Who's Next show makes an appealing comeback
Exhibitors busy presenting the most compelling items from the Spring/Summer 2022 collections, while visitors check the fit of dresses and even discuss the number of items to be ordered. From Friday September 5 until Monday evening, the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris thrummed with the kind of activity it had not known for more than a year and a half, as the Who’s Next trade show made its physical comeback in two halls of the Parisian venue, to showcase the collections of its 700-odd exhibitors. As the first physical trade event in a long time for the fashion industry, this edition of Who’s Next is of such significance that its mood and outcome are being scrutinized by many players in fashion and beyond.
Indeed, after months of online connections, travel limitations and changes in business practices, many observers questioned the appropriateness of returning to in-person events. This edition of Who’s Next has had to do without scores of international exhibitors, and has struggled to win over many key industry players, despite aggregating multiple market sectors in its various sections: Impact (dedicated to sustainable products), Bijhorca (the jewellery show was taken over by organiser WSN Développement at the start of the year), Traffic (service solutions for fashion companies), Exposed and Riviera (focusing on lingerie and beachwear). Despite 250 new entries, the event hosted a markedly lower number of exhibitors than its pre-Covid editions.
Yet, despite this scaling down, Who’s Next was able to attract a great deal of interest. Proof of this was that, while in recent years the trade show sector hasn’t been at the forefront of politicians’ minds, Alain Griset, the French minister charged with governmental policy for small and medium-sized companies, did attend the event and met with businessmen on its inaugural day.
“It's a huge pleasure to be able to attend physical events again. A year ago, I took part [in the Première Classe show at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris], but no one thought that there could be such an event this autumn. A year ago, there was widespread worry. Now we are in a situation where entrepreneurs are talking about their projects and about the future,” said Griset.
Indeed, in Who’s Next’s opening address, Pierre-François Le Louet, president of the French Women's Ready-to-wear Federation, praised the show’s exhibitors: “I would like to thank the brands that have decided to exhibit and to meet up with their clients again. They are broadcasting a strong signal to the market."
And after three days of activity, this edition of Who’s Next sidestepped some of the questions surrounding it, while ticking the box for its relevance as a trade event. The first positive element was that the show did manage to attract some international visitors.
“Unfortunately, buyers coming from distant countries were absent, but on Friday we welcomed visitors from Spain, Greece, Italy and Belgium,” said Sandrine Amadoux, head of image, marketing and communication at womenswear brand Grace & Mila, exhibiting in hall 6.
“In terms of visitor attendance, we were pleasantly surprised at the number of international visitors who attended. Registered foreign visitors were 18% of the total, and on Friday they accounted for 27% of daily visitors,” said Frederic Maus, general manager of WSN Développement, the show’s organiser, who added that the number of visitors was 20% below that of the last physical edition, in September 2019. “But we had 30% fewer exhibitors. This gave the brands that were present more opportunities to make contact with these visitors."
Clearly, although some rued the fact that the event’s scale is modest compared to pre-Covid years, these figures satisfied the expectations of many exhibitors.
“This session was an opportunity to analyse the market and how we have adapted after months in isolation, without being able to travel,” said Kostas Papadopoulos, head of Greek brand Access Fashion. “What we are missing in this session of Who's Next are the international clients we used to meet. That's why we took a smaller stand. On the other hand, French buyers are here, and we have made contact with many potential clients. In the recent past, digital tools have enabled us to work with clients who are familiar with us, but trade shows are essential for meeting with and displaying our products to new clients."
Yet, staging an in-person event again required a degree of adjustment. The long queues at the entrance, chiefly due to the Covid pass checks, but especially the lack of air conditioning in hall 5, home to the brands exhibiting in the Fashion Scène section, as well as accessories and beauty brands, made a number of exhibitors grumble on the event's first day.
It was indeed awkward, for cashmere and outerwear specialists in particular, to make buyers try out their products in the very stuffy environment. In the following days, the exhibition centre staff having failed to repair the air conditioning, the organisers put up blinds on the hall’s huge floor-to-ceiling windows to cool down the temperature. Despite this inconvenience, the majority of exhibitors were happy with the attendance, which they judged satisfactory on Friday, acceptable on Saturday despite a quiet morning, and satisfactory again on Sunday. Many exhibitors did win over new clients, giving extra motivation to their commercial teams.
“We exhibitors all got in touch with each other and, even though some were going to be absent, we told ourselves we had to stand shoulder to shoulder and take part in the event, to show we are still around!” said Olivier Cris, head of Parisian cashmere brand Notshy, who in one morning had already snapped up several new multibrand clients [from France], notably from Lille, Tours and La Roche sur Yon.
Sunday too was a productive day in halls 5 and 6, according to Karma Koma, exhibiting at Fashion Scène, and to 1083 and Olly Lingerie at Impact. “There is some traffic [today], even if it is less than expected. There were many more real buyers on Sunday,” said Ying Wang, general manager of Ekyog.
The staff of French footwear and womenswear brand Les Tropéziennes, exhibiting in hall 6, was of the same opinion. “We came with low expectations and it turned out to be a super show for us. We put footwear and ready-to-wear together in a single stand, making a big effort in terms of creativity and visibility. And it paid off,” said Lionel Gamondes, who is in charge of the wholesale channel for Les Tropéziennes, distributed via some 1,500 footwear stores in France. “We also wanted to showcase our ready-to-wear collection, which we first introduced four seasons ago. And that worked fine on Friday. Saturday was quiet, but Sunday was a very good one for us, we made 16 new clients on that day alone,” he added.
“We were really hesitant about participating, we didn't know whether clients would make the journey. Being a long-standing exhibitor, we decided to come,” said Sarah Koulla, head of women's ready-to-wear brand Orféo. “But we saw clients from all over France and even from [the overseas territories]. This has been a good show both in terms of contacts and sales. Even if it was still far below the levels of three or four years ago.”
Maus said: “For us, this edition was the best way to convince those who decided not to attend. Some did not exhibit but came to have a look. And many of them told us that they will not miss the next edition. What worked well, validating our vision of the show's event concept, was the fact that we combined sectors in certain areas. Having accessory [exhibitors] next to ready-to-wear brands with a complementary market positioning was very apposite. We are also seeing the Impact [section] expand, a collective project for us that is finding its niche. Then there is omni-channel retail. Something that all of us, as consumers, have been experiencing for some years. But now it's becoming a reality in B2B, and our CXMP business platform will enable us to become even more effective. It will be officially launched on November 15, but 250 fashion, food and sportswear brands have already signed up for it, and are starting to add in their catalogues. It will combine the show experience with the power of a digital tool as a follow-up.”
Plenty of elements to look out for, to add to the positive aspects of getting together again for a major in-person event like Who’s Next.
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