WILL PRE-FALL SPURT CARRY ON?

Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS — With the local economy still gloomy and with markets like Hong Kong and Taiwan still uncertain, French fashion executives are unusually guarded about this fall.
A lucky few, however, noted that a bigger than usual pre-fall push paid off, resulting in early increases over pre-fall ’95, and they’re hopeful the trend will continue for the rest of the season.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic outlook is coming from Givenchy, where John Galliano developed his first pre-fall collection for the house this season, and is finishing up his first ready-to-wear collection.
“Based on pre-fall, we expect overall ready-to-wear sales to be up at least 50 percent for fall,” said Georges Spitzer, managing director. “Existing clients have upped their orders on average between 15 and 20 percent. For example, Saks will carry pre-fall in 11 doors, compared to seven for all of last year.”
Plus, the house is getting new clients, especially upscale multibrand retailers in markets where the brand was scarcely distributed. In London, Joseph and Harvey Nichols are picking up Givenchy, while in Germany, the Eickhoff stores will be a new client. In the U.S., Ultimo and Maxfield’s have also ordered pre-fall.
Up until now, Givenchy’s women’s sales have been restricted primarily to department stores, and sales were split equally between the U.S., Japan and Europe, mainly France. In 1995, Givenchy had sales of about $84 million (410 million francs), Spitzer said. Spitzer believes that with fall, international sales will be rebalanced with roughly 30 percent coming from the U.S., 42 percent from Europe, 18 percent from Japan and 10 percent from other markets. He could give no year-end sales projections.
Some companies, like Christian Lacroix and Christian Dior, put a greater emphasis on their pre-fall offerings than in previous seasons.
“We increased the number of pieces in order to be able to deliver better and earlier,” said Lacroix president Robert-Bensoussan Torres. “Eighty-five percent of the collection was sold in March, and the (luxury rtw) pieces in the fashion show, which will have much more ‘attitude,’ account for about 15 percent of sales.”
Another change for the fashion show is that it will highlight Lacroix’s three collections — the luxury rtw, the Bazar and the Jeans lines.
Bensoussan is cautious about the fall season, even if he is predicting sales increases of 10 to 15 percent for Bazar.
“There is not one place where you can say, ‘Wow, it’s booming,’ ” he said. “Asia is soft. Japan is still not great. Hong Kong has 1997 coming up. Taiwan has elections soon. Korea, however, is doing well.”
Bensoussan said he wants the company to change its dependence on the number of its wholesale accounts by developing a network of free-standing stores, mainly franchised, which would highlight the Bazar and Jeans lines. For example, negotiations are underway for a store in Cannes, in the South of France, and for Moscow.
At Dior, managing director Francois Baufume explained that the pre-fall line was “better constructed and more balanced.” As a result, there has been a sharp increase in sales so far for fall, compared to the same period last year. Based on these results, he expects fall sales to be up, but declined to disclose figures.
Still,Baufume wouldn’t say that business is booming.
“Right now, caution is the word,” he noted, “Business is difficult all over, especially in countries like France and Germany. The U.S. is not a country I understand.”
Dior has been a hot topic in Paris this winter, with questions surrounding the tenure of house couturier Gianfranco Ferre, whose contract reportedly is up at the end of October. While eager to compliment the Italian designer, Baufume refused to comment on the subject.
“Gianfranco did the best couture collection this season, showing living cultural products. He is a designer of quality,” Baufume said.
Hermes, too, will be posting gains for its women’s rtw, notes executive vice-president Gilles Duval, based on the company’s sales last month to its network of wholly owned or franchised freestanding stores and its limited wholesale accounts. While he declined to give precise figures, he said the line will post double-digit increases in Europe — excluding France — Asia and the U.S. Bestsellers are the company’s trademark jackets and coats.
The U.S. business is up thanks mainly to improved merchandising and selling in the company’s own stores. Hermes invested in sending teams from Paris to train the American selling staff on how to present the goods.
Fall sales at Jacques Fath are also expected to grow, said managing director Jerome Desouches. Currently, sales are ahead 15 percent with existing clients, based on the company’s second season selling pre-fall. He said that Neiman’s is expected to increase its purchase of Fath by about 20 percent for the season.
News at Jean-Louis Scherrer is that the house’s couturier, Bernard Perris, also responsible for the house’s semi-made-to-measure “couture” line, is now overseeing the rtw collection, which will be displayed in a showroom next month. In the past few seasons, the firm experienced the revolving-door syndrome with its designers. “With this change, we expect the rtw to grow,” said managing director Jean-Claude Cathalan.
But the company is eager to recapture former markets, like Spain, where business suffered because of the weakness of the peseta against the franc. Other countries where business has been soft include the U.S. and Italy, for the same reasons, he noted. Ungaro, too, is cautious about exchange-rate pressures. Last fall, the pre-fall and fall collections were good in terms of sell-in, but not as strong at sell-out, explained managing director Carlo Valerio. On top of exchange rates adversely affecting business, markets had their own specific problems like the bombs and strikes in France, or the uncertainty and caution in Far Eastern markets like Hong Kong, Taiwan and China due to the local political and economic issues.
“As the trade looks at last season, they are more cautious with their budgets,” Valerio explained, noting that pre-fall 1996 sales were flat compared with last year, with bestsellers being black and white pieces, coordinate tweed separates and stretch fabrics. “We didn’t push sell-in of pre-fall, and we expect all of fall to be up slightly compared to fall 1995.”
Kenzo had a bit of a setback for fall for the U.S. market for its Studio bridge line, gearing up for its fourth season under license to troubled Bonaventure Textiles USA. Kenzo president Richard Simonin, also the president of Givenchy, explained that due to Bonaventure’s financial problems, Kenzo decided to terminate the licensing contract and will produce the fall Studio line in France.
“We announced a new approach to the U.S. market, and now we need to protect (that) and the clients,” Simonin explained, noting that the line will be present in 45 doors for fall. “What’s too bad is that Bonaventure did great quality.”
Producing in France will mean that the house will take a hit on margins, since French production is much more costly than Bonaventure’s Hong Kong-based manufacturing. But the decision was easier to swallow for the company, since roughly 80 percent of the fabrics for Studio come from Kenzo’s existing European suppliers, Simonin noted, which makes the task easier logistically.
While Kenzo’s sales grew 15 percent last year to $146 million (730 million francs), Simonin is cautious about this year’s performance. “No one is sheltered from uncertainty,” he noted. “In Asia, there is a lot of uncertainty in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Plus, everyone is there, all the worldwide competition. Markets can’t expand infinitely.”
At Guy Laroche, newly appointed managing director Ralph Toledano has the task of getting the house’s “couture” luxury rtw line in shape for a full-fledged collection.
“In the 1980s, this company did not take the important transition of developing luxury rtw, which is the essence and driving machine of high- fashion companies today,” Toledano observed. He was referring to the wide fashion and price gap between Laroche’s former couture and diffusion rtw line. “Laroche didn’t take the right train at the right time.”
The “couture” line, launched for fall 1994, has been a mini-collection of finely made separates in luxury fabrics shown only in Laroche’s couture showroom. For the show, which will feature roughly 100 passages, it will be a complete line. Prices were too high in past seasons, noted Toledano, adding that dresses will wholesale in France for about $500 to $600, suits will be priced at about $600 to $900, while knitwear will wholesale upward of $200.
At Sonia Rykiel, president Simon Burstein sees growth coming mainly from Asia, where he feels Japan is coming out of a recession, and where markets like Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore are strong.
Increases are starting to take hold in Italy as well, a country that has been hard to crack because of the local competition.
“Stores there are buying deeper and more broadly,” Burstein said, “We expect double-digit increases for this fall.”

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