PARIS — An upbeat “Out of Africa” storyline enlivened the just-wrapped Who’s Next apparel trade show here, with a range of designers and concepts showcasing a new generation of African creativity.
Held at the Porte de Versailles, the four-day event ended on Sept. 10.
“We wanted to choose a theme that would bring energy to the edition,” explained Frédéric Maus, co-general director of WSN Developpement, the parent company of the Who’s Next and Première Classe trade shows.
A selection of young designers and collectives were positioned in the site’s main hall, including Atelier Beaurepaire, a contemporary Parisian brand known for its workwear-inspired pieces in wax prints, but also in the show’s Fame section, where African online concept store Lago54 presented the work of emerging brands Awale Studio, Pichulik, Pop Caven and Studio 189.
The trade show introduced its first beachwear section, also located in the main hall. Dubbed “Hotel Californiafrica,” it featured more than 40 swimwear, beachwear and resortwear brands.
The choice of the “Africa Street” theme followed WSN Developpement’s strategy to reposition its trade shows as “giant concept stores.” “We want to excite visitors’ senses so they get into the right mood, and really make them feel something,” said Maus, who steered the digital transition of French catalogue retailer La Redoute.
“In the past, trade shows have made the mistake of wanting to digitize the whole process. When I joined WSN Developpement, I decided we weren’t going to rush into creating a marketplace, but instead think about what brands want from trade shows in the digital age. And what digital lacks is emotion.
“In the pre-digital age, when a brand looked for distributors, 100 percent of business was done at trade shows,” Maus continued. “Nowadays, with the emergence of digital native brands, some of them no longer turn to trade shows. But here the whole of the fashion industry comes together to experience an event, feel an emotion and physically meet people.”
Buyers cautioned that the change in orientation might create confusion with their intended audience. “The editorial work of this edition was interesting, and trade shows definitely need to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant,” said Régis Pennel, founder of French online concept store L’Exception.
“But these events are B2B, not B2C. Clients are lost. Is it see-now-buy-now? What interest do buyers have in visiting a concept store? This new positioning is unclear.”
Pennel also questioned the timing of the show’s summer edition, when buyers have already used up 80 percent of their budget for the next season.
Conferences, master classes and a new app modeled on the Chinese social media channel WeChat offered visitors a 360-degree experience of the event. By scanning a code via the Who’s Next app, they can also access the contact details of all the brands for follow-ups. “It’s a mistake to only want to digitize the show itself,” added Maus. “The aftermath is just as important.”
More than 1,400 brands were represented at Who’s Next and Première Classe, the accessories trade show also run by WSN Developpement. The joint event brought in 43,500 visitors, 3 percent more than the September 2017 edition.
Decked out in bright colors, the main event space of the Who’s Next and Première Classe trade shows blasted African music, with artists live-painting a mural. Food was served by Paris-Bamako, a Franco-Malian restaurant based in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, washed down with fresh coconut water.
“I’ve been coming to Who’s Next for the past 15 years, but it’s the first time I’ve seen so many interesting new designers,” said Laura Bainvol, owner of Look 50, a Brussels-based multibrand store. “I’ve only been here an hour, and I’ve already added four new designers to my shop.”
One of them was Harris M., a Paris-based label specializing in apparel made from African wax fabric. “It’s the perfect mix of traditional motifs and contemporary, wearable silhouettes,” said Bainvol.
Born in France to Congolese parents, founder Harris Mayoukou, who has a background in interior design, wanted to create clothes that would capture the heritage of wax fabric. She buys her textiles in Château Rouge, in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, and transforms them into clothes in her atelier. “Each design has a story,” she explained, gesturing to her “La Famille” print depicting a mother hen and her chicks, a symbol of West Africa’s matriarchal society.
The designer had a busy first morning at the trade show, where she explained to buyers that each wax print is unique and comes in limited runs. Color schemes can be pre-selected, allowing stores to have their own customized designs.
Natural fabrics were another key focus, with an abundance of linen, cotton and cashmere pieces across stands. “We’ve seen a return to natural fabrics and colors. Sustainability has become a real retail tool,” said L’Exception’s Pennel.
For Chen Chen, a cashmere buyer from China, quality natural fabrics are having a moment. “We don’t normally use blends, but for summer we might use some silk or linen mixes — only natural blends,” she said. Budgets are slightly higher this season as domestic sales are high in China at the moment, Chen added.
Despite a slow first day for certain vendors, attendees commented on the upbeat mood of the show as they hunted for one-of-a-kind designs to add to their stores. “We’re looking for jeans, and maybe a fun line of bags from Première Classe,” said a buyer from Blue Deep, a fashion and interior design store located on Milan’s Via Solferino. “We have already created our own line of clothes for the store, so we’re mainly here to open our minds.”
HIGHLIGHTS FROM WHO’S NEXT
Designer: Elodie Henry
Inspiration: No gender, no season and no waste — unisex clothing brand Irné, an anagram of designer Elodie Henry’s surname, has a waste-not-want-not approach. Leftover fabric is turned into accessories, such as handbags, and the smallest pieces are woven into art textiles. The brand is part of Atelier Meraki, a Parisian showroom that has developed into an incubator for young brands with a sustainability and ‘Made-in-France’ focus.
Key styles: The brand’s debut collection, a 16-piece capsule created for Who’s Next, featured kimonos, jackets, sweatshirts and a jumpsuit in dark hues (think cobalt blue, navy and black), some of them embellished with embroidered neoprene.
Prices: T-shirts cost 60 euros, sweaters 140 euros and jackets between 215 euros and 475 euros.
Designer: Stavroula Stamatelou
Inspiration: Founded in Athens in 2016, Kori celebrates Greek heritage through artisanal resortwear. Caftans, evening dresses and tunics in natural linen are embroidered by local artisans. “Greek fashion is having a moment, but Greek designers need to understand what is happening globally,” said Stamatelou, who runs the company alongside her husband and son.
Key styles: In addition to the traditional blue-and-white blouses, spring 2019 sees the introduction of striking gold and black embroidered figures reminiscent of Greek mythology.
Prices: Blouses are priced at 95 euros and dresses at 135 euros.
Designer: Hamida Aman
Inspiration: The Parisian streetwear brand explores modern oriental heritage, celebrating both urban culture and the designer’s Afghan heritage. “We like to play with calligraphy, using both the classic rounded fonts but also Kufic, one of the oldest Arabic calligraphies, which is suited to streetwear as it is quite graphic,” said Aman.
Key styles: The brand’s third collection explores creative passion, with the word “love” in Farsi printed on T-shirts and “oriental groove” on sleeves and along skirts, in reference to cultural cross-pollinations in the oriental music industry.
Prices: T-shirts are between 35 and 60 euros, dresses cost 115 euros and hoodies around 110 to 125 euros.
Brand: Catherine Gee
Designer: Catherine Gee
Inspiration: “I’m inspired by the light in Santa Barbara,” explained the designer, who specializes in silk slip dresses. Created in 2016, the label is entirely made in Downtown L.A. and has just added linen separates and cotton gauzes to its line of silk pieces. “Linen is easy and lightweight: it’s great for women who travel a lot,” said Gee, who is mostly carried in resortwear boutiques in Hawaii, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Key styles: Soft-hued lightweight slip dresses, silk linen tops with a crossed-front detail and cropped culottes.
Prices: Slip dresses are priced between $400 and $480, while the linen pieces are between $120 and $198.
Brand: Carla Pontes
Designer: Carla Pontes
Inspiration: This Portuguese brand strives to use only natural fabrics — cottons in the summer and wool in the winter — with a technical twist. Case in point, a classic cotton T-shirt coated with a silver finish. “Portuguese brands are definitely benefitting from the growing tourism,” said Sara Oliveira, a junior designer for the Porto-based brand.
Key styles: Pontes’ background in product design shines through in the clean lines, interesting textures and asymmetrical buttons.
Prices: Dresses and jumpsuits are between 180 euros and 280 euros, tops start at 115 euros.
Brand: L’Atelier Caché
Designer: Nihan Topaloglu
Inspiration: After studying at FIT, Topaloglu founded Atelier Caché in 2014 to create the perfect day-to-night wardrobe. “It’s all about everyday life and the casual urban woman,” explained the designer, who owns her own facility in Istanbul, which oversees production. “I want the silhouette to be very clean and unfussy, so that you can wear the pieces any time and any place.”
Key styles: Known for its structured coats for winter, L’Atelier Caché’s spring 2019 collection features short-sleeve summer jackets with contrast ruffle details, the brand’s signature.
Prices: Shirts and kimonos start at 135 euros, jackets at 175 euros (wholesale price).