By  on November 23, 2005

Paris trade show organizers work to increase their appeal in the face of competition from China.

PARIS — If you can't beat them, work with them. That's the attitude French trade show organizers have adopted as they gear up for their next round of events.

Facing strenuous low-cost competition from China, organizers are courting a new breed of Chinese buyer and betting that European creativity will continue to fuel interest in their wares despite the deluge of Chinese goods.

"We knew the wave of [Chinese garments] was going to come, and though it has destabilized production in Europe, it has opened a new door to an increasingly wealthy Chinese buyer," said Hervé Huchet, fashion director at Prêt à Porter. According to Xavier Clergerie, organizer of Who's Next, the Premiere Classe contemporary ready-to-wear and accessories show, the number of Chinese buyers jumped 59 percent this year.

"There is no reason to fight it," said Daniel Faure, president of Première Vision.

Instead, French organizers said they were funneling their energy into protecting European creations from counterfeits and going on the road to court clients from beyond Europe, which has been beset by sluggish retail spending and the high value of the euro.

Première Vision, for instance, stages sister shows in New York and Shanghai. Prêt à Porter recently launched The Train in New York and Livingroom in Tokyo. Who's Next will go on an international tour starting in January to promote the show in Japan, London, Italy, China and Korea.

At Prêt à Porter, which will host some 1,500 exhibitors at the Porte de Versailles Feb. 2-5, organizers stressed the importance of developing the show abroad.

"Catering to international buyers is essential for our survival," said the Prêt's Huchet, who added that he plans to up the count of international buyers from 44 percent to 66 percent in the next three years. In order to do this, the Prêt will organize a day of French runway shows during New York Fashion Week in September 2006.

Back at home, Huchet continues to stress the importance of new forums, thematic sections and designer platforms at the Prêt. The next show, for example, will devote an entire area to Greek fashion."Greek fashion design is blossoming," said Huchet, who noted that distribution channels in Greece "are excellent" and that Greek buyers outnumbered American buyers 2-to-1 at the last show. Looking ahead, Huchet said a similar presentation of American designers could be in the cards.

Other forums at the Prêt in February will include a "Boutique" session that will coach designers on the presentation of their products and their stands at the show.

"Our goal is to be like a department store," said Huchet. "The products need to be well-presented in order to facilitate the buyer's visit."

So-called ethical fashion brands will also be a new discussion forum at the Prêt, with plans for a presentation in September of fashion designers who conform to a code of conduct — primarily related to working conditions and workers' rights — as well as those who use environmentally friendly manufacturing methods.

Additionally, the Prêt will unveil results from two years of research into the evolution of the female form and plans to illustrate how fashion has followed that evolution.

Meanwhile, the Porte de Versailles will welcome a raft of other trade events concurrent to the Prêt, including Who's Next, the Bijorhca/Eclat de Mode jewelry and accessories show and the Salon International de la Lingerie event.

Who's Next organizers Clergerie and Bertrand Foache, who also manage Premiere Classe, said focusing on creativity is essential for a successful show. "France has big potential if we focus on products and creativity," said Clergerie. He said the process of selecting designers to present at the shows is increasingly difficult. "The more selective we are, the more people want to be present," he said.

Clergerie noted a declining number of visitors to the urbanwear section of the Who's Next show and said he would trim approximately 60 exhibitors from the

offering and focus on key products rather than brands. Urbanwear exhibitors will no longer be responsible for their stand's presentation, as the Who's Next management will coordinate all stands in an effort to focus on the products. "We have always included brands with strong recognition," said Clergerie. "But we want to focus on the product ahead of the brand. The brand is secondary." Who's Next will feature 50 new brands in February, representing about 30 percent of its overall total of 450 labels. Clergerie added that the upcoming edition of Premiere Classe will feature some 300 exhibitors when it convenes Feb. 2-5.Sylvie Gaudy, director of the Bijorhca/Eclat de Mode fair, said the salon's

recent partnership with the American embassy succeeded in attracting more U.S. exhibitors to the show. The effort proved highly beneficial, as visitors to the September salon were up 20 percent, to 11,822 buyers.

Gaudy, who expects some 370 exhibitors to attend the show, said the fair is

enforcing a protectionist policy with regard to Chinese brands wishing to exhibit at the salon. A selection committee checks the manufacturing process and quality of the products originating from Asia. "We want to protect designers," she explained. "We refused 11 exhibitors this year because either their prices were too low or the products resembled others, although they were not actually counterfeit."

French salon giant Eurovet, which organizes Lyon Mode City, just finished the inaugural edition of Shanghai Mode Lingerie, and is preparing for its newest project, the upcoming Salon Internationale de la Lingerie (Feb. 2-5 at the Porte de Versailles), in an effort to lure in new foreign markets.

"The Salon Internationale de la Lingerie will be focusing on two things: upping the image of lingerie as a fashion product and increasing our international reach," said Anne-Manuelle Herbert, international director for Eurovet, who noted that

exhibitors and visitors from Eastern European countries, especially Russia, will put in a strong presence at the show. Herbert said she has seen an overall decline in French retailers in Lyon and an increased international presence.

Themes this year will play on promoting lingerie as a product of well-being and its kinship with ready-to-wear, with the salon's third installment of the Ultra Lingerie show aimed to play up lingerie's fashion focus. "We're still on the lookout for partnerships, such as with Swarovski last year," said Herbert. Attendance is expected to remain stable, at roughly 550 brands and 350 fabric manufacturers, but the show has added 5,380 square feet to accommodate demand for bigger booths in line with brand expansions.

Asia is very much in the minds of organizers of the Première Vision show, Europe's foremost fabric fair, which will gather at the Villepint exhibit halls Feb. 21-24 at the same time as the Expofil yarn fair and the Mod'Amont trimmings event."It gives European designers access to the Asian market and simultaneously creates a window for European fashion," said Première Vision's Faure. "Subsequently, it's a way to attract people to Paris."

Faure also stressed the importance of creative fabrics. "Basic products will no longer work for Europe, we must focus on creativity and quality," he said.

Faure also said to expect a "more convivial and more attractive" presentation for the upcoming show, as Première Vision attempts to spruce up its conservative image.

Across town, Texworld, a fair organized by Messe Frankfurt that features less-expensive textiles, is expected to add two halls and nearly 70 exhibitors. Reps for Texworld, held Feb. 20-23 at the CNIT complex at La Défense, the business district just west of Paris, expects some 700 participants.

A handful of smaller fashion-forward fairs around the capital will also run around the time of the runway shows. Workshop, staged March 2-7, is a designer forum run by Sarah Tenot. It will convene at the Cercle Republican on the Avenue de l'Opéra as well as at the Regina Hotel on the Rue de Rivoli, and

expects to host some 120 vendors. Tenot said she has teamed up with Shanghai International Fashion Expo in order to create an exchange program for

exhibitors between Paris and Shanghai. For the next show, Tenot launched a "W Salon," a separate room that will host five brands with Workshop representatives acting as agents.

Designer fashion show Paris Sur Mode, held March 3-6, will pitch tents in the Tuileries Gardens to join Atmosphère d'Hiver and the second edition of Premiere Classe. Meanwhile, Tranoï, organized by Armand Adida, now counts three locations on Avenue Montaigne, Bourse de Commerce and Austerlitz that will run March 2-5, while the 19 Vendôme show, hosted by Carole de Bona, caters to smaller luxury brands on March 3-6.

— With contributions from Katya Foreman and Ellen Groves

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