That seemed to be the message from retailers and vendors at the giant Pret-a-Porter trade show, which ended its four-day run here Monday.
With the economic repercussions of Sept. 11 still dampening demand and blurring the outlook, retailers attending the Pret said they were reining in their budgets and taking their time to cement orders.
Some buyers lamented that manufacturers were overly cautious and failed to serve up new trends or directions to entice consumers. Meanwhile, vendors asserted the tried-and-true approach is the best way to face an uncertain future.
The Pret, held at Paris-Expo, the sprawling Porte de Versailles exhibition site, featured 1,090 exhibitors over 270,000 square feet. Several other trade events in Paris ran concurrently, including Who’s Next, Tranoi Preview and the accessories showcases Bijorcha and Premiere Classe.
At the Pret, vendors debated the merits of rich, embellished and baroque fashions versus more practical classics like structured pants, skirts and jackets.
Les Prairies de Paris mixed luxurious textures with pleasing colors, pitching such combinations as a sleeveless eggplant angora sweater paired with a rosy silk Lurex skirt. “It’s a very dreamy look,” said sales representative Anna Bras. “Post-Sept. 11, people want to escape.”
Others took a different approach. “In this economy, retailers are coming back to sure labels and known quantities and ideas,” said Elsa Poncet, sales representative for the Lagerfeld line, a new exhibitor at the Pret.
For some, the seasonal offerings lacked newness. “There were lots of things we’d seen in previous seasons that were just too commercial for us,” said Sandy Bontout, a buyer for Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
Most retailers said they have not finished their fall budgets, but acknowledged they will likely be flat, at best.
“Business is tight in department stores,” said Brigitte Toupel, a representative for the Paris buying office AMC, whose clients include Bloomingdale’s. “Budgets have already decreased and are not supposed to reach pre-Sept. 11 levels.”
Alain Snege, buyer for Colette here, said spring collections delivered so far are performing well, but he allowed that the economic downturn will impact budgets for fall and winter. He described a “hippie, bohemian, ethnic” mood for the coming season, with “hip, loose” pants and skirts key items along with “long, oversized and sexy” knitwear.
Florence Calvet, a fashion consultant for Henri Bendel, said the Italian collection Marni, known for its rich hippie look, ranks as an important influence next season. “There was more of the Thirties-style feeling, with low-waisted dresses, and a feminine attitude in roses and flower prints that was there this summer,” she said.
Noteworthy collections mentioned by buyers included Juicy Couture, Dice Kayek, Twin-Set, Yvan Paris and Ursule Beaugeste.
Most buyers were on the lookout for sharp prices. According to Jessy Chung, a designer who works for Hong Kong’s Orchid House Fashion store, “department stores’ numbers are down in Hong Kong — and next year probably won’t be very good either, so we’ll be adding more inexpensive items to our line.”
The reappearance of the Japanese and other Asian visitors, such as Chung, were greeted as a positive sign by Pret organizers, who estimated attendance at the fair at 38,765, up slightly from last year. The Pret includes numerous “villages,” each with a specific fashion attitude, under the banners Atmosphere, By Casabo, Mira, Supersizes and Pavillons du Monde.
Meanwhile, retailers attending the Who’s Next trade show, also held at the Paris-Expo center, came in search of new trends in contemporary sportswear, jeanswear, streetwear and activewear.
Previewing collections for foreign buyers who come to Paris in March to write orders, AMC’s Toupel said she found little fashion news.
“Due to an unfavorable climate, vendors do not take too much risk,” she said. “This season appears like a continuation of the previous season.”
Trends included mixed and textured fabrics, vintage and retro looks and knits, both thick and delicate and in various silhouettes. Corduroy is still strong, for both pants and skirts. Color was preferred to black and white, though tones were muted, often faded or pigment-dyed, in rose, plum, dusty blue and sage.
Vendors cited healthy traffic, but sensed caution among buyers.
“I feel like people are here to walk around, like they just came to see things,” said Yasmine Cesco-Resia, a designer at activewear and streetwear firm Blacksmith. “People have left their cards, but there is a sense of hesitation.”
But Fred Villatte, a designer for Komodo, a British firm that has been exhibiting at Who’s Next for about 10 years, described turnout and sales as “very strong, especially compared to last season,” with lots of new clients from Spain, Italy and Asia.
The show featured 350 exhibitors. According to show organizers, total attendance for the four-day show was 24,164, up 10 percent from the September edition and 6 percent from a year ago.
Tranoi Preview, organized by Mariel Gamboa, bowed this season at the Bourse de Commerce, with 40 vendors featuring jeanswear, diffusion and accessory lines. About 3,000 buyers attended, with vendors citing healthy turnout from American, Japanese and local accounts. Tranoi’s main edition is in March.
“We could pack up and leave now and be more than satisfied,” said Philippa Devetta, a representative for Paper, Denim and Cloth, on the second day of the show.