By  on March 16, 2010

PARIS — As the Paris runway shows heralded a new minimalist silhouette, designers showing at the Paris apparel fairs stuck to trends they know work — with military chic and rock ’n’ roll styles continuing.

As they shuttled between an unprecedented number of venues across Paris during the fairs’ four-day run, which ended March 8, many retailers said spending was flat while a rare few were spending more. “Things are definitely picking up,” declared Saskia Cox of Diverse in north London, one of a handful shopping with increased budgets despite the weak pound. Brands continue to help British buyers. “Suppliers give us small discounts, we hope they’ll continue doing so,” she said, naming Forte Forte’s romantic collection featuring washed silk dresses among her favorites.

Some expressed confidence the recession is over. “A lot of people didn’t buy a coat last winter so this time they’ll need to,” said Ludivine Grégoire, who was hunting French contemporary fashion brands for her two Ludvine stores in New York and a third slated to open this year. “People are spending more than they have in the past,” reported Elizabeth Perrin Coletta, vice president of sales for Ports 1961, noting a strong turnout of buyers from the Middle East at Vendôme Luxury, where the brand showed. Elsewhere, exhibitors noted an uptick in Asian buyers, particularly Japanese.

Mirroring runway trends, military chic continued. “There’s a shift in color to muddy, swamp-like shades, combined with a real return to elegance,” noted Yasmin Sewell, a fashion consultant for Liberty. In fabrics, fur, leather and velvet dominated. “Velvet is tough. It doesn’t retail very well,” said Heidi Hoelzer, divisional merchandise manager for women’s apparel for Scoop in New York, browsing Tranoï. She lauded the sweater line If Only Was True at Tranoï, which introduced lower prices this season. “They’re taking a sweater, adding twists like a zip opening and the prices are great.” Iro’s military yet feminine collection, also at Tranoï, caught her eye. A spokesman for Iro said it was one of the label’s best seasons, with orders up 30 percent year-on-year. The Italian label is introducing its first complete men’s wear collection for winter.

In other trends, the rock ’n’ roll vibe continued, disappointing some. “What I saw I feel I’d already seen in New York over the last few seasons,” said Grégoire. “How many destroyed pairs of jeans or distressed leather jackets are you going to buy?” Grégoire failed to find the cashmere line or chic tops she was looking for. “It’s easier to find accessories than clothing lines,” she said.

Many retailers echoed that sentiment. “We didn’t find anything new or major. The fairs were more useful for accessories than clothing,” said Linda Dresner, owner of Linda Dresner, noting she made regular orders at labels the store already carries such as Ronald Pineau. Likewise, Holt Renfrew lauded the shows for accessories, praising fine jewelry by British designer Natasha Collis at MeMy, a new fair gathering 45 international designers at the Ritz. Collis had added a black rhodium collection — featuring her signature nuggets embellished with tiny showers of diamonds — to her lineup. In May, she will inaugurate her first store in her hometown of Ibiza.

The aisles were quiet at Rendez-vous. “Some of the young designers make me nervous, they look at you with such hungry eyes,” whispered Pholoso Selebogo, co-founder of Not Just a Label, a London-based online retailer. “Most of the young designers we’re working with are in their own showroom. They’ve decided the fairs are a waste of money and time,” said Stefan Siegel, Not Just a Label’s co-founder.

The duo scouted out No No Yes, lauding its novel technique of denim bonding with leather without stitching. Sylvia Toth of sculptural knitwear label Warmi, meanwhile, picked up a handful of new clients including Opening Ceremony in Tokyo.

A new location for Tranoï plus a last-minute venue change for Rendez-Vous left retailers reeling. “It’s too much, there are too many locations,” said Carol Lim, a buyer for Opening Ceremony New York. Tranoï’s new Parc Royal showroom, however, saw brisk footfall. Showing at Tranoï for the first time, Italian label Decotiis won praise for dresses adorned with Swarovski crystal layers or tops with lace applied onto the surface. And MeMy’s edited show format got the thumbs-up. “It’s small and focused,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president and fashion director of Holt Renfrew. “Our designer business is back so we’re looking for beautiful, special pieces.”

In contemporary wear, she admired the rock ’n’ roll T-shirts at House of the Gods, which will add portraits of Janis Joplin, Marc Bolan and Johnny Cash to its repertoire of rock icons next season.

Young designers came in for criticism for pricing themselves too high. “They ask for a lot of money but the quality and production don’t match,” complained Monica Marker of Angels Laugh, an avant-garde designer boutique in Cologne, Germany.

In a sign that the green movement remains strong, at Paris Sur Mode, Marie-Hélène Gautier, co-founder of organic label Leaf, said she’s set to open a second sustainable fashion boutique in the south of France in April following a first location last year. Leaf, meanwhile, will be introduced in Barneys New York from April.

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