she said. “I think baggy trousers and fantasy patterns will be popular, too. I like Liberty prints and flowers and retro touches from the Fifties and Sixties.”

French designer Michel Klein’s new diffusion line MK cashed in on these trends, with large trousers and bright flower-print blouses. Making its debut at Who’s Next, it wholesales between $44 and $68.

“I find it [MK] very fresh,” said Jeanine Gonzale, owner of Rome’s designer boutique Molly Bloom, which carries such brands as Comme des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood. “I think we all want something a little colorful and something that makes customers feel good. Fluid, feminine silhouettes will also be important.”

Masakiko Kuzuya, president of Japan’s Free International stores, cited “shocking colors” as key. “I like gold, silver and anything that glitters,” he said, perusing the collection at London-based Traffic People. “None of my customers want to be constricted by their clothes. They want loose, comfortable silhouettes.”

Kuzuya said he was coming off a strong summer season and the fall had started well. “I will increase my budget for next spring by 10 percent.”

Meanwhile, back at the Prêt, exhibitors cited brisk business.

“So far, so good,” said Ayse Ege, general manager of Dice Kayek, which showcased its Dice diffusion line at the Prêt. “We’ve written a lot of important orders.”

“It’s shaping up to be a good season,” agreed Paris sportswear designer Bali Barret. “We write about 70 percent of our orders at the Prêt.”

Barret, whose collection wholesales from $45 for a shirt to $90 for a cotton jacket, was inspired by retro elements from the Fifties through the Seventies. She featured, among other looks, bold striped T-shirts and seersucker baseball jackets.

Questioned while writing an order at Barret’s stand, Takeshi Suzuki, buyer at Tokyo’s Trans Continents, said he was interested in collections with a “vintage or antique flavor.” He said he also liked low-waist trousers and feminine tops. “I like mixing masculine and feminine elements together right now,” he said.

Nicoletta Pavan, buyer at Zoe, a chain of Italian women’s sportswear stores, also said she liked to “mix and match” loose and more structured silhouettes.

“Stripes are strong for spring,” she said while writing an order at Paris sportswear firm Les Prairies de Paris, whose collection wholesales between $55 for bermuda shorts and $100 for a cotton voile dress. “Bold colors are good. I think we’ve had enough of the basic black and beige to last us for a while. We need items that are going to excite our customers to buy.”

Edwin Lau, buyer of the Hong Kong designer fashion shop Yandy, cited French ethnic sportswear company Antik Batik’s loose-fitting silhouettes and embroidered pieces as examples of trends he believed would be important.

“Trendy embroidery is very strong,” he said. “Beading and other ethnic touches are important, too.”

Lau added that, compared with last year, he planned to increase his buying budget by 20 percent.

Who’s Next said 23,700 people visited the show, up 7 percent from last year. For its part, the Prêt said 39,000 people visited, down 4 percent from last year. Prêt organizers attributed the decrease to the fear of travel associated with the approach of the anniversary of Sept. 11 and the difficult economic environment.

Meanwhile, Fashion World convened at the CNIT exhibition space at La Defense, just west of Paris, from Sept. 2-4. Organizer Daniel Rubinstein, who founded the rapidly growing Texworld textiles fair, described Fashion World as geared to mass-market retailers. There were 20 exhibitors featured at the show, which is in its second season.

“I’m sure this show will grow,” Rubinstein said. “There’s nothing like it. This is not a sourcing fair. It fills a niche in the market for retailers who want to buy competitively priced collections.”