LONDON FASHION WEEK READY TO STRETCH OUT

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — The British Fashion Council has expansive plans for London Fashion Week.
The council, under new chairman Clinton Silver, lined up multiyear sponsorship agreements with Vidal Sassoon, Marks & Spencer and Perrier. This put the shows on a firm financial footing for the first time in years and enabled the council to relaunch an exhibition to accompany the runway shows this past season.
Now, after a season that was praised by press and buyers as one of the best-run ever in London, Silver wants to take another step forward next spring. At the top of the agenda is doubling the size of the exhibition, which was organized for the BFC by Single Market Events Ltd. This season, about 50 exhibitors covered women’s wear, jewelry, leather goods, hats, scarves and footwear, said Tim Etchells, managing director at Single Market Events.
Attendance was about 2,000, including 1,050 buyers, of which two-thirds were from the U.K. and 385 from overseas. The largest overseas contingents were from the U.S. and Japan, followed by Italy, Germany and France.
“The only complaint we had from buyers and exhibitors was that the exhibition was too small,” Silver said. “But we wanted to start out cautiously, and next season we’ll make it bigger.”
The plan is to create a two-tier tent on the site of the Natural History Museum, where the runway shows are held. Etchells is confident that 85 to 90 percent of this season’s exhibitors will take space again, and he also plans to target major British companies that did not exhibit this time around.
Silver and Etchells are aware, though, that women’s wear must remain the dominant feature and not be overwhelmed by other product categories.
They are confident about the growth of the exhibition partly because it is heavily subsidized, thanks to the sponsorship deals. Exhibition space cost about $219 (140 pounds) a square foot this past season, compared with up to $282 (180 pounds) a square foot at previous London Fashion Week exhibitions, Etchells said.
“The price will go up slightly next season, but space still will be subsidized,” he said. However, he added, “By the third season, the subsidy will be removed.”
The BFC plans to promote London Fashion Week more heavily next season, following this October’s successful show. The hope is to attract more overseas buyers to join those from Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York who attended this fall.
Silver wants the BFC to provide more services to overseas buyers, such as a buyers’ lounge at the exhibition. But the exhibition would always be a complement to the runway shows next door and not the main reason for London Fashion Week, Silver said.
The former deputy chairman and managing director at Marks & Spencer wants to rebuild London Fashion Week into a must-stop on the fashion calendar, after several years when overseas buyers could afford to give it a miss.
There were 28 runway shows in three days this season, and Silver sees the potential for no more than 35 in London.
“One of the merits of London is that it is small and contained,” he said. “But we must be careful that the people who show can deliver.”
The BFC faces hurdles in its bid to solidify London’s position. The first is the timing of London Fashion Week, which is squeezed by the Milan and Paris shows. Next spring is no exception, and the choices were to go before Milan, after Paris or between the two and clash with Premier Vision.
Despite reported objections from the Chambre Syndicale, the BFC has decided to go again between Milan and Paris to attract overseas buyers, with dates set for March 12-14.
The other hurdle is a longer-term one. Silver admits the shows eventually could outgrow their space at the Natural History Museum and have to move. But he is determined to keep the runway shows and exhibition close together to avoid problems of past seasons, when buyers had to crisscross the city.
“We may become a bit more spread out, but even then we’d be no worse than Paris, because not everything there is at the Carrousel de Louvre,” he said. “It is not beyond the realm of possibility that within a few years we would want something bigger than what we have now. But we are going to take it slowly.”
— Fairchild News Service

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