PARIS — Leave the basics to the retail giants. That was the message from buyers attending the recent edition of Première Classe at the Tuileries gardens here.
Armed with a fighting spirit, many independent bricks-and-mortar businesses said honing in on lesser-known, creative accessories brands has helped them carve a competitive edge. With 112 new brands out of the total 475 exhibitors, they had much to play with.
Despite calmer traffic and sluggish business at corresponding apparel shows, Première Classe director Sylvie Pourrat said orders were down but of a higher quality.
“Buyers are taking more risks than ever because on the one hand the market is very down, but on the other, you’re not going to be able to sell this basic stuff anymore,” said Daria Yadernaya, buyer for the Russian buying agency Y for Buy Agency which covers about 49 shops.
“I’ve found a lot of stuff here, I love this show,” said Sharon Roth, owner of the 11-store American chain Jarbo. “These [special creations] really help….Our business is up a ton because of it,” added Roth, who was targeting “more natural, handmade, slow-fashion” items with a “luxe feel.” Some favorites included the finely crafted headbands and hats by Jennifer Ouellette and the uniquely shaped baroque pearl jewelry by Japan’s Rico by Mizuki Shinkai.
Trends continued to emphasize slower methods of fine craftsmanship, mixed materials, faux fur, color, shimmer and sparkle.
Deborah Soss, the new head women’s merchant at Boyds, a top independent specialty store in Philadelphia, agreed the show was worth a trip. “It’s so wonderful to see everything under one roof….A lot of the things we find here are not in America, which is nice.” Historically a men’s-focused store, the retailer opened a new women’s department this month, she said.
Still, several buyers said they’d like to see designers taking more creative risks.
“It’s not changing that much. I think people are playing it a little safe because of the world we’re living in. I understand that,” said Joey Wölffer, who has a fashion boutique in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons, and is opening a second in Palm Beach at the Royal Poinciana Plaza. “We as buyers are not ignoring that, but we are trying to bring really fun, interesting brands to the customers.”
With that in mind, organizers looked to innovate with their first “phygital” concept dedicated to emerging brands, grouped in the Jean-Louis tent, named after a comic book.
The initiative showcased some 40 young accessories and apparel brands offering a selection of designs on an ephemeral private digital marketplace set to wrap on April 1, in tandem with a pop-up store in Paris department store, BHV Marais. A Jean-Louis comic book series features designer products integrated (though not easily recognizable) into the drawings. An app allows readers to scan the comics, and connect automatically to the brands’ web sites.
The layout in the Jean-Louis space was less formal, with brands scattered around a long, central table. Entertainment included a photography and film set run by French blogger Elsa Muse, cooking classes, a bicycle-powered blender for making smoothies and conferences.
“I think it’s a really smart idea,” said Sara Sozzani Maino, deputy editor in chief of Vogue Italia, of the concept. “It’s a way of innovating. A way of seeing collections and also for buyers, it’s important to have freshness — not just for the designers, but also for the ambiance.
“When there are mass brands, one after the other, it’s very difficult to think: Is there something new or not?” she added.
Others were less convinced. “I thought it was confusing,” said Simon Burstein, founder of the women’s concept store The Place London and former chief executive officer of famed London retailer Browns. Referring to a Jean-Louis mask-making activity, he asked: “Were they just having fun, or were they actually selling something?”
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SHOW
MUA MUA DOLLS
Designer: Ludovica Virga
Inspiration: “All my work is dedicated to making fun of everything around me, so it’s like Pop Art,” said Italian designer Ludovica Virga. This season marks the first full collection for the Bali-based brand with an ethical mission to reduce plastic use. The designer is better known for her whimsical, hand-knitted dolls of celebrity designers. She has recently begun expanding with a line of clothing and accessories which includes graphic parodies on familiar logos while often poking fun at the fashion industry, expressed in hand-embroidered, sparkly, recycled plastic beads and sequins. The collection was well received at the show.
“I had no expectations, because [Jean-Louis] is a new trade show, but we have been working non-stop since the beginning, so we are very happy,” said Virga.
Fifty percent of profits from the latest “Less Plastic is Fantastic” capsule go toward a youth organization that reduces plastic use, dubbed “Bye Bye Plastic Bags.”
Key Items: The beaded “Ego” design bag, which plays on the familiar Lego logo, the “Sexi” bags which look like Pepsi cans, or the “I don’t give a chic” message items with a beaded and embroidered image of Coco Chanel were just a few accessory highlights from this eye-catching, lighthearted collection.
Prices: Around 375 euros for most bags. The soda can bags cost 280 euros.
Designer: Jennifer Ouellette
Inspiration: “I have a vintage appeal, because my mother had a vintage clothing shop, so I jump around from decade to decade,” said designer Jennifer Ouellette. This season many pieces were inspired by Alaskan state parks, which are under threat of being sold for oil drilling. The colors of the Northern Lights, Alaskan native animals and snow were integrated into some of the newer, playful and timeless designs.
Ouellette uses traditional, manual couture techniques to produce headbands, hats, earmuffs, hair ties and other headpieces made in the Dominican Republic and in New York in line with Fair Trade regulations. Glue is avoided in favor of hand sewing for greater durability and natural, sustainable materials are preferred.
Key styles: Signature hats can be worn in different ways. An ivory beret evoking a snow drift, and polar bear earmuffs were among this season’s Alaskan-themed items. Dark velvets brought rich accents to the collection.
Prices: Hats cost between $200 and $500. Headbands are priced at $80.
Designer: Federica Chiabotto
Inspiration: This vibrant debut collection of hand-made Italian scarves and knitwear was inspired by color, nature and, more specifically, botanical prints and herbariums. The designer focuses on researched fabrics as well as textile design using wood-carved etchings which are her “passion.” Paintbrush effects are added by hand to prints for layered contrasts. Supersoft, high quality natural materials are used, like silk and pure cashmere.
Key styles: Colors tend to be rich and bold. Scarves are also designed with a hole for the head or an arm, so that the remaining length of the scarf can be wrapped around the body as desired.
Prices: 150 euros to 300 euros.
Designer: Mehera Blum
Inspiration: This season the designer debuted two collections centered around the paintings of artist Laurie Blum, her late mother. The “Roses and Nightingale” collection includes limited edition, hand-carved, wooden clutches, while the “Poppies!” collection is a bright, colorful leather bag line including hand-embroidered silk poppy designs, all from Laurie Blum paintings.
The carved clutches designed from a single painting were created in Bali over a six-month period working with local craftsmen. “I sit with my artisans guiding the whole process,” said Blum. “Each carving or embroidery takes nearly 80 hours and I am present, guiding and working with them through it all. My mother was very particular that the flowers were her flowers and not an interpretation.”
Key styles: The calfskin “Poppies!” bags and wallets in hot magentas, bright yellows and reds. The wooden clutches — available in three different shapes — are left unpainted, so the natural tones of the wood are visible, creating an item that appears to hover between an antique work of art and modern accessory. The result is a creative fusion of innovation and traditional craft.
Prices: From $250 to $2,200.