By  on May 23, 2007

The Spanish trade fair sector is up against it.

Local fashion brands are being squeezed by continued Asian competition, weak consumer spending and economic uncertainties — not to mention a dollar that has slid 58 percent against the euro in five years. Buyer turnouts are unpredictable and vendor participation is less than robust. So, what to do?

Madrid's solution is a new merchandising scheme that includes a major space overhaul and logistical innovation, said SIMM apparel show director Pola Iglesias. "It's a total new look, a radical change. My obligation is to provide Spanish manufacturers with the most commercial environment possible. With so many brands being produced offshore, we've lost a lot of manufacturers. That's a market reality; we don't have to deny the facts. The reorganization will improve the SIMM show aesthetically and logistically," said Iglesias, who admitted the new format is a response to vendors' criticism that "the old feria had deteriorated slightly.

"Our idea is to stimulate the fair experience, to attract more exhibitors, especially emerging talents and, not least, to surprise retailers with a more coherent product offering." An upgraded product mix translates into better sales, Iglesias concluded, "and our purpose is to sell."

The newly designed interior with better

lighting and construction materials will roll out at the fall edition of SIMM, Madrid Fashion Week's trade event, to run Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 in the fairground's five odd-numbered halls. Color-coded sections will consolidate and define eight classifications — from eveningwear and party clothes (traditionally a strong category at the Madrid fair) to denim and urban cool. Exhibitors are free to decorate their booths according to individual/corporate taste, Iglesias pointed out.

In September, the clothing fair's vendor participation dropped 13 percent, to 877. Iglesias attributed the decline to "the crisis that clings to Europe because of the Asian threat, and coinciding dates with major French apparel shows." In addition, some regular exhibitors have defected to Bread & Butter Barcelona, she said.

Meanwhile, Karl-Heinz Müller, managing director of Bread & Butter, announced at a Barcelona press conference held earlier this month that the Berlin-organized contemporary apparel and sportswear show will drop further trade activities in Berlin. "Discussions with the exhibitors of our last event [B&B Berlin at Kraftwerk] made clear that they would rather see the focus on a strong international show and increase their budgets for Barcelona than to divide it between two events. The [Barcelona] premises offer potential for further development and growth, and therefore [they are] ideal to accommodate an expanding B&B Barcelona," he said.The Barcelona fair plans to sweeten its July 4

to 6 product offering with such upscale vendor additions as Kors Michael Kors; Justin Timberlake's William Rast casual label; Jean-Charles de Castelbajac; Cesare Paciotti footwear, and Swedish women's and men's wear brand Filippa K.

On the other hand, the ambitious development plans for the July edition have been put on hold. For instance, the "designer concept" announced by Müller last summer to showcase higher-priced international collections and upmarket brands by staging runway shows throughout the city is "in the fridge," according to a spokeswoman.

Instead, B&B Barcelona will lend its considerable trade clout in support of talented up-and-comers, specifically 38 design graduates from the Barcelona-based Escuela Superior de Diseño y Moda Felicidad Duce, who will stage an end-of-course runway collective in Hall 2 on opening day.

In addition, the grads, with two outfits each, will be featured in local shop windows from July 5 to 8. Participating stores include such heavy hitters as La Comercial in the trendy Born district; Le Swing, a top-of-the-line vintage shop; Jofre, a five-unit chain, and Gonzalo Comella, one of the city's best women's and men's multibrand stores.

The fifth edition of B&B Barcelona, at the city's Montjuïc 1 fairgrounds, is expected to increase its visitor count, especially among foreigners, according to Müller. January's attendance totaled a record 82,837, a jump of 34,000 over the previous winter edition. Key markets were Spain and Portugal, Italy, Germany, the U.K., France and the Benelux countries, he reported.

As of press time, mum is the official word for Pasarel.la Barcelona, the embryonic catwalk presentations that replaced Gaudi/Barcelona Fashion Week in January 2006. According to sources here, the regional government of Barcelona has plugged up the economic pipeline, which, as of January, amounted to 1.2 million euros, or approximately $1.6 million at current exchange, or roughly 90 percent of the Pasarel.la's cost.

"We don't know what we're going to do. So far, there doesn't seem to be any help for us. Either we pay

ourselves individually, or we hang it up," said a spokeswoman for the platform that includes high-end labels such as Custo Barcelona, Armand Basi and Antonio Miro, and up-and-comers José Castro and Txell Miras.This year's January edition, held in Barcelona's Teatre Musical, drew 18,000 visitors, organizers reported.

Madrid's SIMM-sponsored Pasarela Cibeles catwalk presentations will kick off its five-day run in downtown's Retiro Park on September 17. According to director Cuca Solana, the show calendar is not finalized, but it will be similar to February, featuring 35 designers, 29 fashion shows and 64 models who are required to have a body mass index of at least 18. The ban on too-thin models remains firmly in place, Solana said.

Cibeles continues to attract few foreign buyers. Organizers said 14,200 visitors, including foreign press and a smattering of local retailers, attended the February shows.

Vendor participation at Modacalzado, the Spanish shoe fair, held March 23 to 25 at the Madrid fairgrounds, dropped to 588 — or 37 fewer exhibitors than the previous winter edition.

"Every season, it's more of a local show with less foreigners. It's good but not as busy as it used to be," said Mila Garcia, president of Pedro Garcia in Elda, Spain.

According to official figures, Modacalzado and the Iberpiel leather goods show, which run in tandem and are collectively known as SIPIEL, or International Leather Week, drew 18,677 trade visitors, a dip of almost 7 percent over spring 2006. Foreigners totaled 3,100.

The fall edition, to be held September 25 to 27, will adopt SIMM's new streamlined aesthetics, said director Iglesias, "in an effort to connect more directly with the retailer." In addition, the small leather goods grouping of about 90 vendors will be integrated within the footwear fair instead of its usual stand-alone offering.

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