By  on August 21, 2008

A larger women’s category, more accessories lines, a growing contingent of foreign vendors and exhibitors and a multitude of sponsors, including Microsoft, are a few of the highlights of the upcoming Project Global Tradeshow touching down at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Aug. 26 to 28.

The show that began five years ago mainly as a province for men’s wear has morphed over the years into the go-to event for directional women’s contemporary wear, and along the way took on a new owner in the form of Advanstar Communications Inc.

In spite of the show’s explosive growth, now spanning about 1,300 vendors (an 8 percent increase compared with last year) that occupy 550,000 square feet of convention space, its goal continues to be focusing on brands that help elevate and maintain the integrity of the show, creating synergies with outside partners and staving off the competition, such as ENK International Inc., which is marking its return to Las Vegas with a new concept called ENK Vegas. That means pruning brands that don’t fit in with the show’s fashion vibe, reaching out to key partners and traveling to European shows to scout out fresh new lines and trade show strategies.

“My job is to offer buyers the best of what’s out there,” said Sam Ben-Avraham, president of Project. “I can’t show them stuff from five years ago. Just because you showed five years ago doesn’t mean you’re relevant.”

One notable company that won’t be appearing this year is Ed Hardy. “Ed Hardy created too much noise, they weren’t about the merchandise and respecting others while doing business,” Ben-Abraham said. “They had a humongous space so it’s a big loss in revenue for us. But, I can’t afford to have one person taking over the show.”

Ed Hardy designer Christian Audigier had a different perspective on the matter. “We chose not to join Project this season because we simply outgrew it,” he said in a statement. Instead, he will launch another trade show called When I Move You Move, running Aug. 25 to 28 at Caesars Palace.

“I decided to launch When I Move You Move, to create a world where my retailers can actively experience the lifestyle and the excitement of my brands,” he said.

Even without Ed Hardy, there will be 658 lines devoted to women’s-only and dual-gender labels at Project. The show has hit its stride with women’s contemporary clothing, drawing coveted labels such as Trina Turk, Corey Lynn Calter and Vince, and is continuing to attract key showrooms and lines.

Los Angeles-based EM Productions, a showroom known for introducing new lines to the public like Mike & Chris, will be bringing five lines to the show, up from one on its last visit, including Mara Hoffman, a New York-based line of flirty dresses with unconventional shapes and swimsuits, along with L.A.-based Corpus, which is launching a bigger women’s collection wholesale priced from $40 to $250.

“There’s a demand by our stores for us to be at Project,” said Lisa Elliott-Rosas, owner of EM Productions. “Especially with the economy, stores are picking and choosing where they’re going and the stores we cater to are going to Project. “

Denim’s sales’ slide the past two years has meant fewer newcomers to the fashion scene. At Project, there will be a handful of debuts from names familiar to the style cognoscenti, but with more scaled-down prices. Grey Ant will be launching a new denim line separate from the line’s collection, featuring low-waisted to flared styles, with novel details such as front-leg darting and intricate braiding. Wholesale prices for the line range from $60 to $150.

Earl Jean is banking that its name, which launched premium denim fever more than a decade ago, will help it to reclaim its turf. The line, which hasn’t shipped for two years and is now under the ownership of Designer License Holding Co., is offering a product made of Japanese fabrics geared to

different body types with details such as surface abrasion, rips and grinding. Wholesale prices range from $27 to $52.

“The denim market is oversaturated and we think the best place to squeeze in is with a ‘masspirational’ approach, one that offers aspirational style at a price they can afford,” said Kelli Delaney, creative director of Earl Jean.

Even though price is a ubiquitous concern, Agave Nectar has seen a steady increase in sales — doubling its women’s business — in spite of its past 10 percent price hike. “We’re [delighted] with our sales given the environment,” said Jeff Shafer, Agave Nectar owner and designer. “Some premium denim companies are taking product to Third World countries to chase price down, but to get cachet and export to Europe, you need to make denim here.”

Accessories continues to be a sales driver for retailers and Project plans to devote about 20 percent of its space to the category, up from 10 percent last year, welcoming more footwear, handbag and jewelry brands, such as Matt Bernson, Gorjana & Griffin, Muxo and Sienna Ray. The show will interweave the accessories with apparel, merchandising casual, dressy and sportswear categories together.

“It’s the way it’s merchandised in stores, so it will give the women’s area a nice flow,” Ben-Avraham said.

Exhibitors are also hoping to court international business, especially with a dollar whose plummeting value has favored overseas markets. The show expects to attract about 25,000 buyers, including Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor, whose women’s team is attending the show for the first time. Ben-Avraham said the show attracted 25 percent of its buyers from overseas in its February installment and projects the number will increase.

Overseas vendors also will be in attendance looking for new world markets, including Iro from Paris and Alessandro Dell’Acqua footwear from Italy.

“We expect to see lots of Asian buyers and more importers who realize where the margins are,” he said. “Europeans can buy jeans for $50 wholesale here compared to $90 in Europe, so it’s a very attractive deal for them and for our vendors.”

To keep spirits high in a challenging economy, Project will host a party at Tao Nightclub at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 10 p.m. and keep the tunes spinning at the show courtesy of Tao’s DJs. Show organizers will continue to pour on the sponsorships and perks as well. Microsoft is making its second — and a larger — appearance at the show with a slate of new fashion PCs from its original equipment manufacturing, or OEM, partners, including Acer, Asus, Ego, Flybook, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. Also, the winner of Microsoft and Sony’s PC design contest, which challenged consumers to create designs for the lids of a new line of Vaio Graphic Splash notebooks, will be revealed at Project.

Microsoft is also looking to designers, including Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, to outfit the staff at the show. “This is the place where the most innovative designers go, where trends are set for the year,” said Rob Poznanski, senior marketing manager for Microsoft. “There’s no better place for us to go to.”

Other crowd-pleasers will be a lounge for manicures and eyebrow threading, the Nudie lounge where Nudie will give away pairs of women’s jeans to everyone donating a pair, a portrait lounge where guests can receive black-and-white photos, a Swarovski lounge and a gallery/lounge sponsored by Chronicle Books featuring a showcase of 25 illustrations from the book “Fashion Illustration by Fashion Designers,” by Laird Borrelli, senior fashion editor at

Also in effect is the show’s VIP buyer program at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel, giving the red-carpet treatment to a select group of buyers who will receive special rates, complimentary breakfasts and happy hours and transportation to the shows.

Even with those conveniences, however, buyers may spend extra time at the shows but they’ll be keeping budgets flat.

“Our sales are down about 10 to 15 percent this year, so we’ll be keeping the budget the same,” said Tobi Blatt, owner of two eponymous boutiques in the Del Mar and Encinitas communities in California. “I don’t think the economy is supporting newness. I’ll be shopping for great basics — denim, layering pieces, shorts and dresses, which is a huge category.”

Longtime Project vendors, which rely on new business from the show, are staying optimistic. French Connection said about 20 percent of the business it generates at the show comes from new accounts.

“The French Connection business has continued to improve from year to year, despite the somber economic environment,” said Andrea Hyde, president and chief executive officer of French Connection U.S., in an e-mail. “We have always made an effort to keep price points competitive. Our basic premise of quality and affordability gives us a point of distinction within the crowded, contemporary marketplace.”�

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