Who's Next

PARIS — The mood in the French capital considerably brightened over the summer with tourist numbers swinging back up, and the Paris fashion trade show Who’s Next is carrying this optimism into September with plans to draw 50,000 visitors this year.

The event’s organizer, WSN Developpement, told WWD it has beefed up its selection of conferences and workshops in response to a growing demand from visitors, who are tackling the trade show with fewer resources than in the past and hunting for solutions to navigate changes in the industry.

The event is also getting a lift by snagging a better spot on the calendar, landing this time on Sept. 8 to 11. The ready-to-wear trade show was penalized a year ago when the Sept. 4 opening coincided with the first back-to-school day for many, organizers said. The event, which is held at the vast Porte de Versailles venue on the southern edge of Paris, in 2016 counted 38,258 visitors, a 7 percent drop from the previous year.

Who’s Next is held at the Porte de Versailles in Paris  Courtesy

It is always a challenge to hold a trade show in the beginning of September in Europe, just as vacationers trickle back to work, so the company considers the added distance with the start of the month a boon for this year’s event.

But beyond the scheduling technicalities, improving confidence seems to be taking hold, according to organizers.

“Momentum is rebuilding, it was less complicated to market this season compared to last September, it’s rather positive, what is this from? The [French presidential] elections have passed, and, touch wood, the news flow also seems to be calmer. This plays on morale and on consumption,” said Sophie Guyot, who manages the Fame section of the trade show. “It’s a new dynamic that we hadn’t seen for a while.”

WSN Developpement said it remains difficult to predict whether there will be a surge in visitors this year compared to last year’s September event, but that it seems buyers are preparing for the show further in advance this time, judging by the amount of people who have signed up so far.

Although business seems to be picking up, the economic tumult of recent times has had a lasting effect on the trade show, which is set up in a space covering 50,000 square meters, organizers said.

“Buyers come for a shorter amount of time because it costs less to do so, they are in a bigger hurry, so they have to be efficient,” said Guyot, who estimates that teams of around 10 buyers seen at the event in the past have been whittled down to around two people.

The trade show format as it existed 10 years ago, which was simply geared toward putting brands in contact with buyers, has evolved, she noted.

With a growing demand for services and ideas, event organizers have bulked up their offer of conferences and workshops, as well as adding a startup village featuring eight companies from Lafayette Plug and Play, the tech start-up accelerator launched last year by Groupe Galeries Lafayette, and Fashion Tech Days.

Nearly 30 sessions will be offered on subjects like how brands and retailers can survive the tech revolution and how to work with influencers. This is roughly double the number at last year’s September trade show. There will also be a Retail Expert Club, a team of people counseling brands on setting up boutiques and providing other solutions, such as how to employ social networks to generate store traffic.

“There is real demand, from buyers and the brands; we are evolving, changing, fashion is undergoing great change, a lot is happening these days,” noted Guyot.

The Who’s Next trade show covers 50,000 square meters.  Courtesy

WSN Developpement, which counts around 45 employees, is also tailoring its offer to cater to the more hurried visitor by trying to make it easier for people to discover new brands.

“Buyers have brands they know, we need to help them discover other brands. That’s why I make very open spaces for young designers, so they will know where they can go to unearth the latest, or at any rate, swing by to look, which is already an exchange,” explained Guyot, who founded Fame 15 years ago.

Fame is the trade show’s more feminine and upscale collection of around 200 brands, which serves as the heart of the trade show, helping to draw brands for the other sections, Guyot said.

There are four other sections to the event: Private, which features premium women’s wear brands; Trendy, featuring more affordable women’s labels for young customers; Urban, focusing on street wear and denim, and Studio, with more elegant women’s wear.

Fame is geared toward a specific type of consumer, Guyot explained.

“She works, she’s active, she’s fashionable, she may wear jeans, but it won’t be just any pair of jeans and it won’t be with just any type of sneakers, and in the evening be chic bohemian, too, just as she can go to an evening cocktail party and dress very chic,” Guyot said.

Among brands featured this year are Alexandra Tapu, Iden, Sacre Coeur, Michal Szulc and Vanderwilde. Guyot started Fame with some 50 brands including Bensimon and American Retro, presenting them in a clean setting.

“For me, when buyers come to a trade show, it’s a professional trade show, so the first thing they see is the collection,” Guyot noted.

Who’s Next organizers hope to draw 50,000 visitors this September.  Courtesy

“There are always people who want to set the scene a bit, because they can’t stop themselves from doing so, but for me, it’s the white walls, the rack, this is what makes the clothes stand out,” Guyot said. She decides where brands are placed, deciding how the traffic should flow through the show.

“I’m not saying I always get it right, but I don’t ask the brands where they want to be,” she said.

The number of brands featured at the event has increased gradually over the years to around 200, a level the trade show does not plan to surpass.

The Who’s Next trade show in Paris.  Antoine MOTARD

In the past year and a half, Fame has begun to include lifestyle brands, with labels including Stella Pardo Lifestyle, Mau Loa Home and Be Parisian this year. Bensimon Lifestyle will set up a lounge for trade show visitors, providing a space for people to relax or spend time taking notes or negotiating orders.

“It’s important that it’s pleasant, in line with current trends, including when it comes to decor,” she said.

Simply displaying clothing is not enough, the organizers noted, citing the need to find original ways of showing off collections, like offering someone a shoe with the promise of finding its pair at another stand or organizing a fashion show featuring Brazilian dancers.

Of the brands attending the event, around 60 percent are French, with the rest mostly coming from Spain and Italy, but also Belgium and South Korea. It is a less obvious choice for labels from the U.S., given the rising euro and slew of trade shows closer to home, noted Guyot.

Spanish brands include Aubergin, Yerse and Sita Murt. From Italy there will be Sara Roka, Temptation Positano and True NY. Hailing from South Korea, a fertile ground for designers for the past decade, according to Guyot, will be brands including Aca, The Loom and Wnderkammer.

Colors remain subdued, with pastels and powdery pinks predominating, while items are becoming more structured with suits coming back, Guyot said. She also noted a continued emphasis on softness, handmade items and thick knits.