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Business Slows at Paris Boutique Shows

Buyers at Rendez-Vous, Paris sur Mode, Atmosph?re, and other Paris boutique shows tighten budgets amid economic turmoil.

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PARIS — With the global financial crisis spiraling, business was tepid at the boutique apparel trade shows here as buyers played it safe, citing budgets below or on a par with last season.

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The spring-summer shows, Rendez-Vous, Paris sur Mode, Atmosphère, Le Showroom and Vendôme Luxury Trade Show, which ended their four-day runs Oct. 6, generally had slow traffic. Only Tranoï, the biggest event with three locations across Paris, drew more buyers.

Despite a prime position at the entrance of Tranoï’s upscale Montaigne location, New York’s Tibi stand was quiet.

“People are buying in smaller quantities, trying to ensure that inventories are low,” said Stephanie Unwin, vice president of sales. “They are just buying the must-have pieces.”

Retailers confirmed the cautious mood.

“We’re choosing wisely,” said Jill Brandmarker, manager of Baby & Co., a 3,000-square-foot, Seattle-based store.

“We’re paying more attention to price than in recent history,” said Melanie Cox, president and chief executive officer of the Scoop chain. Bemoaning the lack of novelty, Cox added, “We haven’t seen that much change compared with the trade shows in New York.”

Hunting for “something to lift the spirit of America,” Steven Trussell, creative director of Los Angeles-based retailer H Lorenzo and its eco-concept boutique HLNR, said, “I’ve found a lot of safe collections, a lot of darks. I’m still seeing quite a few prints. It’s all quite somber.”

However, bright colors, including fuchsia and orange, were strong sellers, while muted petrol tones and gray continued to be popular.

Contrasting with the overall tone, business was brisk at Barcelona-based Sita Murt at Paris Sur Mode, where a collection that featured bright coral and electric yellow with gray neutrals signed 30 to 40 new accounts, said managing director Jordi Balsells. A gray tunic dress with knit details, wholesaling at 70 euros, or $95 at current exchange, was a bestseller.

At Rendez-Vous, a springboard for young designers, traffic was disappointing despite a move to the Jeu de Paume museum. U.K.-based Go by a Different Path, winner of the 2008 Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden award, displayed its first collection but company representatives said a location in the entrance hall had not spurred business.

Organizer Nic Jones admitted the show was quieter than its March edition, but noted that key department stores had visited.

“We’ve booked a huge order with Barneys for our own collection, Surface to Air,” he said.

Rendez-Vous will launch a “more mainstream” New York edition to showcase American talent, scheduled for Feb. 20 to 22 in Chelsea’s Altman building, Jones said.

Buyers cited accessories as easier to sell in the current economic climate.

“I came looking for fashion and I haven’t seen anything exceptional, but the British accessories designers particularly are doing some great stuff,” said consultant Christine Ellis, who buys for Italian stores.

At Tranoï, a large exhibition space was dedicated to accessories. While some focused on uplifting brights, there was a market for more classic pieces, too.

Shelly Musselman, co-owner of Forty Five Ten in Dallas, was playing it safe with staples from Danish brand Kristensen du Nord’s collection of soft cotton pieces in earthy shades.

“We have a lot of fun, crazy things [in our store], but we’re being more respectful of the world situation,” Musselman said. “We’re not buying less, we’re just being a lot more thoughtful about what we buy.”

Musselman cited a return to a more streamlined look as key for the spring-summer season.

For next summer, Scoop’s Cox predicted key trends would be slouchy T-shirts, jersey and bright colors.

“Also, the Indian influence is more present in Paris than in the U.S.,” she added.

Tranoï put an accent on the subcontinent, with Indian designers highlighted at the Bourse location and the building’s famous columns clad in designs by Manish Arora.

Bestsellers at Italian designer Ilaria Nistri, whose new clients included Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford, were a black silk short-sleeved waistcoat with pearls stitched inside the fabric, priced at 290 euros, or $394, as well as flowing silk tops with aquatic prints, priced from 140 to 180 euros, or $190 to $244.

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