An Alma Aguilar look at Madrid Fashion Week.

MADRID — The continuing economic slump, growing possibility of a war with Iraq and increased prices due to a climbing euro — roughly 25 percent higher than last year — are paralyzing Spain’s apparel industry, said vendors and...

MADRID — The continuing economic slump, growing possibility of a war with Iraq and increased prices due to a climbing euro — roughly 25 percent higher than last year — are paralyzing Spain’s apparel industry, said vendors and retailers at the recent SIMM show.

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Spanish consumers have tightened their belts,” said Carina Bentolila, a human resources analyst and spokeswoman for Marcelane, a London-based manufacturer of special-occasion dresses. “They don’t want to spend money. The euro has hiked prices across the board, from groceries to housing, and domestic spending is way down. Independent retailers are doing very badly and are losing a great deal of money. For instance, traditional January sales offered markdowns of 60 to 70 percent. At least with the sales, and some of them have stretched through February, retailers can get something back.”

The first-time SIMM exhibitor featured tops, jackets and dresses in beaded patterns and sultry lingerie styling. Bentolila said her bestseller was an asymmetric silk chiffon dress in a hand painted tangerine print, to wholesale for $254.

The month-old label is building up a network of global distributors “and we plan to really go after the U.S. market,” said Marcelane representative Robert de Boer. “The Spanish show is quite good. We signed on 12 new accounts in two days; we’re very happy.”

Between confusion over the euro and the threat of war, Spain has become “a very complicated market,” said Joyce Antaki, Spanish agent for After Six, a new affiliation of Medici U.K. “Prices on fall merchandise are up an average of 10 percent because of higher-quality fabrics and better finishings. Stores haven’t complained, but they’re buying smaller quantities.” Under the new banner, eveningwear featured fresh colorations like grape and truffle brown.

Madrid’s ready-to-wear fair is the second largest in Europe after Düsseldorf’s CPD. Despite the market’s dismal performance, the February edition broke all previous records, according to IFEMA, the trade event’s organizer. The number of exhibitors increased roughly 6 percent over last February, to 875 from 29 countries, and they spread over 8 percent more floor space, or 330,000 square feet, of the Juan Carlos I fairgrounds here.

Traffic at the four-day show rose almost 13 percent to 31,718 visitors. Major buying groups came from Portugal, Mexico, France, Italy and Great Britain. “To me, the most important figure is a 31 percent increase in foreigners. The internationalism of the feria has always been my priority,” said Pola Iglesias, SIMM director. She called the trade event “a great channel of communication to foreign markets and a suitable export platform for Spanish producers.”

But clothing exports are stagnant, according to published reports by Spain’s Textile and Apparel Information Center. Shipments from both sectors rose a marginal 4.9 percent last year to $6.69 billion, compared with a 14 percent increase in 2001.

Not all retailers sang the blues, however. “My business is excellent,” said Elizabeth Beer, owner of Plumes Boutique, a 19-year-old shop in the coastal province of Malaga, who said she buys all she needs at SIMM. “I buy special-occasion items for an older, unstuffy customer. For fall, I’ve ordered mix-and-match party separates, including floaty pants and skirts in vibrant colors. I live in the sun so strong colors do better than pastels.”

A spokesperson for M. by Amour, a Los Angeles-based label, also praised the show, reporting solid bookings for the firm’s novelty T-shirts with mixed-up patchwork effects and embroideries à la Custo Barcelona that wholesale for $56 to $66. The company has 86 doors in Spain and plans a Portuguese launch for later this year.

Wrapping up Madrid Fashion Week, the SIMM-sponsored runway presentations, Pasarela Cibeles, featured 26 designers and 21 shows. Key trends included provocative transparencies and off-the-shoulder tops; black; mini-lengths; slim-cut pants; texture and fabric interest, particularly velvet, fur and leather, and skyscraper heels.

David Delfín continued to mine his ultracool aesthetic with everything from luxury cashmere separates and camel-hair coats to sheer and shadowy night looks with Morticia makeup. Spain’s top model, Bimba Bosé, is Delfín’s partner in the two-year-old eponymous venture.

Another relative newcomer, Alma Aguilar (Salma Hayek is a fan), opted for a pretty — and endless — series of black, including peppy separates, petticoats, feminine dresses and coats with leg-warmers. Additional highlights from the runway were Jesús del Pozo’s knobby handknits; Roberto Torretta’s sexy separates and Sixties retro dresses, and Roberto Verino’s zipper-covered silk pants and shiny/matte night-for-day statement.

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