European Doors Get Skittish

LONDON — Economic volatility and growing concerns over a debt crisis in Europe have many retailers feeling anxious about business.

As a result, storeowners in key cities including London, Milan and Paris are focused on stocking high-quality, multifunction items.

“The more expensive pieces that can be worn for every day are selling well,” said Pam Brady, accessories buyer for Browns in London. “The key is adapting our buying skills for precarious economic times.”

As an example, Brady said her boutique has bought Laurence Dacade’s best-selling Merli boot in plain leather, studded-suede and leopard-print styles.

“It’s sensible, yet fashion forward,” Brady said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Browns also is finding success with more unique pieces.

“We recently sold a crocodile handbag by Alexa Wagner for 7,500 pounds [or $11,728 at current exchange] to a woman who was just browsing on a Saturday,” Brady said.

In Paris, Patrick Melloul, owner of multibrand store Biondini, said the rocky economic climate has forced him to be more selective, too.

“Consumers are still spending, but they’re sticking to the established brands rather than taking risks on labels they might not know so well,” said Melloul, adding that he has eliminated “tons of suppliers” whose creations served more as pretty showpieces than anything else.

Instead, he is concentrating on proven luxury players like Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaïa, Lanvin and Giuseppe Zanotti.

Elsewhere in Paris, Elina Halimi, buying director for the women’s branch of multibrand store Kabuki, said she has been a lot more prudent about introducing new lines.

Nicholas Kirkwood is among the few new names due to be added for spring. The store also has bought from Pierre Hardy’s collection after four seasons of not working with the designer.

And in Milan, La Rinascente is giving prime placement to the big players, including Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Sergio Rossi and Salvatore Ferragamo, among others.

“We are registering big flows of people on the footwear floor, and we can say shoes represent one of the reasons shoppers enter our building,” said Giulia Pizzato, women’s buying director, who added that the category is holding up well, despite the recession.

“We are so confident in this division we are planning to double the space for shoes in 2012,” Pizzato said.

More immediately, retailers are prepping for the holiday season with special in-store initiatives to entice consumers.

At Selfridges in London, the store has asked several footwear designers to create miniature replicas of key pieces from their collections. The collectibles are available for purchase in the store and include a pintsize version of Charlotte Olympia’s Paloma platform shoe and a miniature take of Fendi’s brogue-style heels.

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