PARIS, October 7 – Top women’s wear labels are bracing for the psychological impact of the global financial turmoil on consumers but hope to limit damage by shifting buying strategies and raising their profile, industry insiders told AFP.,
"We are really at the beginning of the crisis in Europe," the head fashion buyer at leading French fashion store Printemps Cedric Charbit said on the sidelines of the ready-to-wear shows for summer 2009, which ended Sunday. "It’s very early to predict on the outcome in the long term."
"We need a bit of time to think about what is going on here," as in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Serge Brunschwig, director general of Christian Dior Couture said.
"We will wait to see how the year finishes," said Thierry Maman, manager of top Paris department store Au Bon Marche. "We will see the extent of the damage," he said, adding that he was "not particularly worried in the immediate future."
In the medium term, "We must carry on buying," Charbit said, stressing that Printemps would be buying more than last year, although would be asking suppliers to share the risks.
Daniel Tribouillard, the founder of the Leonard label, which is particularly well placed in Japan with 110 exclusive boutiques, said he believed the crisis would be "over in three months" but would leave consumers feeling anxious.
Charbit agreed that the problem was that the mentality of consumers could suffer and that could affect their buying habits in several ways.
He predicted higher sales for "pants suits, which give people a sense of power", because they always do well in periods of crisis.
"It’s also important to entice customers with sexy clothes, because sex sells," he said, adding that really gorgeous clothes which cry out for attention are sure-fire winners.
Christian Dior Couture is expecting a long hiatus, Brunshwig said. "But we invest for the long term and we have always been able to profit from these kinds of times to reinvest. I think that will again be the case."
Marygay McKee, director of fashion and beauty at the London store Harrods, said there was no immediate plan to cut budgets or radically change its buying strategy.
"We are very lucky, we haven’t been affected. Our base clientele is still there, alive and still spending," she said, mentioning in particular the shop’s faithful Arab and Russian customers.
She said that while everybody was obviously becoming careful about spending, Harrods would continue to develop luxury brands.
The chief executive of high-end label Celine, Marco Gobbetti, said the current crisis created "a very challenging context". To limit its impact, "it is creativity that will pay off," he said.
"It is important to stand out from the rest, create one’s own niche, one’s own identity."
Charbit’s view at Printemps was that the best strategy to weather the crisis would be to concentrate on "high-end, luxury, niche labels".