PARIS RTW SHOWS BOUNCE BACK

Byline: Alison Beckner / Laurie Sprague

PARIS — In another sign that the economy is on the rebound, American and Asian buyers were back, and largely upbeat, at the latest round of apparel trade shows here this month.
“Business is buoyant and positive for fall,” declared Anna Garner, fashion director at Henri Bendel. “We’re really happy with the season. These collections will allow us to keep the momentum going.”
Accessories like unstructured handbags, fringed belts and chunky scarves topped shopping lists, along with vests, cropped pants, blouses and skirts of all lengths.
The March shows, the last leg of a three-week marathon of viewing and buying for many large retailers, are traditionally popular with foreign buyers, whereas January’s mammoth ready-to-wear shows at the Porte de Versailles exposition halls are more popular with French and European buyers. Following, a rundown of the action:

Atmosphere d’Hiver and Paris Sur Mode
Vendors exhibiting at Atmosphere didn’t stray far from the now-familiar formula of soft, feminine and romantic pieces, while those at Paris Sur Mode offered couture-like interpretations of tried-and-true commercial trends.
“Really, it seems to be a continuation of what we saw this season,” said Ivan Donovan, senior buyer for Browns in London. “Those very pretty, feminine prints and colorful styles are particularly strong for us. The customers love them.”
Donovan said he was hunting mostly for accessories at a variety of Paris trade shows and picked up sheepskin hats, belts from Nanni and scarves at Sophie Digard.
As in recent seasons, there was considerable focus at both shows on rich decorative embellishments such as fur, crystals, sequins, lace, hand-painted motifs and appliques. “Quite simply, novelty items sell best,” said David Nuttall, managing director of France-based Rue Jacob.
“There’s still lots of texture, but overall, it’s beginning to move away from the gypsy-hippie look, in a slightly more refined direction for fall,” said Bendel’s Garner. “It’s all about layering and opulence. The vest will be a key silhouette. Accessories will also be very important this season.”
Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said he was impressed that so many contemporary collections at the fairs hit on runway trends and offered them at the right price. He was hunting for collections for the store’s fifth floor.
Accessories were key, including handbags with bone handles and belts with fringing or beading. “Soft accessories are also very strong, especially one-of-a-kind handknit items, even scarves,” he said.
In apparel, Burke said he was emphasizing blouses and tops, short feminine dresses and skirts of various lengths.
“Clothing styles seem to be holding more at a downtown, bohemian look, while accessories are a little more refined,” he said.
Organizers of Paris Sur Mode declined to give exact attendance figures for the show, which took place under the tents at the Jardin des Tuileries, March 15 to 18. Informally, vendors said traffic had improved over the October installment.
Atmosphere d’Hiver, which was presented in the Jardin des Tuileries and the Hotel Saint-James et D’Albany, featured 70 vendors in all.

Workshop and Tranoi
Chunky knits and delicate blouses with folkloric touches were among items sought by American retailers at these two trade fairs.
“Last season’s whole hippie thing has morphed into a craft-y, retro-vintage feel,” said Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising at Barneys New York. She said the best collections were luxurious, with rich ethnic and folkloric elements.
“Colors and textures are more interesting this season,” she added, citing dusty pinks and purples, corduroys, velvets and tweeds as important elements, especially when paired with feminine pieces in satin and chiffon.
Additionally, Gilhart said she found winter whites fresh and anticipated they would figure prominently in next season’s accessory purchases. She chose gold and metallic touches in accessories and women’s wear to “lighten everything up.”
Stefani Greenfield, owner of Scoop, a New York-based specialty retailer, said she was looking for “great, trend-inspired items” and this season’s trade shows did not disappoint. Her budgets were on par with a year ago.
“These shows are essential, essential, essential. They allow us as retailers to find our own point of view,” she said. “We have been through a lot. People want to have a good time.” Among her fall picks were one-size, beaded and embroidered chiffon tunics by Tranoi newcomer Red Hot; sweaters by Belinda Robinson Cashmere, and weekend leather whip-stitch bags from Isi by Isabelle Fraysse. Greenfield also cited Frost French as having “one of the cutest collections,” which included military-inspired skirts and “wonderful prints.”
Brigitte Toupel, a representative for the Paris buying office AMC, whose clients include such department stores as Bloomingdale’s, opted for skirts and romantic pieces, signs of “embellishment and craftsmanship” and novelty pants, like culottes and short pants. Meanwhile, vendors gave the shows a thumbs-up.
“We are doing well here,” said a representative for Miriam Ocariz, a Spanish designer showing at Workshop for the fourth time. “We are recovering new clients from last year and getting new clients as well.”
French designer Marc Le Bihan noticed an increase in Italian, English and Los Angeles-based clients this season.
Exhibiting at Tranoi, Mareen Cahill, a marketing representative for Diane von Furstenberg, said that she had gained new clients from countries including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa this year.
Bestsellers at Diane von Furstenberg included georgette tops, graffiti print separates and chunky knits teamed with chiffon pieces. Though vendors were primarily presenting fall collections, designer Una O’Reilly noted a demand for immediates at Workshop.
“People are telling me that they don’t have enough merchandise in their stores for this season,” she said. “I think they are finding that they were overly cautious last season.” Toupel confirmed that this season is more promising than last. “Department stores are a little bit more optimistic than last season,” she said, but declined to specify budgets. Organizers of Workshop, held at the Cercle Republicain, estimate that 4,600 visitors walked the show, up from 3,500 last season. Sixty-two percent of the visitors in attendance were from Asia, while 13 percent came from the U.S.
Organizers at Tranoi, which ran from March 14 to 17 at the Bourse de Commerce and the Palais de la Bourse, said 7,000 buyers visited the show this season.
Espace Carole de Bona also took place this season on Rue Richelieu with 26 vendors, including New York-based Only Hearts and Finnish designer Anu Leinonen. Appreciated by vendors for its quiet, showroom-like atmosphere, the show featured women’s wear, men’s wear, accessories and innerwear. No attendance figures were provided.

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