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LYON, France — The prospect of going global, along with China’s untapped potential, underscored the importance of the 20th edition of the Lyon, Mode City trade fair for spring-summer 2005-06.

On the surface, the action appeared to be generated by the launch of several major fashion names in lingerie such as Leonard de Paris, Laura Biagiotti Bodywear, Puma Bodywear, Pleasure State and two licensees by The Warnaco Group for the European market, JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez and Choice Calvin Klein. But the traditional format of French lingerie paled in comparison with an agenda of expansion and entrepreneurship into the international market.

An air of newfound enthusiasm permeated the three-day show that closed Sept. 6 at the 660,000-square-foot Eurexpo Center outside Lyon. Exhibitors, distributors, suppliers, show officials and even the mayor of Lyon, Gerard Collombe, talked about a new strategy of becoming more competitive on a worldwide platform with American enterprise, as well as the impact of China in manufacturing and sourcing, particularly the elimination of apparel and textile quotas on Jan. 1.

Collombe and show manager Jehan Quettier told an audience of several hundred intimate apparel and textile executives that plans were being developed to “find the best ways” to explore an alliance with China. Collombe said next year’s Sept. 3-5 edition in Lyon would be helped by a refurbished direct route from the heart of the city to the fair’s headquarters that is intended to eliminate traffic jams and shorten a 30- to 40-minute commute.

The French-Chinese connection was apparent on two fronts: Still in the working stages, Eurovet, the huge Paris-based trade show producer of the Lyon fair and the Salon Internationale de la Lingerie in Paris, plans to produce a “spectacular” showcase for lingerie, textiles and fibers in China, Quettier said. He would not address whether Eurovet envisions staging a trade fair in Shanghai or Beijing, nor would he discuss if a partnership is being discussed with German-operated trade show giant Igedo Co., which cofounded the Dessous China lingerie show in Shanghai in 1996 with the China National Textile Council. “Working with the Germans is a possibility, but the reality of it is doubtful,” Quettier said.

This story first appeared in the September 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

He also wouldn’t elaborate on whether an alliance was anticipated with former DuPont-owned Invista Inc., which was a major sponsor of China Dessous until 2001. Regarding Invista’s role as a potential sponsor, Bill Ghitis, president of Invista’s global apparel unit of Koch Industries, said, “My people have talked with them, and they are going to talk with them again. If Monsieur Quettier wants to do this, I would certainly be interested.”

Ghitis said he was “extremely encouraged” that Invista’s new owner, Koch, “love and understand innovation and are supporting us financially.” Koch has given the go-ahead to build a $140 million-dollar Lycra spandex plant in Foshon, Quangdong province, China, operational in mid-2006, which will make a total of 10 worldwide. The planned expansion, using state-of-the-art technology, will increase spandex capacity initially by 12 kilitons with potential for doubling to a 24-kiliton expansion in the next year,” Ghitis said.

“This expansion is a strong indication of our continued commitment to our core business and our flagship brand. We intend to enforce our leadership position in Asia and support the growth of our local partners just as we do in other developed and developing countries,” said Ghitis, noting that Invista’s 2004 brand investment in Asia is more than twice that of previous years, targeting areas beyond Beijing and Shanghai.

Assessing the focus on China, John Elmuccio, president of Global Apparel Sourcing LLC, a 30-year consultant for manufacturing and sourcing concerns in Asia, said: “A lot of major American companies are opening offices in Hong Kong and there’s much more Asian representation than there’s ever been before. If European manufacturers want to be competitive, they should start showing in China asap. Everybody goes there anyway, so why not show there? It’s a captive audience.”

Despite the 90-degree temperatures in the trade center, which included the winter 2005-06 Interfiliere textile and fiber forum, the pace of the show in exhibitor stands and aisles was brisk, and at times pedestrians walked shoulder-to-shoulder gawking at models in scanty boudoir fare.

Though economies in key countries such as France and Germany are sluggish, the number of lingerie and swimwear exhibitors was ahead 3 percent compared with 2003, topping a record 1,000, while the number of textile and fiber firms were close to year-ago figures of 390. Attendance from international visitors was up 6.1 percent, totaling 11,040. However, the French turnout was down 8.5 percent to 8,738 compared with a year ago.

Asia posted the biggest increase in visitors, with Japan registering a 23.8 percent boost, while China had a 21 percent gain. Attendance from American retailers slid 8.3 percent compared with last year, reflecting sparser representation of U.S. retailers with the exception of Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

Sizing up the show from a retailer’s perspective, Sunny Diego, director of women’s accessories and lingerie fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, said the venues — such as formal runway fashion shows and segments highlighting directional trend forums for lingerie, swimwear and textiles with mannequins and trend boards, as well as window merchandising techniques — “provided many fresh ideas.”

“It’s my first time at the Lyon show, and it’s great. There’s so much opportunity and I see there’s a lot of innovative work that can be done,” said Diego, noting that the abundance of luxury designer brands and new fashion brands clicked with the direction Saks is taking in 2005. Saks’ chief executive officer, Fred Wilson, told WWD earlier this year that he plans to house lingerie on a ready-to-wear floor as part of the restructuring of the Saks flagship during the next few years.

Among the top ideas were:

  • G-string — whether it’s sleek postage-stamp size or elaborately embellished.
  • Nuisette — playful, sheer baby dolls, slips and chemises with Empire treatments.
  • Ultralow-rise thong.
  • Juliette gown — pristine white Shakespeare-inspired cotton sleep gowns.
  • Harem pant — sheer and romantic looking.
  • Coquette — “Beach Blanket Bingo”-inspired multiruffled briefs.

Manufacturers said they were also pleased with the show’s content and format.

Helen McCluskey, group president and ceo of the Intimate Apparel Division at Warnaco, said she was “very happy with the throngs of people” on hand to see the launch of JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez for the European market. “It’s been surprising. Some of the buyers have been from Sweden, Asia, the Middle East and even Greece. It’s certainly interesting because it shows [Jennifer Lopez], as well as the line, have a very broad appeal,” McCluskey said.

Thomas Axmacher, president of Warnaco’s Calvin Klein Underwear and Accessories subsidiary in the U.K., said reaction was strong to the European launch of Choice Calvin Klein, a lifestyle line aimed at teens. He said because of the success of Choice in the U.S., a Calvin Klein Underwear shop in London would be reopened as a Choice boutique Sept. 8, and new concessions for the Choice line opened this month in Selfridges and Topshop, the hip British equivalent of H&M. The JLo Lingerie line also is being ensconced in Topshop, he said.

Regarding European reaction to national department store bra brand Maidenform, Tom Ward, president and ceo of Maidenform Inc., said a universal approach of fit and styling was well received.

“Whether it’s Hong Kong, Argentina or Europe, we are experiencing the same success with the same formula we are doing in the U.S.,” Ward said, noting that Maidenform is sold in 62 countries. Among the top ideas are a new tagless program, a marketing campaign with an oversized green M logo for full support and an oversized pink W logo for One Fabulous Fit bras bearing the One Fabulous Fit name, as well as a first-ever One Fabulous Fit pants program for Europe. He added that American retailers at the fair were discussing implementing One Fabulous Fit in-store shops.

Maurice Triquet, Maidenform’s vice president of international sales and marketing, said expansion of the Maidenform brand has “doubled this year” in Sweden, Russia and the Benelux countries. ”Business in Belgium and Holland is growing in the significant double digits and we’ve begun entering regional department stores in Germany,” Triquet said. He noted that Maidenform’s current ad campaign in the U.S. featuring dreamy lifestyle scenes with tag lines in English such as “Dreams Do Come True” have been a “big hit” worldwide.

A number of exhibitors said the bulk of paper writing was done by a diverse background of specialty stores in places from Iceland, Scandinavia, Poland and Ukraine to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Tunisia.

“It’s been a good show. I had a lot of accounts from Lebanon and Tunisia, but three of my major German accounts didn’t show up,” said Steve Chernoff, ceo of Rago, a New York-based shapewear specialist. “I think the Germans didn’t come because of a combination of a bad economy and fear of terrorism.”

Richard Gimbel, president of Va Bien, a shapewear maker based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said, “I’ve been showing at the Lyon fair for nine years. We’ve had good traffic and I’m happy. I’ve picked up quite a few new accounts from Sweden, Iceland, Greece and Tunisia.”

Regarding textile innovation, Tobie Garfinkle, senior vice president of merchandising for the licensed Liz Claiborne Intimates line of bras, said, “I really loved the unique fabrications and concepts as well as the new direction in laces. There appears to be a new lightness, a new daintiness in lace. Overall, I’ve seen trends that are much more delicate and lightweight than before.”

Claudia Larsen, vice president of merchandising for the licensed Lauren Ralph Lauren sleepwear, at-homewear and daywear at Carole Hochman Designs Inc., agreed, saying: “I like to concentrate on the fabrics, embroideries and trims at the Lyon show. I’ve found the mix of patterns, laces and embroideries very refreshing. We [manufacturers] tend to put a beautiful lace on a solid fabric. In Lyon, they manage to take it one creative step forward.”

Meanwhile, Invista’s stand was filled to capacity with executives reviewing the presentation of several new product introductions: the launch of Tactel Estrela and Tactel Hyperbright, two yarns that give a star-like luster to warp knit satin constructions with a luxurious, smooth hand, and a yarn that relays a jewel-like hue via ultrafine filaments, respectively.

These two yarns are ideal for both lingerie and related items as well as eveningwear. But the big breakthrough idea is available primarily for swimwear — Lycra 275B. The new application provides protection against chlorine radicals that makes swimwear lose its fit and elasticity and helps keep the fit and shape five to 10 times longer than those that contain unprotected elastane, said Ninabeth Sowell, business manager for Invista’s North America swimwear.