After a record number of visitors in Sept. 2008, Paris’ Who's next and Première Classe reported a decline of 5% in visitor attendance for its February edition. Overall, approximately 38,000 visitors made their way to the Parc des expositions at the Porte de Versailles. The decline, however, was anticipated by organizers, given the difficult economic climate. Spokesperson Elodie Lavesvre said: “We are more than satisfied because we expected a catastrophic season because of the crisis and the strike of public transports in Paris. We are happy that French visitors, in particular, came back to the fair.” Indeed, while the number of foreign visitors declined by 25%, the number of French attendees rose to 10%.

As in previous seasons, the fairs piggybacked on Paris’ men’s fashion week and Haute Couture week, persuading foreign visitors to stay longer in Paris and to see more fashion offerings. In all, about 1,200 labels took part at Who’s next and the accessories fair Première Classe and for the most part, exhibitors were satisfied, even if fewer visitors came to their stands. Said Lavesvre: “Buyers didn’t ignore the crisis. Yet the situation in France isn’t so horrible and the big department stores continue to buy. This was confirmed by a very good order situation at our accessories fair Première Classe.”

Overall, buyers were looking for more special products with additional value. “A product needs today to have a history. It must be environmentally-friendly or exclusive,” said Lavesvre. Young new exhibitors such as Matthias Jaschke from the very small German underwear label of Wundervoll, who won for his trade fair stand in the young designers contest, exemplified this new attitude and subsequently reported strong interest from American buyers and the famous Parisian department store Le Bon Marché in Paris.

Most Spanish and Italian exhibitors, however, had one thing on their minds: the relocation of Bread & butter back to Berlin. Opinions were divided, with rumors of a brand new fashion fair possibly launching in Barcelona. Organizers of Who’s next and Première Classe, by contrast, are not concerned about Berlin. As Lavesvre explained, “Since we focus on the product and prefer small stands and new labels, we are following a completely different strategy from Bread & butter.”

Additionally, Who’s next and Première Classe are orienting itself to doing business in the Middle East and will launch a new trade show in October 2009 in Dubai. “It’s the right time now,” said Lavesvre. “We were thinking about it for years. Ready-to-wear has just started to be a market in this area. Before, everything was concentrated on luxury goods.”

As a result, this will be the first fashion fair for professionals for ready-to-wear-labels in this area. About 400 labels are expected at the event, with 50% of brands coming from France. One aim is to help fashion businesses discover new markets such as India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Gulf region. Businesses will not only present their fashion products but also concepts for shops, franchising and much more. For financing Who’s next has partnered up with Ubifrance, UK Fashion Export and Mission Economiques.

—Barbara Markert