PARIS –Faced with increased competition from fast fashion and declining domestic sales, French lingerie labels are upping their game to push their presence on the international stage. This was the resounding message at the Salon de la Lingerie (SIL) and Interfilière trade shows here, which ran Jan 21-23 at Porte de Versailles.Show organizer Eurovet said it saw a “marked increase” in visitor numbers, but declined to reveal figures. International attendance accounted for 64 percent of visitors. French and British visitor numbers declined, Eurovet said. At Interfilière, visitor numbers increased 7 percent, with a 14 percent rise in international attendees, who accounted for 66.5 percent of traffic.To coincide with the event, industry body Promincor – Lingerie Française hosted the “Lingerie, Mon Amour” runway show in central Paris. For the first time, fourteen historic French corsetry labels as well as five younger brands showed their creations together on the catwalk.Lise Charmel, one of the participants, also hosted its own runway show, an event that was broadcast live online and had been viewed more than half a million times 10 days later.Lise Charmel managing director Olivier Piquet said that the label bucked the downward trend last year, registering sales increases both in France and abroad. France represents around half of its revenues. “France is still the biggest market and the birthplace of high-end lingerie,” he said. “There is still a customer for high-end, quality lingerie, but you need to work very hard on quality, comfort, creativity and service.”At Aubade, French sales still account for more than 50 percent of business. Martina Brown, brought on as deputy general delegate of the brand in 2015, has been charged with growing international sales. “What did we need to do to grow internationally? We had to adjust sizes, while keeping our DNA,” she said. “Women with big sizes are desperately looking for beautiful products.”Eurovet put more of a fashion focus on the event, introducing a new space, Uncover, designed like a concept store for younger brands. Some of these are also part of an Uncover pop-up at Galeries Lafayette’s Boulevard Haussmann flagship from Jan. 20 to Feb.15.Of SIL’s 450 exhibitors from 44 countries, 100 were newcomers, including Lou and Vanity Fair, which made their return to the show with an offer that was praised by buyers.“The new brands are very diverse and extremely creative,” said Eurovet’s lingerie division director Taya de Reyniès. “Boutiques, especially those at the upper end of the market, are increasingly communicating with more of a fashion-led discourse.”French lingerie and hosiery sales fell 1.1 percent last year to 3.55 billion euros, or $3.93 billion at average exchange rates, according to the French Fashion Institute (IFM). French women spent an average of 129 euros, or $142.79, on lingerie and hosiery last year, down from 131 euros, or $145, a year earlier. Nevertheless, younger consumers upped their spend, with women aged 15-24 dedicating an average of 192 euros, or $212.52, to the category, up 2 percent.As such, many labels were diversifying their offer to target younger consumers and compete with fast fashion, and this was apparent in the offer on show, including a new focus on shapes like the bralet and triangle bra and crossover items between lingerie and ready-to-wear.“For young women, certain lingerie pieces are no longer considered as such, like bodies and bralets,” said de Reyniès. “This is making [the industry] think about how it conceives lingerie.”Chantelle introduced shapes like lace bralets and triangle bras, as well as sports bras and leggings, for the first time in a bid to capture younger consumers. “We needed to modernize,” said a spokeswoman for Groupe Chantelle. “The brand is perceived as being for older women, which is not the case.”Maison Lejaby, meanwhile, introduced Elixir, its own version of the triangle bra with greater support for larger cup sizes, targeting consumers in international markets, especially the United States. An Elixir bra is priced between 80 and 120 euros at retail, or $86 to $129 at current exchange.“It is difficult to compete with fast fashion,” observed Maison Lejaby creative director Pascale Renaux, who joined the brand nearly two years ago. “You can only tell the difference when you wear or touch the lingerie. Young women do not necessarily have the purchasing power [to buy high-end brands], and older women today copy their daughters’ consumption patterns.”Another veteran French label, Barbara, was highlighting French craftsmanship with the addition of tags on garments featuring Calais lace. Its collection, inspired by the American Far West, featured laces with feather patterns, ethnic prints and embroideries, with wholesale prices averaging around 30 euros, or $32, for a bra and 16 euros, or $17, for panties.Within the Uncover section, several brands showed their support for French craftsmanship. Henriette H., which has seen success online with its personalized embroidered panties, introduced items made with French lace, priced from 95 to 200 euros, or $102 to $215, at retail.Jolies Mômes, launched four years ago, uses lace from companies including French firm Noyon in its designs, buying up leftover stock and providing a new revenue driver for France’s ailing lacemakers. The brand showcased lace, silk and printed velvet designs, with retail prices averaging 120 euros, or $129, for a set.Another, Body & Clyde, focuses on simple bi-material bodies in line with the inner/outerwear trend. Its core products wholesale for between 25 and 27 euros, or $27 and $29, and are offered at Le Bon Marché in Paris as well as online.Retailers praised the renewed creativity at the show. First-time visitor Sonya Perkins, owner of Forever Yours Lingerie in Vancouver, Canada, was increasing her budgets and looking to pick up new brands on the back of strong business.“There are a lot of smaller, independent brands you don’t see at the North American shows,” she said, picking U.K.-based vintage-inspired label Harlow & Fox as a standout. She highlighted peacock hues, two-tone lace and metallics as trends at SIL.“We really feel there is something of a renewal in lingerie,” said Margot Pagès, co-founder of French e-shop Miroir des Muses, praising the Uncover section as well as velvet designs and increased transparency, a key trend. “There had been a lot of sameness for some time, and that is changing.”Simone Pérèle, for example, SIL's designer of the year, introduced vintage-inspired velvet and tulle items to its offer.At Interfilière, French craftsmanship was also a focus. Calais-based Noyon, awaiting a commercial court decision on Feb. 9 on its future, highlighted its bi-stretch laces, priced between 13 and 14 euros, or $14 and $15, per 20cm by 1m10 strip.My Desseilles, saved from bankruptcy last April by Chinese textile company Yong Sheng, showcased an extra-fine lace designed by hand and made on a specially developed machine. It claims to be the only supplier offering such a product, priced 65 euros, or $70, per meter.“The only solution to the crisis facing French lacemakers is to make the most beautiful product possible,” said Deseilles’ creative director Gérard Dezoteux. “We cannot decrease prices to compete with the Chinese. Certain major brands on the market today are willing to pay the price to have something exceptional and unique.”The overall theme at Interfilière was lightness, with The Selection space highlighting transparency and ultra-light fabrics with an exhibition-like installation and fabric showcase.Newcomer Eastman showcased its new bio-based cellulosic fiber Naia, which it claims offers a combination of comfort, luxurious finish and easy care. Based mainly on wood pulp, the fiber can be used alone or blended for a range of different effects resembling materials as diverse as velvet, satin or jersey.
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