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DUSSELDORF — Business first!  That motto of the CPD trade fair reflected the reality both on and off the fairgrounds, as manufacturers here reported stronger-than-usual order writing for fall.

Preorders for fall not only grew for the first time in years, but more than doubled in comparison to last February. Both high-end and midmarket manufacturers said fashion with an individual touch was in demand for fall, noting that retailers in Germany and abroad are actively searching for new looks and labels to differentiate their assortments.

The upturn in orders and a generally positive mood helped compensate for lighter traffic at the three-day event for women’s, men’s, children’s wear and accessories, which closed here Feb. 1. Attendance reached 44,000 trade visitors, 36 percent from abroad, compared with 48,000 last August and 53,000 in February 2004.

Saks Fifth Avenue’s Joseph Boitano was also in Düsseldorf between Paris and Milan, where top Düsseldorf retailer Albert Eickhoff took him on a quick tour of leading German collections. “It’s more about individual lines, not German fashion,” Boitano said, declining to name names. “We have a strong designer business in the U.S., but there are certain brands here that are slightly below that. And if they positively develop, we’d be interested in going forward,” he said.

In addition to the 1,500 companies from 51 countries showing at the fairgrounds and in the show organization’s two fashion houses, about 650 private showrooms in Düsseldorf presented fall collections. According to the market research institute HFU, more than 60,000 buyers visited Düsseldorf during the fair period.

As for trends, manufacturers reported that skirts are staging a strong comeback next season, as are all manner of creative details and unconventional treatments. Price, even in bargain-hunting Germany, is no longer the main issue. Instead, finer fabrics, more sophisticated finishing and a generally dressier and more well-heeled look dominated the collections.

“Customers are more open to more lavish looks, which is the main direction next season,” said Philipp Aulbach, director of women’s wear and licensees of Daniel Hechter of Miltenberg, Germany and Paris. “Retailers have become braver. When the piece is right, there’s less price discussion. They’re open to more fashionable and high-quality themes.”

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

January was a soft month at retail and stores are not overtly optimistic, he added. “But they’re aiming for a light plus in 2005, and that’s something. In the past seasons, they came in planning a 10 percent cut.” Hechter, which has posted double-digit growth for the last three seasons, expects to keep up the momentum in 2005.

“Orders are moving up. All the expensive pieces like coats with fur and everything that’s luxurious is moving.” Daniela Poerner, vice president of design and development at Bogner, said. “This is a real working fair. We’ve been with customers till 8 p.m. every day, and are fully booked for the next 14 days,” she said in Bogner’s Düsseldorf showroom.

She noted that real ready-to-wear or tailored pieces are selling, but it’s not a matter of suits or ensembles. “It’s a complete look, yes, but suits, no. We have a really tailored men’s [style] jacket, a little tailored jacket, a zipper-front jacket, skirts and pants. The client can put together their own suit, in decorated, expensive fabrics. Or many are going to flannel or crepe. Before the demand was more toward sportswear, but now it’s everything that’s wooly and soft, in alpaca, cashmere and wool,” Poerner said.

“It’s been very positive. We’re seeing new clients and old customers who haven’t bought for awhile are also coming back to look. It’s too early to say how the season will end,”  stated Holger Rosselin, director of Windsor’s women’s wear division. “But there’s a lot of spontaneity and people are writing. The basic mood has improved. The higher end had a good year, and there’s a better working atmosphere. The endless complaining has stopped.”

The Windsor women’s collection continues to be upgraded and rejuvenated. “Details are the key, but [are] little, subtle accents that stand for Windsor. Nothing too opulent,” Rosselin said. That means slender fur accents on tweed jackets, a slim velvet waistband on a skirt, accent piping and a bow on the inside of a jacket or coat and blanket stitching on the edges of softly tailored jackets and coats. The look extends beyond classic, with lace skirts, tailored paisley knit or double-faced knit jackets, little pantsuits with cutaway jackets and feminine tulip skirts in masculine fabrics. He expects single blazers to be strong next season, and was surprised at “how many skirts we’ve sold in these days.”

“The business is exciting again. The energy level is up and there seems to be a renewed interest in fashion,” commented Jim Buckley, director of Escada Sport. “The last two years have been extremely hard, but maybe the market’s cleaned up. Those who survived are more professional, and the end consumer is also coming around and is ready to invest in fashion and quality.

“Our cashmere sweater business is booming,” he continued, “which is not something you’d relate to a weak economy. But if they buy a sweater, they want cashmere.”

Packed with color, Escada Sport “is about free time in the luxury segment, but we’re not a true luxury product,” he noted. Embroidered shearling coats and printed silk dresses are part of the package, as are blanket striped duffle coats, patterned jeans and down jackets. “We’re establishing a sense of occasion in the collection. The customer is even ready to buy technical sports items, and we’re doing more specialized projects” such as Swarovski studded skis, which are coming out in March.

Back at the fairgrounds, CPD presented a more compact, efficient and polished image. Some big-name domestic brands, such as Gerry Weber, Ambiente and Annette Görtz, did double duty, setting up image stands to supplement their city showrooms. Ambiente chief Peter Boveleth said 80 new contacts were made at the fair on Sunday alone, primarily from Scandinavia and Russia. Annette Görtz, who, besides having a Düsseldorf showroom, also exhibited at Pariser Platz in Berlin, said her graphic display of hanging outfits had gotten very good response, “though we don’t know if they’re prospective customers or copyists. But Düsseldorf must remain an order center, which is why we support it.”

The Berlin-based designer Peter O’Mahler, who was exhibiting at the fair after a break of five years, described CPD as “super, super, super. The fair has changed a lot. It’s more attractive, there’s a lot of open, lounge space and a lot of companies have come back. The neighboring environment is very good. It’s paid off, and we’ll only show at fairs versus showrooms next season.” Mahler expects to return to CPD, Pariser Platz in Berlin as well as Munich Fashion Fair Woman.

Ilse Eisenkammer, women’s wear buyer for the specialty store Mode Funk in Aalen near Stuttgart, also said CPD has “improved. There’s more to be seen here than I thought, though it’s still not enough. Retailers need a central fair, and the organizers should be asking the retailers what they need, not the manufacturers.”

Eisenkammer was enthusiastic about next fall. “There are many lovely collections and a lot of innovation in fashion, even from more solid collections, for everyone knows the consumer has everything in her closet and isn’t buying basics. They’re looking for more individuality, and people are following their personal taste more and more,” she said.