PARIS — Soft but sexy romanticism à la David Hamilton underscored the ultrafeminine fashion message at the latest edition of the Prêt à Porter and Who’s Next trade shows at the Porte de Versailles exhibit halls here.

Reporting strong sales at retail this fall, many buyers said they would increase their budgets for next spring and summer by as much as 30 percent. Most agreed, however, that the fragile geopolitical situation favors prudence and said they would postpone confirming their orders until the last possible moment.

Fashion’s continuing infatuation with feminine frills and furbelows was applauded as good for business, with buyers reporting conservative styles had done best recently. As for colors, most favored a light ice-cream palette of washed out pink, blue, mauve and yellow.

Retro styles continue to be attractive, they said, citing Seventies floaty chiffon looks as a big story. Preppy looks were also strong, and many buyers said they sought tweed separates that could easily be mixed and matched with jeans and T-shirts.

“Flexibility is very important in a garment now,” said Wataru Kimura, president of Japan’s Intermix, as he wrote an order at Gilles Dufour. “I’m looking for separates.”

Kimura said he liked silhouettes that were easy to understand and wear. “Pink and blue are good colors for the season.” He said business has been “very strong” and that he planned on increasing his buying budget by about 20 percent.

Christine Samain, fashion director at Paris’ Le Bon Marché department store, reported strong early fall sales and a budget rise for next season of 10 to 15 percent.

Shopping the Who’s Next fair, she said trends continued to revolve around light and feminine silhouettes. “There’s a lot of flou out there,” she said. “The look right now isn’t very austere.”

She said many exhibitors at the fair had been influenced by recent looks on the runways at Prada and Marni. “There’s a certain exoticism and travel influence in the air,” she said. “Androgynous styles aren’t getting very much play.”

Mona Torstensen, co-owner of the Oslo designer shop Kemp, liked the Seventies flower prints and sequined hippie looks. “Next season’s colors won’t be as strong and the silhouettes are fluid.”

This story first appeared in the September 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Writing an order at Les Prairies de Paris at Who’s Next, she said she liked “beach chic” pieces that were “not tight” on the body. “Long white skirts are good for next season,” she said. “It’s a sophisticated look and somewhat classic.”

Torstensen, who plans to increase her budget by 20 percent, said the season has a strong commercial bent. “The trends have been all over the place recently and have confused customers,” she said. “It’s good to slow down and bring in pieces that are fashionable and made to last for more than a few weeks.”

Haifa A. Al-Bijani, owner of the Kuwait shop Sequin, said sequins and lightweight dresses were on her radar. “The dresses have to be unique and have good craftsmanship,” she said. “It’s okay if they’re a little strange. My customer likes that. I think pink, gold and yellow will be good for business.”

More than 1,000 firms participated in the Prêt, with another 350 at Who’s Next. Both shows ended their four-day runs Sept. 6.

At the Prêt, which, under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Mocho, continues to attract more high-end exhibitors and displays, exhibitors reported good business.

David Jarmon, manager of Tara Jarmon, a contemporary designer in Paris, said orders for spring were up 42 percent so far. “Our objective is 50 percent,” he said. “It’s a little high, but we think we’ll get there.”

Belgian designer Olivier Strelli said business was increasing over last year in all of his markets. He said business in Belgium, Spain and France had increased 8 percent before the Prêt opened.

“Buyers like color, prints, light dresses and flowers,” said Strelli. “Beige, green, yellow and orange are good for us.”

Meanwhile, at Who’s Next, a contemporary forum that also features jeans and streetwear, exhibitors voiced optimism for a good season.

Accessories designer Irina Volkonskii, featuring bracelets with simulated sushi on them, said she had written a record 18 orders by midafternoon on the first day. “It’s the best ever so far,” she said. “Buyers like the colorful pieces.”