FEMININE LOOKS, SEPARATES ARE TOPS AT PRET-A-PORTER

Byline: Ruth Benoit

PARIS — Feminine looks and separates for layering set the fashion mood for the Pret-a-Porter Paris fair here, and while attendance lagged from a year ago, some exhibitors enjoyed active ordering.
The four-day show, which ran through Sept. 8, pulled 47,171 visitors, down 9 percent from the show of a year ago, according to show organizers. The changing of the dates for SEHM, a major men’s wear event, from September to July was thought to be one key reason for the drop in attendance.
After France, Spain was responsible for the highest percentage of visitors — roughly 14 percent — followed by Italy and Japan. The funeral of Princess Diana was seen as having cut into the number of British buyers.
The September session of this ready-to-wear fair is traditionally less important for order-writing than the larger October edition, and that seemed to be the case this season. According to exhibitors, buyers often like to look at the collections in September and place orders in October. However most exhibitors said they could not afford to skip the September dates and risk missing orders from international buyers.
Within the fair’s various groupings, there were almost 900 exhibitors, more than half of them French.
Although designers at the Atmosphere section, organized by Muriel Guyot, continued to set trends, Expressions was cited as being a must stop for retailers. Expressions is organized by Hortensia de Hutten, who also runs the Workshop group during the March and October ready-to-wear fairs, and carries mostly young designers.
“The Expressions area was a great surprise this season. It had a host of interesting designers like Bengt Jacobsson, Honorine and Lionel Bandiera,” said Mary Gallagher, European consultant for Harvey Nichols, London.
Discussing the activity at Atmosphere, Guyot said, “There are a number of designers who have finally taken off this season, commercially speaking. Some examples are Isabel Marant and Xuly Bet.”
Michel Klein, marking the second season since he relaunched his line, was also doing well, she added. Klein previously designed rtw and couture at Guy Laroche. Bestsellers for him were a viscose panther print dress with a black lace trim on the hem and striped crop tops in wool jersey.
Another Atmosphere exhibitor, five-year-old Lilith, designed by Lily Barreth, reported a successful show. “The U.S. is our strongest market,” said manager Angelika Souhani, who noted the brand has between 150 and 180 sales points throughout the country. “We are constantly adding to the collection, but never changing the concept. Separates from our first collection can be mixed with today’s pieces,” she said. The line includes large pants, long skirts and baggy sweaters in shades of olive green, powder blue, prune, gray and brown. Fabrics include linen, cotton, polyamide blends, viscose and cotton-wool blends.
One of the Lilith fans was U.S. buyer Baby Burstyn, owner of Baby & Co., a Seattle boutique. “I think a woman is looking for functional, practical and feminine clothes; I find all of this at Lilith,” said the retailer. “They understand layering, and the clothes can be worn from day into evening, and that is important now.” She also cited Isabel Marant as an important resource.
The New York export promotion agency, Fashion Exports/New York, returned to the fair for the second time, introducing two U.S. brands, Betsy & Adam and Cattiva. “We have signed up many new accounts,” said Laura Enman, sales manager for Betsy & Adam, “including buyers from Portugal, Spain and Greece.”
Another American exhibitor, showing in the Intersaisons section, was Los Angeles company Exit 1. Designer Jose Arellanes said the firm came to the Pret to reach international buyers. Exit 1 spotlighted eveningwear in black and wine of Lycra spandex-blend stretch jersey and also reported that it did well with sheer nylon jackets in pink, purple or black, with ostrich feather trim in a matching color. The jackets wholesale for $120.
French designer Helene Zubeldia, now in her third season, continued to push forward innovative ideas, including layered evening dresses with bronze sparkle giving a glittering star effect in pale yellow, pale pink and dark brown. Her daywear included pinstriped gabardine stretch suits with lifted shoulders, coupled with tops made of a stretchy polyamide and Lycra fabric she calls “baby skin.”
Laetitia Ivanez, designer of Les Prairies de Paris, showed goatskin dresses and cropped jackets in simple silhouettes, with colors that included lavender, navy and gray. She also uses cotton fabrics and adds details like a tiny button sewn onto the waistband of a dress. A cotton dress wholesales for about $60 (360 francs), and a goatskin dress for $215 (1,300 francs).
Jose Levy a Paris, who has been designing men’s wear for seven years, chose Atmosphere to show his first women’s collection. The line includes short tops, dresses, pants and jackets. He used Tencel for jackets, pants and skirts. There were also midnight blue silk taffeta dresses and skirts, hand-embroidered with blue paillettes, and in accessories he showed nylon pink and blue purses.
Roman Keflay, a female, Ethopian-born designer now based in New York but operating business out of London, showed at the Influences section of the fair. The company was set up in November 1996, and according to Ramsey Khoury, managing director, is doing well.
“This has been a good show for us. We have had positive response from people seeing the collection for the first time and made contact with buyers from Martinique, Greece, Spain and Portugal,” Khoury said.
At present, the line consists only of eveningwear, but plans are in the works for daywear.
Dresses are mostly made of viscose and acetate, and there are full-length crocheted jackets.

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