PREMIERE CLASSE: BUYERS SHOP THE OPEN RANGE

Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS — Judging from the selection at the Premiere Classe trade show here last week, fall accessories are following in the footsteps of ready-to-wear in offering a wide spectrum of salable trends.
The four-day show, which ended last Monday, featured trends and items — including elegant jewelry, scarves and shawls in velvets and other rich textiles and structured handbags — that work with what’s been showing up on the runway and prompted enthusiastic reactions from retailers.
“It’s been a heyday for us,” said one buyer from Neiman Marcus. “There is just so much choice. It’s often hard to say no.”
The show, held within the Carrousel de la Mode in conjunction with three rtw shows, featured 190 exhibitors. Event organizers reported that some 9,000 visitors, representing 4,474 stores, attended. Overall attendance was up 2 percent compared to the March 1994 session.
The new location at Quai Branly, near the Eiffel Tower and farther away from the designer runway shows than the former Tuileries venue, did not receive rave reviews from many apparel firms but seemed to work well with most accessories exhibitors and the retailers.
“I would attend this show no matter what,” said Lin Altman, vice president and merchandise manager for The Twenty-Four Collection, Bal Harbour, Fla. “I come here to find things that avoid duplicating what I can get in the U.S. The new location is only an inconvenience.” Many exhibitors, particularly those tuned into fall’s strongest trends, were happy with the pace of buying.
“The show has been very good, and we have been writing big orders,” said Robert Tateossian, owner of the London-based jewelry and accessories firm that bears his name. “And the new location is airy, less of a tunnel feeling than the tents.”
Tateossian’s bestsellers were single-strand necklaces in tiny pearls and Swarovski crystal beads. Fischer Textiles, a San Diego company that was showing for the first time at Premiere Classe, attracted a big crowd. The company, which makes hand-dyed and printed fabrics in silk chiffon, charmeuse and velvets, introduced a line of scarves and shawls a year ago.
“We ran out of purchase orders on one day,” said Richard Fischer, principal. “This show far exceeded our expectations. We got new customers from Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K. and Switzerland, and the biggest order came from a Korean group who paid me in advance, in dollars.”
Fischer’s velvet pieces represented a strong trend at the show, where velvet in all its forms was displayed in moderate to high-price ranges. At the very high end was another newcomer, the couture fabric designer Sabina Fay Braxton.
Braxton showed her printed velvet scarves, created by heat block printing that crushes the pile, leaving the imprint of a design. An elaborate multilayer purple fringed scarf was on display with a wholesale price tag of $200.
Jewelry trends were stronger than they have been in some time and merchandise looked neater and more ladylike than grungy and free-spirited. Pendants were replaced by delicate pieces, sometimes by rhinestones. Catherine Prevost of Ann & Catherine Prevost, New York, said her company was showing at Premiere Classe for the third time.
“This has been our best show yet,” Prevost said. “Compared to the first show we did, where the European buyers just looked, they are now jumping right in. They understand the idea of 24-karat gold on bronze.”
Prevost, like the few other American exhibitors at the show, was getting a slight boost from the weakness of the dollar.
“The dollar’s low rate is giving a little push to buyers who are hesitating,” she noted.
Another jewelry firm showing goldplated pieces was Louise Sant from London, who works in either brass with 22-karat goldplate or silver.
Sant said she saw a clear shift away from silver to gold looks, especially among Japanese buyers. Overall, she observed that buyers are more interested in the “craft of jewelry” and are paying more attention to detail. Paris-based Antigona, a maker of jewelry and buttons for top international designers, came back to Premiere Classe after skipping it for several seasons. “We are back because we are ready to take on new clients,” said the American-born designer and principal, Antigone Pradelle. Her newest pieces were a grouping of large bracelets and brooches using different color metals decorated with “a semiprecious idea” of stones. While Antigona boasts a New York showroom and shipped buttons to U.S. designers last season, the company did not sell jewelry in that market due to a change in the sales team. But the jewelry will be targeted at the U.S. market again for fall, and Pradelle was reassured by the number of “good contacts” she made at the show.
The handbag vendor lineup yielded some new companies and fresh-looking goods. Adelaida Fortuna of Madrid showed its debut line of woven silk ribbon structured bags. The bags, woven on a plastic structure, were square or rectangular. There was even one item that was the size of a small shopping cart and set on wheels. The average wholesale price for a medium-size bag was about $80.
Others, such as Margaux Alsako from Paris, showed some basic structured square and rectangular handbags in vinyl and pannA velvet but mixed in a few soft drawstring bags for variety. Her wholesale prices ranged from about $12 for a drawstring bag to $25 for a velvet model. Gloves are another big accessories item for fall, having appeared in many of the runway collections. Agnelle, of St. Julien, France, showed its own line in addition to the Christian Dior gloves it makes and distributes under license. Included in its selection were a featherweight glove in caramel-colored, silk-lined lambskin with contrasting off-white stitching for $53 wholesale and another model with a fringed cuff in suede for $80.
In addition to the action at the show, Escada hosted a lunch on March 19 to unveil the first full accessories collection from its new Escada Development subsidiary.
Highlights included velvet handbags trimmed with rhinestones, twig-inspired and daisy-motif fashion jewelry groups and rich silk and cut-velvet scarves.

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