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French Trade Shows: Managing the Downturn

French fairs look to value-added services to help weather the financial storm.

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French fairs look to value-added services to help weather the financial storm.

As they prepare for what some fear may be the most difficult times since the last war, European trade show organizers are readying their battle plans.

“Everyone is going to suffer, including Première Vision,” declared Philippe Pasquet, chief executive officer of Europe’s biggest textiles fair. The show’s anticrisis strategy is to maintain investments on promotion, trend forums and the quality of exhibitors at this year’s levels. “Anyone who says they are investing more in 2009 is a liar,” he said. The show will run at the Villepinte exhibit halls from Feb. 10 to 13, alongside Paris Indigo, the Expofil yarn fair, the Mod-Amont trimmings show, Zoom by Fatex manufacturing sector and Le Cuir à Paris leather fair.

Textile fairs already felt the slowdown in September. Attendance at Texworld, which next runs Feb. 9 to 12, fell 10 percent and Première Vision declined 6 percent. However, many companies sent smaller teams as opposed to not attending at all, according to Pasquet, who lauded a 32 percent jump in Russian attendees. With signs that growth in emerging markets is slowing, Pasquet acknowledged it will be a while before the Russian market catches up with the U.S. Proving to exhibitors the fair can open new markets is crucial, he said, adding that a promotional operation began in Turkey this month.

Though consolidation among Italian mills, which make up half of Première Vision’s exhibitors, underscores the financial difficulties facing many, the February show is nearly 70 percent complete, roughly comparable with the same time last season, Pasquet said, adding that some former exhibitors have even returned.

Fifteen new denim companies, meanwhile, have signed up for the third edition of Denim by Première Vision, which will be held in the Paris suburbs of Saint-Denis from Dec. 3 to 4, bringing the exhibitors total to 62. Newcomers include Turkish launderer Yilteks Group plus Japanese weaver Nihonmenpu Textile, which specializes in organic and naturally-dyed materials.

Among other positive signs is the dollar’s gains over recent months, which could prove a boon for mills in the Eurozone, Pasquet said. The falling prices of raw materials, while yet to trickle down to manufacturers, provides further cause for optimism.

To boost attendance by international buyers, which fell 7 percent at the October shows, Who’s Next contemporary ready-to-wear and Premiere Classe accessories shows will launch their fi rst international editions, showcasing some 250 brands in Dubai in November. “We need to increase our international visibility to encourage more visitors from overseas,” said organizer Xavier Clergerie, noting that Dubai is a platform for India, Pakistan and Russia. The move, which will include new designers from Italy, India and China not shown in Paris, is intended to raise Who’s Next’s profile and attract business from the Middle East region to the Paris shows, which next run at Porte de Versailles from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.

Rendez-Vous, meanwhile, the contemporary fair founded by French design collective Surface to Air in 2004, is opening a New York edition. The show, from Feb. 20 to 22, is a collaboration with Joshua Safalow, director of the showroom Mexico and head buyer of BBlessing boutique. It will feature 75 exhibitors, mostly European and American women’s labels, selected for the market. “There’ll be an accent on maybe slightly commercial brands — in a positive way,” said organizer Nic Jones. Acknowledging the timing isn’t perfect to launch a new event, Jones pointed out that many European brands are still doing well in the U.S. and that, despite the slowdown, it remains a huge market. “Obviously for European designers, this will help as less American buyers are traveling,” he said.

At its Paris edition, which saw traffic fall last season, brands are being trimmed from 160 to around 120 next season to offer space only to designers who have a solid business setup. “We always try and push new talent but we have to give the market what it wants, contemporary fashion with an economic logic,” said Jones.

Boutique show Tranoï, on the other hand, will move to a new central location from March 5 to 8 to offer more designers. Interest from potential exhibitors has risen for next season. “When there’s a crisis, business for trade shows gets bigger,” said organizer Michael Hadida. “When everything is okay, a young designer is going to put a flag on the other side of Paris and people are going to all go over there and spend a lot of money on this guy that no one’s heard about. Unfortunately that’s not the case now so they need to recruit and be part of a trade show like us.”

Budding talents though seem to be deterred from going it alone. CPH Vision, one of Scandinavia’s largest fashion fairs and home to Designer’s Nest, a space dedicated to new designers, has seen a marked decrease in firsttime exhibitors applying for stands during its three-day run, scheduled for Feb. 5 to 8.

To boost its competitiveness in the denim and streetwear categories, CPH Vision will take over a former Danish railway building to showcase 200 jeans and streetwear labels, between 20 and 30 more than in the past. Another center, within walking distance, will showcase some 170 up-and-coming designers.

To better drive traffic to its emerging categories, Prêt à Porter Paris, which runs at the Porte de Versailles from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, is redesigning its layout, moving the eco-themed section So Ethic, along with its street fashion area Shibuya, whose visitor numbers suffered thanks to their third floor location in Hall Seven, to the second floor. It will also take over Hall Three for both Atmosphere, which will focus on Russian designers next season, and the Box, which will increase to 100 accessories designers from 80 last season. Link, meanwhile, a fast-fashion service offering brands that deliver within 60 days, will grow to around 30 exhibitors. Reflecting their growing importance, accessories will no longer be showcased separately, aside from at the Box, but will be integrated into the different universes.

The key, said organizers, is improving the buying experience. Tranoi’s organizers, for instance, are helping designers to better edit their selection rather than packing stands full, so that retailers can understand the brand’s philosophy at a glance. “Buyers are already feeling threatened,” Hadida said. “People want to sell more, while buyers are spending less. We need to seduce them, talk to them differently.”

Attendance grew 12 percent in October thanks to a rise in Russian, Eastern European and Middle Eastern retailers. “When people have to prioritize, most of them skip New York, London and Milan, but they all make it to Paris,” said Hadida. “We’re very lucky.”

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