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BERLIN — With two more shows joining the packed Berlin lineup July 2 to 5, Germany’s trade fair capital continues to boom, and show activity is also picking up in Düsseldorf and Munich.
Nevertheless, there’s an undercurrent of uncertainty running through the German trade show scene, and the season ahead looks to be one fraught with challenges.
The greatest of these hurdles is knowing precisely where the problem lies. Ongoing euro zone woes have put a dent in many brands’ European businesses, while closer to home, retail apparel sales in Germany have been weak two seasons in a row, blamed in part on a warm winter and snowy Easter weather.
Jürgen Dax, director of the German Apparel Retailers Association, said most stores won’t be able to make up for this downturn by the end of the year, with both sales and earnings impacted.
“There hasn’t been a huge wave of reductions, thank goodness, but some did bring out the red pencil just to have some turnover,” Dax said. “Many people are insecure because they don’t know if it can all be blamed on the weather, or if it’s the effect of (growing) online sales or that consumers are just buying less. They are definitely coming to the city centers less frequently. Nobody can say where it’ll all lead.”
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But he doesn’t expect buyers to stay away from Berlin or other show venues.
“It’ll be full but quiet,” he predicted, expecting buyers to be ordering more cautiously, with the majority “playing it safe. Which is not advisable,” he added. “They need to get away from the mainstream in order to be interesting.”
Berlin’s fair organizers are doing their utmost to keep things interesting for the spring 2014 season, with new venues and vendors in the offing.
Clearly a stronghold for the urban and contemporary fashion segment with the Bread & Butter, Premium, Seek, Capsule, The Gallery, Show & Order and Bright fairs and the designer runway shows and presentations of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, the city is also the center of a growing sustainable and green fashion scene at Green Showroom and Ethical Fashion, plus the runway formats Showfloor Berlin and Lavera Showfloor. As of last season, the more big-volume players found a home of their own at Panorama, and July will see the debut of two new fairs — Curvy is Sexy, for large-size apparel, and Herzblut, for fashion’s alternative subculture.
Always good for a change, Bread & Butter founder and director Karl-Heinz Müller means business. The fair has altered its subname from the Trade Show for Selected Brands to the Trade Show for Successful Brands. After reediting and trimming its rosters — in part addressing negative reactions to more mainstream exhibitors coming on board, B&B is now giving all of last season’s empty Hangar 1 to commercial powerhouse Bestseller. The Danish producer will present its brands, which include Jack & Jones, Vero Moda, Vila Clothes, Mamalicious, Selected, Juna Rose, Object Collectors Item and Only, in almost 65,000 square feet of space.
“We connect the people and connect the dots at B&B,” said Müller. “Bestseller is a very strong trade partner to the top dogs in Germany and internationally. It covers different levels, but is an absolutely contemporary, young, attractive and very successful company. It’ll bring a lot of business and traffic.”
He noted that many of the 12,000 multibrand and department stores in 53 countries that carry Bestseller brands also stock leading B&B labels like G-Star and Scotch & Soda. This type of span, he pointed out, is already part of today’s retail reality. At the same time, he is mulling over a completely different approach for high-end sportswear and urbanwear labels that scorn trade fair participation.
“Deeper and better, not broader,” remains Premium’s strategy, according to cofounder and director Anita Tillmann. She sees strong potential in the next generation of avant garde designers in the Dissonance section, many of whom come from Asia — like this season’s newcomers Abraham K Hangul, Byungmun Seo and Demoo Parkchoonmoo.
“It’s about a feeling and an international mix of cool people wear it. It’ll be the next big bang,” she predicted.
Also new to Premium’s international mix are Russian designers and labels like Dina Faradzheva, Sofia Zharova and Studio Seven.
In its second season, Panorama sees its role more as a marketplace than an ordering platform where volume-oriented companies can communicate their brands’ DNA, traditions and values.
“It’s about bringing brands and retailers together,” said chief executive officer Jörg Wichmann. “There are so many questions circulating in the market today, and the first prescription is for them to meet and talk to each other.”
In addition to the brand showcases, Panorama will be offering retailers inspiration tips to enliven point of sale, including temporary food concepts or new decoration ideas.
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Similarly, Capsule is bringing its Donut Shop concept to Berlin, a cash-and-carry section of nonfashion items to enliven the POS experience. The fair is sourcing German artisans and partnering with some German stores, cofounder Edina Sultanik said. As for July, “We think it’s going to be bigger than ever. Buyers still need to attend trade fairs to get their jobs done, though they may not be going as deep, may reevaluate deliveries and leave more open to buy for midseason,” she added.
The Gallery Berlin is moving to the Opernwerkstätten, the former production site for the opera’s props and stage sets. This will allow the show to grow to 200 from 100 collections positioned between Panorama and Premium’s offerings. The show is also considering fashion shows “on a more commercial and saleable level than the tents. We’re not competing with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin,” said Mirjam Dietz, international brand development and communications director for the Igedo Co. Another notable feature this season is an exhibit of evening dresses by Russian designer Alexandre Vassiliev.
Herzblut will be starting small, with about 30 underground fashion labels exhibiting in the Stephanus Church in Berlin. “It won’t be a freak show, and no cheap merchandise,” promised cofounder Joachim Scheffler, “but a really wild mix” of brands such as CESN, Dystroy, Fräulein Wildkirsch, Rahel Fiebelkorn, Strange Arrangements and Mexican Mob.
Under the name Curvy is Sexy, fashion for plus-size women will take up residence in the recently restored Berlin offices of Deutsche Telekom in Berlin Mitte. About 25 domestic and international collections have signed up for the premiere, including Mona Lisa, Via Appia, Salli Sahne, Ulla Popken, Chalou and Elena Grunert.
Beyond Berlin, the What’s New The Fashion Show in Düsseldorf will begin July 20 to 22, joining The Gallery Düsseldorf and Premium Düsseldorf and assorted showroom presentations there. Organized by Ocean Media, What’s New will feature a small selection of evening and cocktail wear, related accessories and younger women’s wear.
“There were some companies, especially from abroad, that don’t have a platform anymore and they asked us to find a location,” said director Andrew Lookman.
He hopes to have about 80 companies on board, and said there has been a lot of interest from Denmark, Spain, Holland and Germany.