BERLIN — Against the backdrop of stagnating business in Europe, disappointing 2014 retail sales and the cancellation of the city’s largest trade event — Bread & Butter — Berlin’s winter 2015-16 fair season, which closed here Jan. 21, was surprisingly upbeat.

The three main fairs — Panorama, Premium and Seek — as well as Ethical Fashion Show and Greenshowroom, all said this season was their most successful to date in terms of exhibitors and visitor frequency. Show & Order, Bright and Curvy Is Sexy also reported significant growth in both segments. Ten fairs around the city attracted more than 200,000 visitors during the three-day run parallel to Berlin fashion.

Premium Exhibitions has positioned itself as the city’s leading contemporary fashion fair with an ambient showroom-like setup of more than 1,000 brands exhibiting in more than 320,000 square feet of space. The opening this season of Hall 8 for local designers and the winners of the Premium Young Designers Award, and a better integration of the Dissonance Area for avant-garde fashion further boosted the show’s hallmark of juxtaposing established boutique fashion and progressive trends. Premium’s #Fashiontech Conference on the future of fashion in collaboration with Seek and Re:publica also smoothed the way for building fashion and technology knowledge.

“Premium is extremely relevant for us and it will be an important location in the future,” said Gordon Giers, chief executive officer of Hamburg-based denim company Closed. “Berlin is interesting because of the federal structure of the press and the fashion industry, and right now, it has the chance for a repositioning. We’re really curious about the coming developments and hope for less collision with other fashion weeks and fairs,” he continued.

However, Premium and the Berlin fairs in general are primarily seen as a presentation rather than an order platform. “The fair is important as a platform for customer relations and to see where the market is going and what others are doing. Orders are primarily written in our showrooms in Düsseldorf,” commented Regis Benabou, founder and ceo of sales agency Modeagentur Benabou GmbH, which represents brands such as Fendi, Jimmy Choo and Opening Ceremony in Germany.

Birgit Wissemann, who represents German boutique brands like Capitana, Ivi and Label by Label, agreed. “We have to be here to present the brands and make contacts, but the final commitments are made in our showrooms.”

Domestic and international retailers lauded the Berlin fairs as an excellent overview platform. Adem Altunbas, a buyer at Bremen’s Stiesing department store remarked, “It’s the first fair in the season and we’re here to get an overview about the collections and draft orders at a later point.”

Suzy Lam, a buyer for Hong Kong-based P-Plus Group Ltd. said while “Paris and Milan are much more important for us, Premium has a good portfolio and is great to get a first look into the season. And we like the city.”

Still, European buyers, such as Anne Manner, owner of Finnish Grace Fashion Oy Store, did place orders in Berlin. “We come here every season,” she said of Premium. “It’s a great fair and we do make orders here. And Berlin is a great city, I love to come here.”

Bettina Schumacher of the Swiss Scarpe Lago Shop, who visits Premium, Panorama and Show & Order, also comes to the city to buy, especially accessories. “The fairs are getting better and better and it’s very convenient to have it all in one place,” she said.

“The fair is growing, business-to-business is working in Berlin, and the influx of visitors have far exceeded our expectations,” stated Premium’s founder and ceo Anita Tillmann.

The scenario was repeated at Panorama, the biggest show for commercial mainstream brands at the Messe Berlin fairgrounds. The fair was literally overrun on opening Monday with massive organizational and registration difficulties. Unlike the other fairs, Panorama had a very pragmatic down-to-business-structure with retailers rushing through the corridors to check stands as fast as possible.

“They were overwhelmed by numerous (exhibitor) requests after Bread & Butter (was canceled) and then there was the wave of visitors, so the organizational problems are natural. Apart from that, we and our clients are very happy about the fair and its professional manner,” said Dietmar Axt, ceo of Mustang, which exhibited at Bread & Butter last season.

Attila Potoczky, ceo of Camp David Store Hungary Ltd., confirmed  that  “Panorama is relevant as a commercial presentation platform in Europe, and people are here to do business.” As for business, the show was accompanied by a conference program on business optimization in fashion.

The atmosphere at the smaller fairs was more relaxed. Ethical Fashion Show for ecological streetwear and Greenshowroom for ecological boutique fashion illustrated green fashion’s growing relevance. Safia Minney, ceo and founder of People Tree said, “the fair was really successful. We’re excited that we had more mainstream and boutique buyers this time, and hope that this development will last and we get more fashion people in the future.”

Seek, the mainly men’s wear denim and progressive fashion show from the Premium organization, moved to Arena Berlin this season and doubled the number of exhibitors to 240. While the space has tripled, the atmosphere remained uniquely fresh and relaxed, with the most international mix of exhibitors and retailers, mainly from German-speaking Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and Southern Europe.

“It’s the most relevant fair for the high-end denim scene,” said Jens Olav Dankertsen, founder and ceo of the Norwegian brand Livid Jeans AS, who was at Capsule last summer. Marcus Boson, founder of Swedish The Blue Uniform notes, “the new Seek is much nicer, it feels bigger and more vivid and there are more people coming. It’s good marketing and it’s important to be present. And while few orders are actually made here, it’s the first touching point for planning future order decisions. It’s the only fair we’re doing.”

Masahiro Kuno, director of the international strategies sales division at Ueno-Shokai, a Shibuya-based agency serving 87 multibrand stores, confirms that, “Berlin is definitely internationally interesting for denim and progressive young fashion.” For him, this did not only apply to Seek, but also Bread & Butter’s guerilla event, “Back to the Street.”

At “Back to the Street” at the Mitte headquarters of Bread & Butter GmbH, the mood was cheerful. “We’re loyal to B&B, it’s the only (platform) we’re considering and it’s working well,” said Erwin O. Licher, founder and ceo of Munich denim brand Herrlicher. “We have the client base [here] but also new customers. The retailers are coming and it’s a nice and familiar atmosphere,” he said.

Stefan Brügger, International Sales Director at Freitag, welcomed the intimate setup: “This is a test because we’re launching a new product. Normally we focus on Pitti and Paris,” he explained. “There is potential if the show is right and this was definitely interesting.”

After the positive response, backed by a poll on whether or not to hold Bread & Butter next season, founder and ceo Karl-Heinz Müller announced a comeback of the trade show at the home base of Tempelhof Airport exhibition grounds in early July.

However, the head of a Dutch denim brand present at the show noted the unfriendly competition in the city: “They have to work together, they’re competing with each other in a way that is not very nice. And that’s not good for them and not good for the retailers. If they’d work together, it would be much better for the city.”


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