PARIS — “We know that as a trade show we have to reinvent ourselves,” Jean-Marc André, marketing and communication director of Who's Next and Premiere Classe, told reporters at the opening of the ready-to-wear and accessories shows' latest four-day run.Despite a 27 percent increase in Japanese buyers and 8 percent rise in American buyers, overall traffic at Who's Next and Première Classe combined was down 7 percent versus last January, a slump attributed to retailers sending smaller buying teams. The salon is split between approximately 65 percent French and 35 percent international visitors.Efforts to rev up the season came in the form of a new show layout, designed to drive footfall to Who’s Next popular Fame section through the accessories in Première Classe; mixing up accessories stands among the apparel offer; opening up six pop-up lifestyle stores for on-the-spot shopping, and seeking to inject the energy of the influencer generation through an umbrella #Girl Squad theme. Girl squad happenings included 50 female collectives shooting their portraits with Joe Cruz, and talks from millennial voices like Twenty magazine aimed at the 16-25 age group.To help retailers navigate fall looks from some 700 brands, Who’s Next extended its personal shopper service providing advice on lesser-known yet “easy-to-sell” labels and encouraging retailers into promising new business areas such as plus-size, an expanding market for French retailers, since obesity is rising.In a first, Who’s Next partnered with a retailer, linking up with urban apparel megastore Citadium to showcase 11 young labels-to-watch, selected from 180 applicants who answered the call on social channels. They included North Hill, a trio of 23-year-olds making urban sportswear based in the Montmartre area of Paris; Coeur Paris, a maker of embroidered T-shirts and sweats, and Helmut Paris, a minimalist jewelry line made of Plexiglas.The brands won the chance not only to show at the trade show, but to feature in a Who’s Next x Citadium pop-up at the retailer's Paris and Bordeaux locations this spring. “It’s a good example of where we want to be now,” said André. “We want to be a solution partner to brands to be able to sell to international buyers.”Frédéric Granger, Citadium’s buying and marketing manager, said it was the first time it took part in a B-to-B trade show. “We’ve always looked for imaginative new labels, with very little distribution, for our ground-floor pop-up where we test out labels,” he said. “The idea with Who’s Next for this young talent competition is to continue to support labels with very little distribution, but with the creative streetwear positioning that’s part of our DNA.”These influencer labels bring new communities to Citadium, while for the brands, Citadium becomes almost an agent, giving the cachet of retailer approval and that first step in commercialization. The Citadium partnership reflects streetwear’s influence in ready-to-wear, one of the show’s key directions."Urban streetwear has just taken over on the runways, and has arrived in [contemporary] ready-to-wear. It’s the street which inspires shows and designers, but it’s also about the comfort we offer to a woman,” said Granger. “We’re seeing labels with a very interesting positioning: with a street style but without selling out on quality.”He singled out Frnch — “a fresh spirit, with a very urban DNA but a slightly refined edge, a Sessun kind of label at a very attractive price” — and Louizon. "We’re seeing creativity in streetwear, but also in ready-to-wear. It’s all merging, it’s hugely interesting,” said Granger.With streetwear’s ongoing momentum, largely buffered from the more generally morose retail climate because teenagers still have disposable income, Granger revealed a new Citadium will open at the Nation branch of French department store Printemps to capture the youngsters heading to and from the suburbs east of Paris. The store, on the fifth floor of the store which is currently under renovation, will open in second half 2017, while another major Paris project is also in the pipeline.In trends, Granger observed a continuation of what’s been strong for two or three seasons: “Nineties sportswear, the return of creative denim, return of the puffer jacket. What’s interesting is how the customer reinterprets that in a mixed-up outfit.”Among the season’s key apparel directions, Laura Toledano, buying director for MonShowroom.com, named a “return to rock styles mixed up with very feminine pieces and the Nineties-inspired grungy silhouette: little dresses worn with oversized jackets or coats," she said. "On the other hand, the bohemian aesthetic continues: folk blouses, embroidered dresses, bedspread jackets and very washed, overdyed fabrics. There’s a move to even more artisanal finishes and embroideries, the ‘handmade’ aesthetic. It’s the return of ethnic chic, fashion inspired by a blending of cultures and folklore. Plus oversized coats, extra-large pants, loose dresses."Among Toledano’s standouts for fall was five-year-old Danish label Rabens Saloner. “[It's] our favorite of the season. We love its strong identity, the modern, cool, feminine looks,” she said. Another favorite was Les Coyotes de Paris, originally a children’s line that has expanded into women’s. "[They make] very beautiful products, with high quality. It has a similar story to Soeur, which we’ve really loved,” Toledano said.For its next edition in September, organizers said Who’s Next will continue to experiment in show redesigns and concepts, in addition to rolling out initiatives to attract both core buyers and new profiles of buyers, notably in Asia.
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