Buyers Cheer Paris Lines

PARIS — Luxury buyers might be cutting back on their orders, but they’re still betting big on the footwear collections coming out of Paris.

Top retailers who shopped the showrooms, Premiere Classe and other accessories shows here last week said they found a diverse range of innovative styles that left them feeling upbeat heading into fall.

“Right now, it’s a little bit more of a challenging time, but it’s really important to have a lot of excitement for our customers,” said Christian Lavergne, senior buyer for women’s footwear at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew. “We have slightly cut back on our inventory levels to make sure we can run a profitable business, but we didn’t come to [the collections] to play it safe. We’re certainly keeping our eye on newness.”

Highlights for Lavergne included the new sculptured-shoe collaboration between Salvatore Ferragamo and Yohji Yamamoto. “It’s a beautiful capsule collection and it’s great for our consumer,” he said. As far as emerging designers, he cited Jerome C. Rousseau as a line with big potential. “We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen and we’re continuing to support him for fall,” Lavergne said. The retailer also was excited about the growing shoe collections from ready-to-wear designers including Dries Van Noten and Stella McCartney. “They’re really starting to make their mark in the footwear scene,” he said. “And we’ve developed such a strong following with Lanvin.”

Peter Harris, president of Hong Kong-based Pedder Group, which operates shoe departments for Lane Crawford, said Christian Louboutin was a standout again this season. “He had wonderful new constructions, as well as prolific material choices,” Harris said, adding that Pierre Hardy also showed a strong collection. As far as his buying strategy for fall, Harris said, “We will continue to buy the best and most progressive, while balancing our designer portfolio with an exciting contemporary offer.”

Finding emerging footwear labels during the Paris collections is always a goal for Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder of the Jeffrey boutiques and EVP of designer merchandising for Nordstrom. Kalinsky’s must-haves this time around were Nicholas Kirkwood and Jonathan Kelsey. “And we’re doing some [exciting] things with Bruno Frisoni for the first time,” he said.

Patti Silver, owner of Fred Segal Feet, said she also picked up several new lines. “I didn’t buy a lot for fall, but everything I did looked great. I wish I could have spent more time there,” said Silver, who snapped up Pierre Hardy and Behnaz Kanani for the first time.

At Premiere Classe, Todd Hanshaw, DMM at Wynn Las Vegas, met with up-and-comers Chrissie Morris and Rupert Sanderson, and also saw Nicholas Kirkwood in his showroom. “Special and new is what we do best,” Hanshaw said. “There’s always room for new if it’s absolutely right.”

But some buyers weren’t willing to take risks on emerging labels.

“I’m not looking for new brands, but sticking with the brands I know, including TN29, Cydwok and Rosa Mosa,” said Louise Dirks, owner of the 20-year-old Gravity Pope, which has locations across Canada. Dirks said she was more focused on quality than before. “I’m betting [consumers will choose] one expensive shoe instead of 10 inexpensive shoes,” she said, noting that cheap-chic retailers such as H&M would be negatively impacted during the downturn.

For their part, a number of designers exhibiting in Paris said that buyer reaction had been better than expected.

“We came here planning for the worst,” said B.J. Cunningham of Georgina Goodman, which unveiled its fall collection in a showroom in Paris. “However, because we’re a small vendor, we’ve fared better than the larger luxury brands. With them, you have a big budget that can be cut, and comparatively, with us, it’s a minimum buy. So the choice is simple — drop us or buy us.” Cunningham said the label added several new doors, including L’Eclaireur in Paris and Jean Pierre Bua in Barcelona.

Among newer labels, Vouelle, a first-time exhibitor at Premiere Classe, was garnering attention from buyers. “We know we’re in a tough economic time,” said Melissa Regen de Vogele, Vouelle’s managing director, “but we’re seeing [great retailers], like Saks and Neiman Marcus.”

Johnnie Pattullo, international sales director for the London-based accessories line Piatonna — which bowed its first full shoe collection for fall ’09 — also believes smaller designers have an opportunity in the weak climate. “The whole world of luxury is changing,” Pattullo said. “Buyers are looking for [product] that is interesting and different.”

Interesting and different doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive.

“Everyone in the industry has been talking about the pricing issue, and we’re voicing our concerns,” said Holt Renfrew’s Lavergne. “With so much more novelty and luxury, there’s a price to pay. We’ve seen our average price point [for shoes] go from $400-to-$500 to $700-to-$900. And it’s a psychological thing for our customer.” Still, he stressed that the Holt Renfrew customer isn’t overly price sensitive. “She’s looking for versatility and functionality, but if she’s emotional about it, she will pay the price.”

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