Anxiety Prevails in Paris

PARIS — The onset of an international economic crisis had high-end buyers at Premiere Classe, Tranoï and other Paris shows feeling skittish about the season ahead.

Still, while many retailers said they were scaling back for spring ’09, they remained hopeful that new, innovative luxe footwear could continue to attract consumers.

“At the moment, sales of shoes are OK, and [the segment] is the best of all accessories markets,” said Dauphine de Jerphanion, director of accessories at Paris department store Le Bon Marché. “People are willing to spend money on shoes, but it’s not the same with bags.”

Jerphanion said she was excited about “real shoemakers” such as Rupert Sanderson and Nicholas Kirkwood, as well as Berny Demore, all of whom were showing at Premiere Classe.

Jo Polanco, merchandising director for the Pedder Group, said she came to Premiere Classe with few open-to-buy dollars, since the show was positioned so late in the season, but that she was still on the hunt for new product. “In Asia, platforms and aggressive shoes have done well,” Polanco said.

While many overseas retailers were just starting to feel the effects of a slipping economy, U.S. store owners attending the show reported a noticeable impact.

Joan Schepp, owner of her namesake boutique in Philadelphia, said the spate of bad news has been cause for concern. But the retailer also said she believes the weak environment offers an opportunity. “This is a chance for retailers to look at what you do. You have to be special. I don’t buy mainstream,” Schepp said. To connect with consumers during the difficult time, Schepp has been holding fashion shows and in-store events at the store. “You have to give them a reason to shop,” she said.

For their part, luxe designers were also worried about the U.S. economy. Bernard Sibeud, head of product for Robert Clergerie, said the European business has held up so far, but his U.S. department store partners, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York, had been buying less. Going into spring, “people are a little scared,” Sibeud said.

At the tradeshow, Clergerie and other veteran designers were positioned alongside brand revivals and a number of emerging footwear players showing at Premiere Classe for the first time. Among those were David Wyatt, Buttero, Elisanero, Omelle and ready-to-wear designer Andrew Gn, who launched his line at the show.

“We didn’t expect very much here at Premiere Classe because of the bad economy, but we’ve seen customers that we sell the ready-to-wear to from Greece and Italy,” said David Montfeldt, consultant sales strategist for shoes at Andrew Gn. “Also, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman have also bought from us here.”

While a number of other new designers also reported solid order writing, they worried about cancellations after the show given the rocky selling environment.

Outside of Premiere Classe, a handful of footwear brands exhibited at Tranoï, including upscale Italian clog brand Zissou and Brazilian player Melissa, which is doing a number of big designer partnerships with Vivienne Westwood and architect Zaha Hadid, among others.

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