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Who's Next: Fashion is back to business in the French capital

By Weixin Zha

5 Sept 2022

Fairs

The entrance to Who's Next with Super Bowl theme | Image: FashionUnited

The fashion industry gathered at trade fair Who’s Next in Paris from September 2 to 5 to place orders for the SS23 season. And, despite the looming risk of a recession in Europe, many brands still saw strong orders.

Upbeat fashion companies reunite in Paris

“After two years, it’s been really good for us,” said Puneet Ahuja, in an interview at the fair on Saturday. “It’s like a new beginning, we’re quite satisfied.”

Ahuja, who is the owner of New Delhi-based scarf company Ahujasons, couldn’t leave India for two years because of coronavirus measures. This season marks the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic that he is able to meet customers from Europe in person again. So far he has seen clients from countries such as Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the UK, but not from Scandinavia or Japan.

While Who’s Next never stopped organising fairs during the pandemic, the attendance during that period was lower than previous editions as buyers and brands couldn’t travel because of coronavirus restrictions. But the buzzing aisles and booths of the Parisian fair, which started on Friday and ends today, shows that business is back in full swing.

Bestseller cashmere jumpers by Parisian label Notshy. Picture: FashionUnited

“The customers are coming back to Europe, we feel that the buyers and also brands are much more enthusiastic,” said Mercédéh Vafai, art and commercial director at Parisian fashion label Notshy in an interview on Saturday. The brand counts as many as 800 sales points worldwide and operates 40 own stores in France and Switzerland.

The fair was much emptier in the last seasons, Vafai added. "The last two years were difficult for everybody and now everybody wants to go out and shop." She expects revenues to grow from 45 million euros to 60 million euros in the next year.

Who’s Next is back at pre-pandemic levels

The SS23 edition of Who’s Next having 1,000 attending brands is another sign of the return to pre-pandemic levels. Of those, 33 percent are new brands, Frédéric Maus, CEO of the fair organisation WSN said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s an important moment for us.”

He credits the comeback to the fact that the fair never missed a buying season during the pandemic despite sanitary measures. The need to see each other and feel the clothes can also not be underestimated, he added.

Beauty at Who's Next | Image: FashionUnited

The number of visitors, which has yet to be confirmed, is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels, or could be a little less as buyers from China still struggle to travel, said Maus. The final figures will be published this week. Buyers from department stores, as well as online retailers and multi-brand boutiques visited Who’s Next. Around 50 percent of the visitors are from France, 25 percent from the rest of Europe, and the remaining 25 percent from the rest of the world, according to Maus.

Cheerleaders and light collections

The Super Bowl theme gave the comeback of the fair a humorous and cheerful extra touch. Like in a US stadium, merchandise featuring an energising peacock mascot could be bought at the entrance, and cheerleaders performed stunts in the aisles of the fair, as if to cheer the fashion industry on.

Cheerleaders performing stunts at Who's Next. Image: FashionUnited

When entering the fair, long summer dresses with prints stood out, with the light colours of the collections evoking holiday feelings. As for jewellery, many intricate golden earrings and necklaces were on display, such as the pieces from the French label La Cabane de Fanette.

“It's getting better and better,” said Fanette Hernette, the founder of the brand. She is presenting delicate necklaces and earrings with dried plants encased in resin.

Hernette is at the fair for the third time, after showing for the first time last September. The number of her clients are growing and so are the quantities that they order, with sales up 20 percent. “This edition is better because the people from the US and Japan are coming back,” she added.

Resin jewellery by La Cabane de Fanette | Image: FashionUnited

New clients

The accessoires section features various raffia bags and straw hats. Many sneaker brands, some made with sustainable materials such as apple leather, could be seen, but also shoes with a strong own design language such as Chie Mihara.

"Compared to last season, this season is much better for us, also for other people that I talked to," Yolanda Rico, sales manager at the Spanish shoe brand, said on Sunday. The first and second days were especially good with customers from countries such as France, the UK, the US, Belgium, Israel and Jordan.

Rico expects Sunday and Monday to be quieter as a second fashion show called Crecendo is taking place at Parc Floral from September 4 to 6 with around 350 brands. Customers are buying more than during the pandemic and the brand also acquired new customers at the fair, Rico said.

Accessoires at Who's Next | Image: FashionUnited

Outlook

Despite the overall optimistic sentiment, uncertainty remains as to how business will develop from here on. Consumers in many European countries are worried about inflation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid ongoing supply chain issues. Recent economic indicators in Germany and France are pointing to the risk of an economic recession. But these trends don’t seem to affect the brands at Who’s Next much yet, many of which operate in a more premium price segment.

“In Europe, they all feel that the recession is just at the dip,” said Ahuja from New Delhi-based scarf company Ahujasons. “They’re all worried because of the war because it’s been too long, but at the same time, the buying is there. So it’s confusing, but the buying is still there.” Buying is up to 40 percent stronger than during the pandemic, Ahuja said.

Long summer dresses and light colours at Who's Next | Image: FashionUnited

“We’re very happy with our business in France. The bigger brands are doing nice figures and turnovers, the new labels we launched are evolving and doing well,” said Nicolas Bezy, the country manager of Danish DK Company, which owns apparel brands such as Ichi and Casual Friday.

After stopping for some seasons during the pandemic, the company is back at the fair to present the highlights of its labels, with most buying appointments then being made at the showroom.

“There are many questions regarding the economic crisis, prices went up for daily items,” said Bezy. “The buyers are careful, but at the same time, we know that life keeps going on and business keeps going. We’re positive.”

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WHO'S NEXT