Innovation, intensified service and internationalization are on the agenda for Germany’s next round of trade shows.

This story first appeared in the November 11, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Berlin’s fair organizers are upbeat as they gear up for the season’s start in January, despite what observers describe
as an “environment dominated by change and transformation.”

Bread & Butter’s bankruptcy and final farewell as a trade show raised questions last summer about Berlin’s ongoing drawing power, and new owner Zalando’s postponement of Bread & Butter’s B2C January debut — given the venue’s partial use as a refugee shelter — further unsettled some players.

The issue now seems to have evaporated. With a 10-fair lineup, “Berlin is unrivaled in Germany, and while there are certainly other areas [of trade fair activity] in Western Europe, Berlin is still the pivot,” said Jürgen Dax, director of the German Apparel Retailers Association.

Anita Tillmann, cofounder and director of Premium Exhibitions, which now covers Premium, Seek and Bright, said Germany is one of the most important countries for exhibitions, adding that “Germany has the most business sleepovers for trade shows in Europe.”

Andreas Becker, cofounder of the fledgling heritage and slow fashion men’s platform Selvedge Run, noted brands that had skipped a Berlin season given all the uncertainty are heading back.

“Berlin, independent of Bread & Butter, is now being seen as the key trade show point for Central and Northern Europe,” especially for casual, urban streetwear, she said.

Despite a bumpy year, German retail business picked up in September and October, and the nation’s apparel retailers are looking to end 2015 at last year’s levels or a bit ahead, BTE’s Dax said. He expects a good turnout in Berlin and noted buyers will be searching for big commercial themes.

“There were too many different directions this fall, and while there were perhaps attractive nuances, it wasn’t enough to get everybody shopping,” Dax said.

Some stores are beginning to notice consumer anxiety in light of the refugee crisis and potential tax hikes to help pay for the influx, he noted. The latest GFK German consumer climate survey for October registered a slight drop in economic expectations and willingness to buy for the fifth time in a row. That said, the indicators remain high, with the overall consumer climate indicators way ahead of October 2014 levels.

Ten shows, plus Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, will be vying for attention in Berlin over four days. The main thrust will be from Jan. 19 to 21, when Premium, Seek, Bright, Panorama, Ethical Fashion, Greenshowroom and Curvy Is Sexy open their doors. Show & Order for contemporary women’s fashion and accessories, and Cookies, the international lifestyle platform for kids’ wear, are starting a day earlier on Jan. 18, while Selvedge Run is closing the round from Jan. 20 to 22.

Curvy Is Sexy, Cookies and Selvedge Run are all moving to more centralized locations this season to help consolidate the Berlin show action. Key Berlin platforms like Premium already log in 69 percent non-German visitors and feature a well-mixed domestic and nondomestic assortment, but all fairs are making a concerted effort to boost Berlin’s international positioning. There’s Show & Order’s French Showroom, an increasingly international brand list for large-size fashion at Curvy Is Sexy, and green fashion at Ethical Fashion and Greenshowroom.

The fair as a curated concept store has also become the favored direction, but this can take different forms. Panorama, geared to the big midmarket players, and which has added a new hall for shoes and accessories, is also expanding its Nova Concept in a separate Twenties era hall on the Berlin fairgrounds. Here, a mix of apparel and lifestyle products will be staged in three atmospheres: minimal, workshop and natural organic. International brands, including Denham, Kuyichi, Jeffrey Campbell and Low Brand are joining this second edition of Nova.

At Premium, where small-scale presentations of select fashion brands are the rule, Hall 8 is being reconceived. An analysis of contemporary fashion brands with particular value and relevance for the European, German and Scandinavian market identified Drykorn, J.Lindeberg, Filippa K, IKKS and Tigha as the top five. They will now have the run of the large hall to present their men’s and women’s brand world together.

“We have the niches, but we’ve also had requests for more commercial brands,” said Premium’s Tillman. “And in times of fast change, retailers need trustworthy partners and our aim is to be a marketplace that brings the right people together.”
Berlin has also become a symposium center during fashion week. In addition to a discussion and lecture round on the outdoor theme, Ethical Fashion and Greenshowroom will focus on recycling management in all its aspects. Aiming to build a bridge between the digital and fashion worlds, Premium will again be the home of #FashionTech Berlin, which will bring big players like Google, Zalando and Microsoft back on stage.

Panorama is tapping digital technology for other purposes, with 360-degree mapping of the complete fair to allow virtual visits to Panorama throughout the season. Panorama chief Jörg Wichmann explained the technique permits visitors to walk the halls, press an entrance button to enter the stands, see them as they really are, or — via a second window — access information about the brand or watch an image film.

“This isn’t only a service for trade visitors who’ve been to the fair, perhaps missed a hall during their visit or want an overall review,” Wichmann said. “It’s also for buyers anywhere in the world who didn’t come to Berlin and want to get an idea of the fair.”

Beyond Berlin, key trade events like the activewear show Ispo in Munich are also taking new approaches this season. Ispo, which features more than 2,500 exhibitors and drew 80,000 visitors at its last edition, has redistributed exhibits in 11 of its 16 halls to better concentrate offerings and more prominently highlight growth areas like Health & Fitness. It runs Jan. 24 to 27.

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