By  on March 14, 2005

MADRID — Bigger isn’t always better.

There were 1,100 exhibitors at the SIMM show, held last month at the Juan Carlos I fairgrounds here — the largest vendor participation in the fair’s 26-year history, and a 14 percent hike over the previous February edition — but quantity did not necessarily translate into increased sales.

“There isn’t much joy in the [Spanish] market lately,” said Mireia Bisbe, a second-generation producer of special occasion dresses whose eponymous label is based in Barcelona. “Generally speaking, brands have taken over and the winter season was a tough sell. Retailers are overstocked and they’re paying close attention to price. They are not in a buying mood.”

Buyer interest focused on slim, feminine silhouettes like a daring above-the-knee gold lace party dress with stitched satin bra and a wholesale tag of $325, or 249 euros at current exchange. “It’s sexy but not provocative,” Bisbe added.

Her line is distributed through 600 domestic sales points. Italy, where the firm has four showrooms, and the U.K. are her strongest foreign markets.

“We had lots of visitors but not many orders,” confirmed Yolanda Moreno Ruiz of Madrid-based shirtmaker Mirto.  “There’s a certain disheartenment out there and buyers are reacting with caution.”

She said retailers were shopping for feminine styles in stretch cotton and shiny fabrics with satin “number one” for detailing. Hot colors for fall are solid orange and a range of greens including pistachio. Wholesale prices are around $78 to $85, or 60 to 65 euros.

Mirto’s men’s shirt line is carried in more than 100 U.S. doors, and based on its success, its four-year-old women’s line continues to target American shores, Moreno Ruiz said. “Despite the soft dollar, the U.S. is doing better and sales are up.” She cited Puerto Rico and Mexico as “important emerging markets.”

The biannual SIMM show, which closed Feb. 14, is Europe’s second largest apparel fair after Düsseldorf’s CPD. Vendors from 43 countries spread over slightly more floor space than February 2004 — about 409,000 square feet in six pavilions.Overall traffic rose marginally to 31,666 visitors, including 3,059 foreigners — 75 fewer than last winter’s edition. Major buying groups came from Portugal (57 percent), Italy (5 percent), France and Greece (4 percent each) and Mexico (3 percent).

Exhibitors agreed a terrorist car-bomb that exploded a few blocks from the fairgrounds only 48 hours before SIMM’s inaugural had no effect on its commercial results. On the other hand, they concluded, Asian competition did.

Echoing other vendors, veteran exhibitor Julie Sohn said, “I’m just a little guy. I can’t compete with China’s pricing, but I can fight [the competition] with design.” In addition, she is upgrading quality, “especially my fabrics.”

New York-born Sohn, who is based in Barcelona and has a self-named line, said, “The Spanish market is either hip and modern or very classic. New-generation stores with younger owners are pumping up the sector’s energy levels. In general, mid to high-end retailers don’t attend the Madrid show. They rely on local showrooms and hotels. For me, this fair is for contacts. The appointments — and sales — come later.”

For fall, the Parsons-educated designer’s hits include a group of delicate spider-lace layers in putty-colored wool viscose over a long taffeta skirt or pants.  The series wholesales from $105 to $195, or 80 to 150 euros.

The show’s major categories were party dresses with plenty of frou, contrasting textures, beads, metallics and glitter; great-looking knits, including coats, dresses, capes, shrugs and chunky sweaters; embellished cotton denim; novelty Ts, and traditional silhouettes with impeccable tailoring.

Fuentecapala, a 63-year-old Madrid-based label, continues to capitalize on its men’s wear expertise in the women’s line, called Fuentecapala Mujer, a more conventional range of coats, jackets, dresses, skirts and blouses. For instance, a tweed jacket with suede trim has a handmade feeling with a hidden inside pocket and stitching details. Average wholesale price is $234, or 180 euros.

With a solid export business in Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and China, Fuentecapala also sells through 40 doors in the U.S., including Neiman Marcus and smaller boutiques, according to director Oscar Vargas Sanz. Fuentecapala recently opened a New York showroom on West 57th Street.“We’re a known name, well-positioned in Spain — 750 points of sale for women’s and men’s — with cheaper price points than Italy.

“Spain doesn’t have the image or design clout of ‘Made in Italy’ brands, so quality and value are key,” he added.

Tacked on to the trade fair, the SIMM-sponsored runway presentations, Pasarela Cibeles, featured 28 designers — established local names as well as  newer players — and 24 shows. Inspirations came from a geographical range from Nijinsky to Frida Kahlo, while key trends included pattern-rich fabrics and texture mixes; longer lengths, floor-sweepers and swingy, voluminous shaping; layered metallics; updated denim separates and outerwear; vibrant color combos, and black. Among the highlights:

Ailanto’s Russian influence and coherent presentation including beautiful original florals — à la Celia Birtwell, some said — and floaty dresses with flounces and tiers.

Miguel Palacio’s draped satin tops with longer-than-fingertip sleeves and signature low-rise hipster pants and a few slinky goddess dresses — all in black.

José Miro’s dresses, coats, ponchos and a cape in baby-fine wool tulle with lots of plush fringe in camel, heavy cream, mocha and face-powder pink.

Amaya Arzuaga’s much-heralded return to Cibeles after an eight-year hiatus. She has been showing — and selling — in London and Milan. Amaya went with winter white, red and black, always her favorite color, turned up in a duo of sexy knee-length dinner dresses piped in gold and a ton of extra fabric for all those folds and flounces she used to create volume.

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