By  on February 6, 2007

PARIS — European sportswear is having a luxury makeover.

To better face fierce competition from fast-fashion chains and an increasingly brand-conscious clientele, contemporary brands at the recent round of apparel trade shows here were upping the luxury quotient, adding more runway-inspired styles and upscale detailing to traditional sportswear.

The Prêt à Porter and Who's Next events at the Porte de Versailles exhibit halls, which wrapped up a four-day run on Sunday, featured a plethora of trendy sportswear and contemporary brands eager to smooth out boundaries between designer labels and sportswear brands. Ultrafeminine silhouettes and styles, especially dresses, dominated the fashion message.

"Brands are offering a new ‘high street deluxe' category with trendy yet affordable styles that provide a bit of the luxury dream and offer an alternative to shopping at Zara and H&M," said Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager of women's fashion at Printemps. "Streetwear and denim are becoming more feminine. Denim is sliding into the contemporary category and is targeting a more feminine clientele."

Charbit said Who's Next was packed with creative fashion brands with similar product offerings, citing Paul & Joe Sister's as an attractive collection with commercial potential.

"There is a general evolution of streetwear, which is clearly heading toward design and creation," said Luc Bierme, buyer at Citadium, a Paris sportswear retailer owned by retail and luxury giant PPR.

Bierme said retro touches from the Sixties, such as short dresses and cropped jackets, as well as rock 'n' roll influences from the Eighties, like ultraslim jeans and British pop influences, would continue into the fall.

Retailers said they were placing orders, but with a cautious stance, reserving budgets for replenishments and late orders. The majority said their budgets for fall-winter 2007-08 would remain on par with last year's.

"The market is totally changing," said Sally Hilkene, of Churchill, a high-end women's ready-to-wear store in Kansas City, Mo. "Customers are always on the lookout for new brands. We are continuously adding new names."

Hilkene, who plans to increase her budget slightly, said Amsterdam-based Nodresscode offered creative inspirations such as high-waist, wide-leg pants with metallic detailing. She added Sylvie Shimmel to her list of favorites and said that Natacha & Vanessa's dresses were reminiscent of Jane Fonda's look in "Barbarella." Overall, Hilkene said collections had more shine and shimmer than in past seasons.

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