PARIS — Placing orders on the eve of the Iraqi war, buyers shopping the recent round of apparel trade shows said they would be slashing their budgets for fall by 10 to 30 percent.
In tandem, exhibitors at the shows — Tranoi, Workshop, Atmosphere and Paris Sur Mode — cited slower business than in past seasons and a sharp reduction in the number of Americans perusing their wares.
On the plus side, exhibitors said Japanese attendance had been steady, while European boutiques continued to place orders, even if at a more conservative clip.
"Customers are buying, but they’re buying small quantities," said Laurent Taieb, sales director at French outerwear firm Vent Couvert, which showed at Atmosphere. "Buyers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. If they sell it, they’ll place more orders. They don’t want to take a chance in this environment."
"We’ve seen a lot of hesitation among buyers," said Nina Meert, a Brussels-based designer also at Atmosphere. "It’s difficult for them to commit in this climate."
Laetitia Ivanez, who designs Les Prairies de Paris, showing at Tranoi, said Americans had largely foregone the fair. "But we’ve seen Japanese and Europeans. It’s not going to be a great season. It’s not an exuberant buying environment."
"I’m cutting back some 20 percent," said Gabriella Razzi, owner of Dei Personaggi, a designer boutique in Italy, who had attended all four of the trade events. "But it’s difficult to cut. You don’t want to get stuck with an empty store. But maybe that would be the best thing to happen right now."
"I’m shaving about 15 percent off last year’s fall budget," said Yvonne Damat, who owns an eponymous boutique in Richmond, in the U.K. "I’m worried about what’s going on. I think it would be madness not to be conservative."
"We’re being very pragmatic at the moment," said Marc Knibbeler, who runs Paris designer shop Gravity Zero, at Workshop. "We need sure sells at the moment. We used to go out on a limb for something we knew would be a hard sell, but that brought more personality to the shop. Not right now.""I’m only buying the things I know I can sell," echoed Laura Starbuck, owner of Tribecca, a designer boutique in Brighton, U.K. "Instead of buying expensive items that I know will be hard to sell, I’m trying to find less-expensive items. I think that they will be easier to sell in this environment."
Top trends at the shows ranged from ultra-feminine looks to bright colors. Buyers said they embraced the move toward more chic, sophisticated clothes and that color would be important for fall.
"Elegance is very important," said Starbuck. "Miniskirts look fresh, too. Nothing too wacky is right for the moment."
Carole Florry, owner of Changing Room, a designer shop in Kent, Britain, said: "I’ve been introducing a lot of color, starting this spring, and it’s going to carry over for fall. Red, orange and green are good. People have so much black, that if I keep buying black, I’m not going to sell very much."
"Military is still a story," said Knibbeler. "But it’s much softer and more feminine. Colors are softer, too, such as terra cotta and pale pink."
Michiru Abe, director of Dazzling, a Tokyo retailer, said futuristic Sixties-inspired items à la Courrèges and Pierre Cardin interested her most. "Silver and green will be important," she said. "Miniskirts are also strong."
Abe added: "Business is very difficult. People still have money, but they don’t feel like spending. We’ve got to find something fun to get them to open their wallets."
Workshop, held at the Cercle Republican on the Avenue de l’Opera, featured 68 exhibitors and drew 4,976 people to the four-day event.
With 80 exhibitors, Atmosphere, held in the tents in the Tuileries Gardens and the Albany and Saint James Hotel, said 4,030 people visited its fair. Organizersadded that the number of French buyers increased 30 percent, but that the number of Americans declined 25 percent, with Japanese attendance down 18 percent.
Paris sur Mode, also in the Tuileries Gardens, and Tranoi, held at the Espace Austerlitz, did not provide attendance statistics.