This story first appeared in the November 18, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Organizers say that tough times make trade shows more important than ever.

Faced with the global economic crisis, fashion show organizers in Germany are bracing themselves for a challenging season. Consumer spending is already stagnant, and there is a surplus in retail space across the country. So the credit crunch can only exacerbate the existing tough market conditions for retailers. Many industry observers predict tighter budgets for 2009 and a shakedown of the German retail sector. Labels, on the other hand, given the uncertainties on the financial markets, are increasingly wary about committing themselves for next year’s shows.

But it’s not all bad news. Last season’s Mercedes-Benz IMG runway event in Berlin was the most convincing to date, giving a well-deserved boost to the German capital’s fashion scene. Trade show organizers argue that it is particularly in lean times that retailers and labels need well-organized events to effectively find new buyers.

IMG Fashion is all too aware that many designers will be hit hard by the economic crisis, and some may not even be able to show at all. However, organizers of the next Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, to be held from Jan. 28 to 31, are determined to keep the upcoming event on par with last season — both as far as the number and quality of designers go. No names have yet been confirmed, and the organizers are still in final negotiations about whether to hold the event in last season’s Bebelplatz location or the Postbahnhof venue of the season before.

Nevertheless, Zach Eichman, director of communications for IMG Fashion, is confident that the event can continue to enjoy modest growth and attract more designers. “I think the event [last season] matured in the eyes of the German media and also fulfilled a more realistic vision of a fashion week in Berlin,” he said. “There is a sense in Germany of needing the big international names to attract attention, though I think internationally what people are most interested in is discovering German talent and designers.”

Eichman admitted that, due to the economic downturn, attracting sponsorship dollars has been a struggle this season and could have an impact on the coming event. However both Mercedes-Benz and the city of Berlin remain committed, so he aims to keep any cost-cutting “behind the scenes.”

Organizers at Berlin’s luxury brand trade show Premium, which runs alongside IMG from Jan. 29 to 31, feel even more bullish about the next season. “Well, yes, consumers may spend less because they are afraid. But on the other hand, if you think you’re money’s not going to be worth much, it doesn’t make sense to hang on to it, either,” said Premium’s co-founder Anita Tillmann.

Premium’s upcoming event will be about the same size as the prior show, with around 800 labels. The show will, however, expand the luxury and premium denim section, with top-notch jeans brands including Nudie Jeans, Replay, Diesel and G-Star. The halls will also be reorganized, shifting accessories upstairs and the main theme of the entire event will be art-meets-fashion. Premium will be organizing art exhibitions, cooperations with artists and events, such as dinners in galleries.

Elsewhere in Germany, trade show organizers are just as determined not to let doom-laden headlines drag them down. The ill-fated Düsseldorf jeans show WEARe vanished after just one outing last year. But that hasn’t stopped the organizers of Munich Fabric Start from pushing forward with the fourth edition of their own denim show, JAM, in Cologne.

Presenting around 300 mainstream jeans labels, such as Chevignon or Alpha Industries, the  show runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 and aims to cater primarily to Germany and nearby regional markets. “We felt there was a niche in the market for a regional jeans show,” said the show’s founder, Sebastian Klinder.

Klinder could be right. By the end of October, the coming show was already almost fully booked. But why Cologne? The high concentration of smaller retailers in northwest Germany and across the border in the neighboring Benelux countries was the main attraction, as well as the 1,500 brands represented in showrooms in nearby Düsseldorf. “Berlin wouldn’t have worked because…there’s absolutely nothing in the 200 kilometers surrounding Berlin.

Women’s wear giant CPD, held in Düsseldorf Feb. 1 to 3, is determined to ride out the upcoming season, albeit with a slight change of focus. “All the big names are now in showrooms, so we have to work out what our role is,” said Frank Hartmann, chief executive officer of Igedo Fashion Fairs, which runs CPD. He believes that CPD’s relevance lies in presenting new, individual collections, which have something original to say, thus allowing independent retailers to focus more easily.

To achieve this, the Fashion Gallery will be renamed the Avant-garde Gallery, and will feature quirky designers, such as Anja Gockel. And CPD will focus more on smaller, less well known brands and new international designers from further afield, such as fresh talent from Thailand, Brazil, Bulgaria and Romania.

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