By  on September 22, 2008

PARIS —Smoky grays contrasted with bright colors emerged as a key direction for next summer at the Who’s Next and Prêt à Porter trade shows at Porte de Versailles here.

Despite economic doldrums, organizers said traffic to Who’s Next and the Première Classe accessories fair combined rose 15 percent, with some 19,000 international buyers representing 35 percent of total visitors. Attendance by French retailers rose 16 percent from last year to almost 36,000. Traffic at Prêt increased 6 percent versus last September’s edition, with international buyers representing 39 percent.

Both salons were boosted by additional traffic to the Mode City lingerie fair, which moved to Paris from Lyon. Next year, Prêt à Porter confirmed it would hold an additional session in July.

Although some buyers lamented a lack of newness in silhouettes, bold colors and prints were strong trends at Who’s Next.

“There’s a freshness among certain brands, a contrast of soft pastels and bright colors,” said Nathalie Millereau, director of private label collections at France’s Galeries Lafayette department stores, citing Berenice, Pablo by Gérard Darel and Des Petits Hauts as examples.

Prints of all kinds were a big statement and the team from U.K. retailer Miss Selfridge noted an Eighties influence. Many retailers were cautious, citing budgets flat or below last year.

“Our spending is down by 10 percent,” said Kelly Villa, owner of the Champs élysées boutique Elle Dit Non au Garçon, who blamed the reduced spending power of French consumers for slower sales. “If it wasn’t for tourists, we would struggle.”

Villa lamented a lack of novelty among designers. She said, “People aren’t taking risks any more, it’s becoming almost classical.”

Mai Lee Kum, buying for hip London boutique The Jacksons, said, “I’m looking for cheaper pieces right now because it’s a worrying period.”

Kum was hunting inexpensive collections to team with the odd strong luxury item.

“We’ve got 22 stores and we’re increasing to 28 by the end of the season,” said Emma Paulus, junior product development manager for the U.K.’s Cath Kidston chain.

While fewer U.S. buyers attended Who’s Next, there were some first-timers.

“We usually go to New York, but every booth has the same thing over and over,” said Abigail Duncan, owner of hat and accessories boutique My Fair Lady in Newark, who lauded the handmade gold-colored headbands at Anauve as the kind of novelty unique item she was seeking.

“We expected more customers from emerging markets,” said exhibitor Justine Gumpelson at Ambre Babzoe, whose sequined silk dresses were a hit among independent boutiques from Italy, Spain and France.

“There seems to be a drop in traffic, but despite that we’ve picked up good new accounts,” said Saadia Bagadi at Des Petits Hauts.

Italy’s Liu Jo concurred that traffic was lighter than last season. The label, which is targeting sales of 180 million euros, or $257 million at current exchange, by yearend, is rapidly expanding its own store network, introducing a new retail concept at its new 2,300-square-foot Paris flagship on the Rue Saint Honoré. A further 10 stores, in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East, are planned by yearend.

Reflecting continued faith in multibrand retailing, some buyers were shopping for new stores.

The duo behind renowned children’s luxury brand Bonpoint, Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, are set to open a 15,000-square-foot concept store in the Marais in Paris selling fashion, home and lifestyle items next March during Paris Fashion Week. Called Merci, the store’s final fashion lineup hasn’t been completed, but will include casual chic clothing line Swildens.

“It has a blend of rock and romanticism,” said Merci’s buyer Vanessa Bonneufoix.

Hunting edgy labels for a multibrand store set to open on Paris’ Avenue Wagram in 2009, Stephanie Thouery lauded the collections at Diab’less and American Vintage.

“There’s still an ethnic, hippy chic trend, but the materials being used are more refined,” she said, pointing to the dominance of silk.

Players hoping to enter the green market headed to the Prêt’s So Ethic section.

“There’s massive growth coming through in the U.K.,” said Frances Scorah, who plans to introduce a fair trade and organic underwear label called Peep there next year.

Organic printed T-shirts designed by names such as Giles Deacon and Zandra Rhodes for the U.K.’s Environmental Justice Foundation proved a hit with buyers, including Japan’s United Arrows department store.

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