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Special Items Fuel Fall Sales

PARIS — From glamorous fur to cool denim, retailers surveyed in France, Italy and Germany said that unusual or expensive ready-to-wear and accessories designs are spurring fall sales. <br><br>Coming off a strong July and August, most retailers...

PARIS — From glamorous fur to cool denim, retailers surveyed in France, Italy and Germany said that unusual or expensive ready-to-wear and accessories designs are spurring fall sales.

Coming off a strong July and August, most retailers surveyed said business cooled in early September, but is beginning to heat up again. Demand for black, a staple last year, has waned, eclipsed by such colors as brown, khaki or white.

Retailers’ main message, though, was that only the most exciting and uncommon pieces now incite customers to spend.

“Customers are spending money on unusual designs,” said Josef Voelk, managing director of Quartier 206, a department store in Berlin. “They are looking for things that are special. There’s no demand for basics.”

The prognosis is similar in Italy. Giovina Moretti, owner of Milan’s high-end Gio Moretti boutiques on Via Spiga and Via Turati, said that her clients gravitated to “special items, not basic or classic looks, perhaps because their wardrobes are already full [of basics].”

Armand Adida, owner of L’Eclaireur boutiques in Paris, went a step further in explaining fall’s major sellers in his four shops. “I think it’s the globalization effect of luxury,” he explained. “You can go into any high-end shop around the world and get the same thing. Shoppers are very advanced now. They travel and know what is in shops around the world. If you can’t give them something exciting, they won’t open their pocketbooks.”

To wit, Adida said he has discontinued such brands as Helmut Lang and Prada, which he stocked for years, to focus his buy on brands with smaller distribution. “I want to concentrate on names like Lutz, Carpe Diem or Martin Margiela. So far, the clients have been responding positively. Business has been good.”

At Colette, Paris’ hip fashion and design emporium, owner Sarah Lerfel said denim has been her most important retail story for fall. “There are a lot of new and interesting washes in denim,” she said. “Women like to have a great-fitting pair of jeans to combine with more sophisticated pieces. It’s a cooler look.” Lerfel cited jeans from Joie and Marc Jacobs as bestsellers.

Meanwhile, Lerfel said fur and ethnic themes were strong. “Lucien Pellat-Finet cashmere sweaters have also been strong. And we sold out all of the Gregory Parkinson patchwork jackets we ordered in three days. Shoppers want something different, pieces that have an individual touch.”

Lerfel added that Colette, which carries Prada, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, next season would widen its selection of “hard to find” names. “There’s so much of the same thing everywhere. We have to find new names to create new excitement.”

Lerfel called business thus far “better than just good.”

Maria Luisa Poumaillou, who operates the Maria Luisa designer boutiques in Paris, said top sellers have been Ann Demeulemeester’s satin trousers, Balenciaga’s skinny trousers and “anything by Rick Owens.”

At Paris department store Printemps, president Laurence Danon characterized earlier fall sales through August as strong, but slower in September. “Luxury accessories and designer clothes, especially Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, have been strongest.”

Fur coats from Plein Sud and Joseph have performed, as have jeans from McQueen and Paul & Joe.

“More fantasy and color have been important,” she said. “On the other hand, military looks from Paul Smith and Dolce & Gabbana with a slightly feminine touch, like lace finishing on the pockets, have also been good.”

Other bestsellers at Printemps include “Sergeant Pepper” jackets from Marc by Marc Jacobs, Vanessa Bruno and DKNY.

Across the street at Galeries Lafayette, Frederique Salamon, women’s wear divisional merchandise manager, said fur has made a “big splash,” so far. “Very feminine evening looks are strong. On the other hand, denim has been blowing out, from more junior looks to designer denim.” Salamon said gray-washed denim and low-waisted boot-cut jeans were moving well.

Salamon said clients have been most attracted by “high-end” pieces. “There’s been no resistance at all to putting big money on a fur coat. It’s fresh and it is immediate luxury. Shoppers want to spend money, but they want to spend money on something new and exciting.”

Salamon said feminine silhouettes have been most warmly received. Still, she added that military looks, especially baggy trousers with cargo pockets, have been strong.

“Evening looks have been strong. Dresses with flower prints and bulky sweaters have also been moving well,” she said. “Sales in September have been a little slower than usual, but they’re slowly improving.”

Marisa Lombardi, owner of Marisa, a designer shop in Milan’s fashion triangle, said her customers were not interested in “simple, classic items. We’re selling trendy, fashion-oriented pieces better. Closets are full, so people are on the lookout for special, inventive items. For example, Japanese designers are notoriously more intellectual and ‘more difficult,’ but they make beautiful things that are selling very well.”

Lombardi, however, said business has not been strong. “Customers are spending less,” she said. “I attribute this to a general feeling of uncertainty, stock market problems and the devaluation of the dollar.”

Moretti said quilted jackets with leather detailers, Ermanno Scervino shearling coats with fur trim, retailing around $4,000, and Jimmy Choo boots were among her bestsellers. “I’ve also noticed a desire to mix and match designer labels, to avoid a precise designer look. Jean Paul Gaultier is a success. Although his designs aren’t easy, they have something new and interesting to say. In 10 days, we’ve sold out Ann Demeulemeester’s satin and velvet cargo pants.” Moretti has already reordered the latter.

“We are doing well and had a good start,” she said of business. “Our clients belong to the high-range end of the market and they were less hard-hit by the economy.”

Rosi Biffi, owner of the upscale Biffi and Banner Milanese boutiques, said her clients “are definitely not looking for classic items, but for cautiously trendy ones. We are selling small and lean shapes, with the exception of Yohji Yamamoto’s larger designs.” Biffi added that velvet, tweed, brown and burgundy have been bestsellers.

“Considering all that’s happening around us, we’re selling well,” she said. “Price is not an issue, but I see our clients buying a smaller number of items.”

Stefan Alsbrand-Eickhoff, managing partner of the Düsseldorf specialty store Eickhoff, cited Gucci, Dior, Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni and Yves Saint Laurent as selling well.

“All of the main brands have been very important,” he said. “Double-face jackets and coats have sold well, as have Ermanno Scervino’s dyed furs. Real fur in fun looks, as Nigel Preston’s furs and leathers, and stretch leather from Jean Claude Jitrois, have also been moving well.

“All the high-priced brands are doing well,” he continued. “Price is not the most important factor at the moment.”

Alsbrand-Eickhoff added: “August was a pretty strong month. But since the beginning of September, there’s been a bit of a downturn. We feel the mood of Sept. 11, the [summer] floods [in Germany] and [Germany’s] upcoming elections. The consumer is in a bad mood. The money’s still there, but customers aren’t in the mood to spend.”

Voelk at Quartier 206 said: “Price is not an object. In many instances, the highest-priced items are selling best.”

Voelk cited corduroy trousers and three-piece suits from Dolce & Gabbana, mink-trimmed suits from Valentino and denim from Seven among important sellers.

He said that Alexander McQueen’s “empire princess dresses are almost sold out.”

“We have a 22 percent increase over last year,” added Voelk. “People want to know where they’re putting their money. They want quality and real design.”