By  on September 19, 1994

DUSSELDORF -- While business was only modest for some, American vendors' spirits were high at the American Department of Commerce's pavilion at the Igedo Dessous and Beach show here last week.

Twenty American manufacturers of foundations, sleepwear and swimwear -- most making their European debut at the three-day Dusseldorf fair that ran through Tuesday -- exhibited together at the Department of Commerce's first group effort at Igedo in seven years.

The fair overall featured 511 exhibitors, two-thirds of which came from abroad, and drew about 10,000 visitors. Industry observers said that traffic was a bit lighter than a year ago, many attributing the drop to the Lyon show, which ran almost concurrently.

While there was still some fine-tuning to be done, Stan Herman, a designer of robes and loungewear and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, described the pavilion as "attractive and clean." The American participants generally only had good things to say about the government agency's efforts on their behalf, which included publicity mailings and a fashion show for the media on opening day.

The mayor of Dusseldorf also hosted a dinner for the visiting Americans, which helped set the welcoming tone they said characterized the fair.

American manufacturers have gotten the message that an agent or distributor is almost a must in order to do business efficiently in the European market. Making contacts with sales representatives was at the top of their lists. "I already signed up a powerful distributor and have three or four others in discussion," said Carol Wior, designer and owner of swimwear maker Carol Wior Inc., Bell Garden, Calif. "I've written orders for France, Ireland and Italy."

Mark Weintraub, president of Dernier Chic, an upscale loungewear firm from New York, said orders have been "OK, not great, and exactly what I expected. But the show's been very good. People showed a lot of interest."

"We are initially getting back much more than we are putting in," said Mark Merrifield, export sales manager of California Proline, a swimwear firm from Santa Barbara, Calif.

He added, though, that "It's not a piece of cake, in Germany especially."Fred Levine, president of Perfect Comfort, a maker of bodyshapers in Long Island City, N.Y., noted, "It's a small investment for major credibility, and it's been great."

Levine said he opened accounts with retailers in Germany, Japan and Lebanon.

Sheela Goojha, president of Fleur de Lys Lingerie from Flushing, N.Y., and her husband Ravi Goojah, director, said they found sales reps for the entire European marketplace.

"I got a small number of orders, but I made some incredible contacts. I saw Harrods of London," said Theresa Famolaro, sales manager of Valenteen for Unit One, San Francisco.

The pavilion's largest player, Kellwood Co., Chesterfield, Mo., came to Dusseldorf with its Stan Herman robe line and Terry Russo daywear and sleepwear collections.

Vernon Page, vice president of Kellwood, said, "The pavilion was an incentive for us to participate." He added that the company's goal was to ascertain "whether or not our products, designed and manufactured for the American market, could have application to the European market.

"So far," he reported, "reaction has been very favorable regarding styling and fabrication."

If direct sales were only moderate for American newcomers, American firms that are Igedo veterans had a different story to tell: Several said they doubled business over a year ago.

"We feel a lot more encouragement from people," said Marvin Backer, vice president of Flora Nikrooz Lingerie, New York. Backer has been an exhibitor at Igedo for eight years.

"They seem to have more confidence that a U.S. label is a plus," said Backer.

Vicky Montana, New York sales rep for Jonquil Lingerie of Santa Monica, Calif., commented, "We have a lot of repeat customers. We've definitely opened new accounts and new areas, such as Asia, Japan and Taiwan."

Marie-Rose Vergult, export sales manager of Fernando Sanchez, New York, noted, "Before, we were considered high risk, but now retailers are willing to expand into something they wouldn't have touched two years ago."

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