NEW BUSINESS SCARCE AT PARIS RTW SHOWS

Byline: Alicia Drake

PARIS — While writing was steady with established accounts, the strong franc and Europe’s weak economies cut into traffic and the possibilities for new business at the recent round of ready-to-wear trade shows here.
The Carrousel de la Mode, which had acted as an umbrella organization for several of the shows, did not function this season. Still, events were scattered around the city, and buyers faced a schedule of six rtw shows over five days, running alongside the hefty lineup of designer runway shows, plus an accessories fair and private showroom offerings. The events generally ran through March 18.
Among the trade shows, Paris sur Mode showed again at Quai de Branly, alongside the accessories fair Premiere Classe, while onetime neighbor Atmosphere set up quarters at the Hotel St. James and Albany. Tranoi was at the Bourse; a section from Le Groupe showed at Hotel Meurice; Workshop for young designers was at the Samaritaine department store, and the Espace Carole de Bona, formerly named L’Internationale, was at Rue des Petits Peres.
Japanese and U.S. buyers appeared to make the Paris pilgrimage in their usual numbers, but there was a noticeable drop in Italian, German and Spanish buyers, which many exhibitors attributed to the growing pull of Milan, enhanced by a weak lira, as a place to shop for fashion.
In general, attendance figures at the trade shows were down around 15 to 20 percent from the previous session of October 1995, according to several of the various organizers. Because of changes in locations, show promoters were even more hesitant to make comparisons with last year’s shows.
As for the current sabbatical of the Carrousel de la Mode, director of development Yves Mouclier said it provided a chance for the French Couture and RTW Federations to focus on a new concept to help coordinate the runway shows and trade fairs in store for October. But Mouclier would provide no details.
“This is more than just location under discussion. We are working hard to present a radically new concept that will be more important, significant and much more satisfying for all those buyers who come to shop Paris,” Mouclier said.
But speculation is that Carrousel will return to its original location of the Tuileries Gardens, situated right next door to the main venue for the runway shows in the Louvre and from which it was thrown out three seasons ago by the city of Paris.
Some U.S. buyers polled at the salons expressed frustration not just with the disparate locations, but with prices and what the resources had to offer. Marilyn Blaszka, owner of Chicago boutique Blake, said: “This time I haven’t found a lot to make a point of writing orders. We used to find more appealing little collections that added flavor to the big designers. Now I feel Paris trade shows seem out of touch — either too kooky or too boring.”
On the other side of the fence, Paris sur Mode organizer Sylvie Elmidoro commented, “There are so many fairs, buyers cannot get to them all, so they have to choose one or two, which means buyer quantity is divided.” Elmidoro estimated that traffic was down around 20 percent.
At this show, situated two miles from the runway shows at the Louvre, traffic suffered from the absence of the former Carrousel grouping that last season had included Groupe des Halles, not around this time. Exhibitors noted major U.S. stores did manage to make the show, but there were at the same time complaints that the event was too quiet.
Francesco Barontini, managing director of knit specialist BP Studio, of Florence, Italy, said, “I have seen my established buyers by appointment, which I arranged beforehand, yet the real reason you do a fair is the hope to find new customers, but for the last few seasons that is all it has been — a hope.”
Tranoi, now in its fifth season, showed 62 mostly non-French resources, over 40 percent of which were British. Organizer Mariel Gamboa described the session as her best ever, but attendance figures were not available. Traffic in the aisles seemed — as elsewhere — patchy.
Two U.S. exhibitors were at Tranoi both showing in Paris for the first time. J. Morgan Puett, who has a store in New York’s SoHo district, showed her hand-dyed, handmade layered looks in natural fabrics to test the European market.
Sales director Alison Thompson said the company was pleased with the results, having picked up 15 new European accounts. She noted that while the company had come to Europe to increase sales of the designer line JMP, buyers had been more interested in buying the lower-priced Hahira line.
Pratico, which is based in New York but does its manufacturing in Italy, showed its second collection of quintessentially American sportswear separates for “city dressing.” The firm was showing in Paris to target Europe, but found a better reception from U.S. buyers who were over shopping Paris.
One particularly busy stand at Tranoi was Paul & Joe, a Paris company showing its first women’s wear collection based around a nylon and polyester shirt. The shirts were fitted and in graphic op art prints in Seventies shades of eggplant, orange or lilac and appeared to be touching a nerve with buyers searching for a trend at a good price point. With shirts wholesaling at $40, director Sophie Albou reported picking up 120 points of sale.
At AtmosphAre, traffic was off, but the Japanese and U.S. turnout was strong. Organizer Muriel Guyot attributed the hike in U.S. buyers in part to the increased profile AtmosphAre has gained by showing in New York this February. Among the lines there, Paris designer GR816 opted out of a runway show this season because of financial restraints and instead showed its collection at AtmosphAre.
The Espace Carole de Bona, a relative newcomer in its third season, was a fresh and funky take on the Paris trade show formula. Formerly a designer collective, the salon is now organized by Carole de Bona with the intention of acting as a springboard for designers, who can show there for four to five seasons before moving into their own showroom.
Although attendance at the salon was down from the October session, from 2,214 to 1,653, several of the 29 exhibitors were particularly pleased with sales, including designer Koji Nihommatsu, showing his third collection. A Japanese native and a resident here for the past 20 years, Nihommatsu worked for 13 years with Kenzo and is currently the design director of Christian Dior’s women’s wear licensing department.
His own compact collection features modern, constructed pieces such as a sleeveless dress with boned bodice and a stretch acetate polyamide satin jacket, while his use of exotic ostrich-stamped velvet had many buyers excited. Positioned at $100 for the trousers and $240 for jackets, the line was bought by several U.S. stores, including Fred Hayman of Beverly Hills.
Generally, through the shows, innovative knitwear for fall and winter was a key trend.
At Atmosphere, London resource Jean Torry showed a small collection of handknitted tops with tiny puffed sleeves or frills at the waist, in lilac or dark plum coated cotton, wholesaling from $67. At Workshop, one of the most interesting resources was Amsterdam knit specialist Marc Adema, showing his machine-knitted, hand-dyed tops and dresses in coated copper wire, polyamides and Lycra spandex.
Lightweight construction with a full look also showed up as an important and new direction for fall and winter. Milan resource Uma Rajas at Tranoi showed a full-length coat in wool, polyamide and mohair that had a heavy texture but was deceptively light to wear, while Jerome L’Huillier at Espace Carole de Bona showed a navy acetate and viscose crepe dress with lightweight foam inserted in the skirt to lend volume.

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