MADRID — The SIMM show, Madrid’s biannual apparel fair, surprisingly wasn’t jinxed by the threat of increased Asian competition or stagnant European economies.

In general, high-end producers reported positive buyer reaction and some solid bookings. SIMM is the second-largest apparel fair in Europe after Düsseldorf’s CPD. According to IFEMA, the event’s organizer, exhibitors at the four-day show, which closed late last month, increased by more than 12 percent over last August, to 960, including over 200 from the European Union, Asia and Latin America. They stretched over almost 350,000 square feet, or 6 percent more floor space than the previous year, in five pavilions of the Juan Carlos I fairgrounds here.

Traffic rose marginally to 25,600 visitors, including 2,668 foreigners, or 118 more than the previous summer edition. Major buying groups came from Portugal (1,100), Mexico (67), France (58) and the U.K. (52).

According to a spokesman for ACOTEX, the Madrid-based Commercial Textile Association, 2003 sales in the Spanish textile-clothing sector rose 3.5 percent over 2002 — to 21 billion euros ($25.2 billion at current exchange rates). Multibrand stores accounted for 38 percent of last year’s sales, while single-label stores brought in 24 percent, he said.

“The Spanish market is brand-conscious; it has shaken down to Dior or Zara,” said a veteran SIMM exhibitor. “Middle-of-the-road shops have taken a beating.

“Domestic retailers are being cautious; they aren’t buying large quantities here,” he added.

But exhibitors generally were pleased with the fair. “We’ve picked up 10 new accounts. The fair is wonderful, with a huge selection. Spain has close cultural ties with Latin America. It’s the best place [for Latin American producers] to reach European markets. The response, especially from Middle Eastern countries, has been great,” said an enthusiastic Francisco Ayerbe, designer and co-partner in the Bogota, Columbia-based Ayerbe & Quintana, a first-time exhibitor.

Buyers are passing up the basics, he added. “They’re looking for originality and special items and a certain exclusivity that brands can’t offer. We have a niche because our clothes look handmade.”

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

Hot sellers included “Ruana” ponchos in 100 percent polyester and what Ayerbe called “tropical punch” colors such as lime green, watermelon, tangerine and yellow. Worn pulled down on one shoulder with snug jeans, the waist-high ponchos wholesale for 32 euros ($38 at current exchange rates).

In addition, the line featured narrow jackets and pants in washed or dark blue denim; silk knit separates with ostrich-feather trim, and one-of-a-kind “jewel box” evening bags with crystals, beads and a reversible silk pouch. The bags, which are handmade, wholesale for 72 to 95 euros ($85-$115).

Other trendier lines at SIMM featured contemporary dresses and separates with vintage-inspired details, romantic drapes, layers, shirring and metallic stitching; explosive color combinations or offbeat faded solids; bold prints with fruit and floral motifs; cotton-linen-based stretch fabrics; the ubiquitous T-shirt, and a strong plus-size classification.

Barcelona designer Mireya Ruiz came up with some of the show’s sexiest dresses, a small grouping of skinny silks with twists, ties, frayed edges and open-to-there backs. Loida Pennington of the Seattle-based boutique Encanto Barcelona snapped up the range in a pink checked pattern, pale blue and scarlet. She said the dresses will retail in the U.S. for about $700.

In addition, Pennington was shopping for novelty T-shirts. “The fair is a great showcase for Spanish fashion,” she said.

Ruiz, who distributes through 35 domestic sales points, including her own Barcelona store called “Bad Habits,” is scouting a New York showroom. To date, she sells to 20 U.S. shops and a dozen doors in Italy, she said.

Veteran exhibitor Julie Sohn, a New York-born, Parsons-educated designer based in Barcelona, said, “Spain’s retail market is bad, that’s true, but high-end stores are selling better than ever. Some of my customers say sales are up as much as 25 percent [for the year]. The key is knowing your client and special merchandise that nobody else offers.”

Her bestseller was a crinkled organza duster over taffeta camisole and pants in anthracite-gray. The three pieces wholesale for 245 euros ($294).

Sohn, whose origins are Korean, said she doesn’t fear a China invasion from next year’s quota-free sourcing because “China’s production will be absorbed by its own internal market, which is huge.”

Not necessarily, said vendor and retailer Elisa Cortés. “We are all a little afraid of China; how can you not be?” Cortés, whose 15-year-old eponymous label is distributed through 120 domestic points of sales and three company-owned and franchised stores in the south of Spain and 70 doors in the U.K. and Ireland, said, “The fair is very animated; we haven’t stopped.” She reported healthy bookings, especially from the U.K. and Portugal for casual sportswear separates including jackets, tanks, skirts and pants in a spirited watermelon print wholesaling from 50-100 euros ($60-$120).

With one of the show’s few U.S. labels, Sonia Madueño, sales manager for Los Angeles-based Shirley of Hollywood, called the fair “fantastic; Spanish stores are moving toward sexier lingerie categories.” Her big seller was a peekaboo baby-doll nightie and matching bikini in red with a wholesale tag of 26 euros ($31). The line sells to 215 shops in Spain and upward of 80 in Portugal, Madueño said.