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BARCELONA — International buyers edged up their orders following Pronovias’ show of the 2011 bridal collections here.

This story first appeared in the June 2, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Barcelona-based bridal manufacturer, reportedly the world’s largest, invited 1,700 specialty retailers, mainly established customers from the multinational’s global network and 200 more than 2009, for a preview of the 2011 collections. Buyers came from 80 countries, including more than 50 from the U.S. and 11 from Canada. The event was held May 21 and 22.

Czech model Karolina Kurkova — in a frothy strapless organza ball gown the color of heavy cream with 3,000 hand-sewn petals — kicked off the runway show held in the Barcelona fairgrounds’ Italian Pavilion. Featuring 70 styles by creative director Manuel Mota, dresses ranged from fitted silhouettes to full-skirted gowns with vintage flair and texture created by ruffles, tiers, fabric flowers, draping, knotted details and feathers. After last year’s pared-down embellishment, beadwork, embroidered crystals and pearls are back on swaths of tulle, natural silk and pleated chiffons. Strapless necklines and trains proliferated, one-shoulder looks continue and buyers reported snapping up fine laces in the Pronovias-produced Elie by Elie Saab mini-collection.

There was no suggestion of color, and no black. “That’s not us,” commented Keith Lurie, national sales manager for the U.S. and Canada, who added, “We increased our position in the U.S. last year with reorders and selling business in the double digits.

“We’ve been working very strategically for the last two years to control costs and maintain good margins.”

“Sales all over the U.S. are up 11 to 12 percent for the year,” confirmed Beth Freeburg, Midwest sales manager.

The following day a retailer presentation at the seaside Hotel Arts showcased 199 gowns, including 21 styles by Saab. Also on display was Mota’s Fiesta line, a grouping of more than 100 cocktail/mother-of-the-bride dresses. The best were strapless or one-shoulder floor lengths with crisscross woven treatments in dark-shaded chiffons and crushed silks.

Pronovias president Alberto Palatchi confirmed the Valentino Sposa contract runs out at year’s end. It will not be renewed, he said, noting “our very successful collaboration with Valentino for the last five years, we started when he ran the house.”

Meanwhile, the Elie Saab collection, currently the only outsider line in the Pronovias stable, tripled its sales in 2009, he said.

“Our brides want shapely couture styling, tiers and layers, and they like things to go on with the fabric. We love Pronovias, especially the fabrics and the laces. I haven’t seen lace like this in a long time. And the prices are great,” said Robyn Dunn, founder of The Perfect Dress, Midvale, Utah.

“We’re trending way up in triple digits this year. The Salt Lake City area is more fashion-forward than you think,” she added.

“We’re inching up to spend more money,” said Karen Jones, owner of Gowns By Design in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “The last two years were not very favorable but our brides still have jobs, they still have money and the two-customers-in-one concept [meaning one bride buying two dresses — for the wedding and the reception] has hit our market, which is another reason business is picking up.”

Natalie Duhaime-Bartlett, a one-store retailer in Edmonton, said she was picking up “a mixture of everything from vintage and romantic to traditional ball gowns. That’s the beauty of Pronovias; they have it all. And I love feathers. The more feathers, the happier my customer,” she added.

Katie Love, co-owner with husband Gordon of The Wedding Bell in Okemos, Mich., said, “We spend more money on Pronovias than any other brand. It’s our best line. Our brides, who are mid-20s and 30s, like slimmer styles and lace and Pronovias has both looks at affordable prices. We sell from $900 to $2,500.”

With 3,800 global sales points, the bridal group posted a small loss on worldwide sales of 140.9 million euros, or $174.2 million at current exchange, for 2009. But consolidated net profit rose last year to 50.5 million euros, or $62.4 million.

“We’re serious, consistent people and we build long-term relationships with our customers,” Palatchi explained. “I believe in mixing art with business. Just look what we did at last night’s [runway] show; it was very emotional, like a film.”

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