By  on February 13, 2006

PARIS — Sophistication was the buzzword at the Premiere Classe and Eclat de Mode trade shows here, where gold, fur, leather and ethnic accessories were the focal point for buyers.

The events ended their four-day runs at the Porte de Versailles halls here Feb. 5. Exhibitors detected a drop in traffic, but cited good order writing, with business coming mainly from independent boutique owners from Europe and Japan. Participants also noted a low U.S. turnout, with American buyers expected to attend the Premiere Classe salon in Paris' Jardin des Tuileries March 3-6 in tandem with the runway shows.

Premiere Classe reported 13,100 visitors to its show, about 20 percent fewer than a year ago. Organizers attributed the drop partly to certain visitors having registered at the neighboring Who's Next urbanwear and sportswear salon, which enabled them access to Premiere Classe. At Eclat de Mode, attendance remained stable with 10,756 visitors, down 3 percent from last year.

Chain-style jewelry in gold tones was a hot commodity. Paris-based designer Aris Geldis, for example, exhibiting antique-gold chain necklaces set with chunky stones, said an estimated 70 percent of orders came from new clients, including British department store House of Fraser.

"The whole handicraft thing is totally over," said Cat Beech, jewelry buyer for British fast-fashion chain Oasis. "For next season, jewelry is cleaning up and moving on to more metal-based styles mixed with elements of resin, plastic and chain. We're looking for new shapes and profiles. We're thinking long and slinky."

However, some buyers lamented a lack of novelty.

"We found product beautifully crafted but outdated," said jewelry importer Stephan Rubin, whose firm, Stephan & Co., distributes to American stores such as Bloomingdale's and Urban Outfitters. "I usually come to Europe for inspiration, but all of the styles I've seen here have already been done."

Still, Rubin hailed hammered brass necklaces from French brand Van der Straeten as the right direction for next season, when he predicts women will seek unusual metal jewelry.

"Mixed-media styles with symbolic trinkets, such as crosses or Fatima's hands, will also be sought after," said Rubin.Axel Stauffenberg, buyer for Foolsgold, a 1,000-square-foot accessories store in Düsseldorf, agreed: "Spiritual, romantic and Gothic themes will be big."

He cited Les Gens du Sud's trinket jewelry, hung with scarab beetles and feathers, and Scooter's skull-themed collection as directional.

High-end niche brands specializing in bold, ethnic jewelry, such as Denmark's Monies and Paris-based Jacques An Lanh, reported strong business.

"We can't keep up with demand," said designer Nikolai Monies, who forecast an increase of about 25 percent this year.

Neutral tones were strong at the show, with water-buffalo bone jewelry among best-booked items. For An Lanh, ebony bracelets and stingray pendants were the most popular items.

Catherine Newey, accessories and luxury market director for French department store Le Printemps, was charmed by British brand Mikey Jewelry's beach-themed stand, replete with tropical flowers and a beach hut.

"It stands out from the classics and presents a good continuation for the fun, fantasy brands we've been carrying," said Newey.

Citing 2005 as a "very successful year" for all accessory sectors apart from items such as scarves, gloves and hats, Newey said she would focus her budget, up an estimated 15 percent, on boots and bags.

"Bags are moving away from fabric styles to leather-focused looks that have a higher price bracket," said Newey, who particularly liked big styles such as French brand Minority's voluminous bags in soft leather.

"The one thing the [show] lacked was rigid-leather, doctor-bag styles," she added.

Natasha Purtill, buyer for Irish department store The Kilkenny Store, came in search of fashionable bags at reasonable prices.

"Washed leather has been a key style for the last two seasons, so we're continuing that," said Purtill, praising RI2K's bags for quality and finishing.

While certain young designers reported good bag sales, such as Italian firm Leapioperaie, which garnered a 40 percent increase in on-the-spot orders, others reported slow traffic.

"The January salon is always quiet for bag designers," said Cypriot designer Joanna Louca. "It's more like a preview for buyers who come back to make orders in March."An+Ka designer Anne Kermanac'h said, "It's not an easy time for young bag designers. With big-name brands such as Chloé and Balenciaga producing such outstanding product, we're having a really hard time keeping up."

Thanks partly to the cold winds of winter, the salon's few fur stands experienced good traffic.

"Fur will be really big next season," said Teiji Yoshimura, owner of buying company Yoshimura, which distributes to Japanese department store Hankyu in Osaka and multibrand store Decade Ashiya.

Yoshimura, who was principally scouting for bags and scarves, commended An+Ka's reversible leather bags with gold panels and Canadian designer Mariouche Gagné's recycled fur accessories from her label dubbed Harricana by Mariouche.

"I'm going to propose [Harricana] as a corner concept, as it's a strong direction for stores looking for eco-friendly product," said Yoshimura, who ordered coyote pom-pom scarves, fur capelets and earmuffs.

"Fur and wool hats will be really big, but women are looking for easy, sporty styles that can be popped in the pocket," said Marie Suare, owner of upscale hat store La Chapellerie Medernach in Strasbourg, France.

Suare favored Harricana's fur aviators and Mulbauer's retro hat styles in fur and chunky knits.

"Next season will be about comfortable luxury," said Suare.

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