By  on November 21, 2007

BARCELONA — SPAIN'S FASHION-CONSCIOUS trade fair sector is floundering — with one big exception. Bread & Butter Barcelona is on top of its game. The Berlin-organized sportswear and contemporary apparel show, featuring more than 1,000 brands, keeps getting bigger, and by definition some say, better.

Reportedly, January's exhibition space will stretch from 1.1 million to 1.7 million square feet, but a spokesman said those figures have yet to be confirmed.

The fifth edition, held July 4 to 6, burst the Montjüic fairground's vintage halls with a record-breaking 91,000 visitors — double the previous year. Sixty-five percent were foreigners from 99 countries, according to founder and managing director Karl-Heinz Müller, with major buying groups from Spain/Portugal, Italy, Germany, the U.K. and France, and "significant" representation from Russia and Japan.

B&BB's upcoming event, which runs Jan. 16 to 18, will increase floor space with at least two additional halls, Montjüic's Pabellón 6 and 7, and new categories: The Source, made up of roughly 100 international textile vendors, and Off-Show, a grouping of established brands and newer quality lines. A third hall was still under negotiation at press time.

More space does not necessarily translate into increased exhibitors, a spokesman said. "There won't be a surge in vendors. Instead, organizers are betting on more halls and new classifications like textiles, young talents and suppliers to broaden the fair's customer base," the spokesman said.

In addition, B&BB will offer art exhibitions in the neighboring Mies van de Rohe Pavilion and runway space in the Palau Nacional, the undisputed jewel in the fairgrounds' crown, built in 1929 for the World's Fair and restored a few years ago by Italian architect Gae Aulenti. With a seating capacity of up to 2,100, catwalk presentations will take place four times daily, sources said.

In general, exhibitors are bullish about the fair's effectiveness. "B&BB is an advanced fashion show with all the trends. It validates what you're doing for next season; we need to be here," said Barbara Fusco, a principal of Paco Gil, an upscale women's shoe manufacturer based in Elda, Spain. "Retailers are sharp, high-end boutiques," she added. "There is a different clientele and a higher level of stores at this fair."Barcelona Bridal Week, held once yearly, includes the Pasarela Gaudí Novias catwalk shows and Noviaespaña, the concurrent trade fair. Next year's dates are May 27 to June 1 in Barcelona's Montjuïc 2 fairgrounds. According to fair organizer Flaqué Internacional, roughly 130 vendors representing 200 brands are expected to participate on increased floor space of 322,800 square feet. This year's three-day event drew upward of 12,000 visitors.

Runway presentations feature Spanish manufacturers and designers who are strong in bridal, including Rosa Clará and Jesús del Pozo, but the week's highlight is Pronovias' evening show with exclusive mini collections by Valentino and Elie Saab.

Reportedly the largest bridalwear manufacturer in the world, Pronovias invited 1,800 specialty retailers from 73 countries (30 more than 2006) to its hometown last June for a preview of 2008. Mainly customers from the multinational corporation's rapidly expanding global network, the guest list included 250 retailers from the U.S. and Canada.

Meanwhile, attendance and vendor figures at the Ifema-organized Madrid fashion fairs are taking a dive.

For example, the biannual SIMM fair, which ran Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 in the Madrid fairgrounds, drew 16,788 visitors, down 13 percent over last September's show, and exhibitor participation slid 7.5 percent from the previous year to 811.

Vendors at the Modacalzado shoe show, held at the end of September in the Spanish capital's fairgrounds, dropped to 570 or roughly 75 fewer exhibitors than last fall's show. One exhibitor who didn't wish to be named ventured a reason why: "The concept of trade fairs is changing. Buyers are bored with macrofairs. There's a trend in Europe toward mixed-merchandise combination fairs, like Bread & Butter," she said.

Modacalzado and the Iberpiel leather goods show, which ran in tandem, drew 17,212 trade visitors, a 13 percent drop over last September. Foreign attendees totaled 3,093 — comparable to the March edition.

According to Pola Iglesias, director of Madrid's fashion-related fairs, "All European fashion events are struggling, with both apparel and footwear sectors down, and anybody that says otherwise is fibbing," she said. Iglesias cited weak consumer spending and a volatile dollar as major reasons for the less-than-robust figures, and added, "Bread & Butter Barcelona is hurting us; we're suffering because of them."Domestic buying power is more concentrated; buyers are purchasing for more stores, which accounts for less foot traffic," Iglesias said. On the other hand, foreign visitors, except from Portugal, have remained constant and, in general, exhibitors are happy with sales. "Nobody has said they won't come back next year."

Another problem eroding the health of her shows, Iglesias said, is the setting up of temporary hotel showrooms by upscale domestic brands during fair dates, which draws buyer attention away from established trade venues. "It's much cheaper and a cozier way to sell," she said. "Then again, in the case of Modacalzado, Spanish retailers that shop the Milan (Micam) show don't necessarily need our fair, too."

For the first time in SIMM history, summer 2008 dates have been pushed up — from its traditional September slot to July 17 to 19. "We can't be the last fashion fair in Europe. To be important, we have to show earlier," Iglesias said.

Because of the change in dates, Madrid Fashion Week's Pasarela Cibeles catwalk shows will be tacked on to the SIMM run for the last time. Cibeles will take place in Retiro Park, Feb. 11 to 15. A spokesman for director Cuca Solana's office said plans for next season have yet to be finalized. No details were available.

Generally speaking, Cibeles is small in impact, without the glam generated by international supermodels. The September edition featured 36 designers, five more than last year, and the upcoming February event is expected to be about the same

An upstart addition to the Madrid trade fair calendar, Plural Fashion showcased contemporary Asian products, particularly tops, shoes, jewelry and children's wear from nine countries including China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Indonesia. The second-season event, with only 90 booths, gives small local shops a chance to buy rapid-turnover Asian merchandise, Iglesias said, noting the favorable equation of quality and price. "It's a small fair with a future," she said.

Plural Fashion, which took place Oct. 25 to 27 in the Madrid fairgrounds, drew more than 3,000 visitors. The event was perked up with displays of regional Asian cooking and dances. The next edition is scheduled for May 22 to 24.Madrid fairs unveiled Ifema's much ballyhooed new layout which, with open stands, galactic lighting and brands grouped according to category and product philosophy, was generally well received by both retailers and exhibitors.

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