Byline: Robert Murphy / Siobhan Fitzpatrick

PARIS — The recent round of apparel trade shows in Paris reflected many uncertainties: the ups and downs in the world economic situation and the competing hard and soft looks in fashion.
Buyers attending the Paris Sur Mode and Atmosphere D’Hiver trade shows were in search of both trends. The shows ran concurrently from March 16-19 in the Tuileries gardens and the Hotel Saint James & Albany.
Retailers said they were looking for soft, flowing feminine silhouettes, but also cited the importance of stricter looks with vintage men’s tailoring details or a military feel. Despite the economic slowdown, most buyers said their budgets were on par with a year ago.
“The level of creativity in the Paris shows has been very high this season,” said Andy Gaedcke, owner of Nuit, a women’s designer store in Houston. Gaedcke said her two must-have items this fall would be the miniskirt and the tuxedo suit.
“I like highly feminine looks,” she added, pointing to London-based Jasper Conran’s beaded evening gowns, wholesaling for $1,000. “The silhouette has to be very body conscious.”
“Feminine is important, but it has to be very wearable, too,” said Sarah Stileman, who co-owns the Melbourne, Australia-based shop Italy Direct.
Stileman said she was keen on Belgium’s Chine Collection, which featured soft and flowing silhouettes in bright colors for fall.
“Close to the body is important,” said Felicitas Bachmann, owner of Salon, a store in Hamburg, Germany, specializing in eveningwear. “Fashion is getting more extroverted. So, very decorative items, such as sequins, will sell very well this fall.”
Bachmann said London-based designer Jason Jennings, showing his first collection, was among her favorites. Jennings’s eponymous line wholesales for $90 for a jersey dress to $3,000 for a handbeaded gown.
“I think the whole Eighties trend from last season has more or less run its course,” said Jules Winstanley, owner of The Clothing Store based in Middlesex, England. “Men’s tailoring with a Forties feeling seems more fresh.”
Winstanley said Isabel Marant and Bali Barret, both Paris-based contemporary designers, were among the collections she liked best.
Other trends that buyers said would be important for fall included fur, Pop Art prints and asymmetrical hems.
At the Workshop trade fair, which ended its five-day run March 18 at the Cercle Republican, exhibitors cited increased attendance, particularly American and Japanese buyers, but lamented that it didn’t always translate into a boost in orders.
“Last season, I had fewer buyers, but they bought more. This time, I have more buyers, but they’re buying less,” said Marc Le Bihan, a French designer, noting that the trend was most notable among the Japanese.
Le Bihan and other vendors, such as Ines Raspoort, a Belgian designer, said the downward trend in sales is not yet a cause for worry for major players, but suggested that it’s worrisome for emerging, lesser-known designers who made up the bulk of the exhibition.
Buyers said reduced spending was a reflection of disappointing offerings, rather than economic concerns. Marimi Veno, buyer for Daimaru, a large Japanese department store, said she saw lots of red and black in clothing and accessories, but little else.
Other buyers were heartened by the back-to-basics approach. Etsuko Nakatsumi, a buyer for Gulf, an upscale women’s chain in Japan, said: “A lot of designers were selling eccentric items of clothing last year. This time, it’s less eccentric. It’s good for sellers because sometimes too much eccentricity is too difficult to sell.”
Karenn Holm, a buyer for Copenhagen’s Birgen Christensen department store, said she was also enjoying the understatement in this year’s show, particularly the red handbags and different styles of black cardigans that she found at Ecodeco’s boutique.
Merry Angel, designer for Ecodeco, a Tokyo-based company, said companies like hers benefit from an economic downturn.
“With the recession…people instinctively get into recycling mode like war time,” she said. “All our materials are recycled or are organic and are manufactured within the fair trade laws, which means no kids [working], good ventilation and lighting where these people work. That’s important to buyers now.”
Vendors at Tranoi, which ran from March 14-17 at the Bourse de Commerce and Palais de la Bourse, said business was steady. Buyers were also upbeat and said they had not trimmed their budgets for the upcoming fall season.
“Compared to last fall, our buying budget is constant,” said Alain Snege, buyer at the Paris boutique Colette. “We believe sales will continue to be strong.”
Snege said he placed orders with Diane Von Furstenberg, T-shirt designer Judith Hugener and eyewear firm Cutler & Gross. He said that many key fall trends, including men’s tailoring and Victorian details, were in evidence at the show.
“Black is very important for us this season,” said Snege. “About 80 percent of our fall buy is black.”
He said Colette was scouting for looks “with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll style. Denim is also important for fall.”
Christine Weiss, buyer at Paris designer shop Onward, agreed that black would be an important fashion statement next season. She said other trends included a move away from last season’s Eighties influence.
Weiss said she placed orders with London brands Boyd and Preen, which she said picked up on some of fall’s most important trends, including low-waisted trousers and skirts with asymmetric hems.
Laetitia Ivanez, designer of Paris-based contemporary brand Les Prairies de Paris, said she did business with her main clients from Japan, Britain and the U.S.
Ivanez, whose line wholesales between $75 for trousers to $140 for a coat, said best sellers included angora and cashmere sweaters, as well as leather blousons and skirts.