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Talking Business: Cancelling the Paris trade shows was never an option

For a period after the attacks in Paris last November, we needed time to assimilate what had happened, to grieve and recover.

But in the end, the feeling that prevailed was one of unity. Security measures were heightened in public places, but we would not let it change the way we live and work.

We received worried phone calls from exhibitors concerned about whether buyers would attend the Who’s Next and Première Class shows in January. We reassured them we would do the best we could to ensure the safety of everyone who attended through increased safety measures and rigorous checks. A couple weeks after the attacks, we called all of those who had not already called us to let them know there was no plan to postpone the shows. After having confirmation from almost all our top buyers that they were still going to attend, most of our exhibitors were reassured. In the end, only two brands cancelled out of more than 1,700.

We never considered cancelling the shows. News broadcasts by overseas media have fed people’s anxiety, but we knew that the right security measures had been put in place. Our city has really never been safer. We had a lot of meetings with the mayor of Paris, along with other show organisers, and we were in constant contact with the authorities. All vehicles and luggage entering the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles had to be checked, and our shuttles dropped their passengers outside the security checkpoints. For the first time, all our exhibitors received personal badges instead of the usual bracelets, and there were ID checks at the entrances. Most of the security measures were set up by the city and Porte de Versailles owner VIParis. On our side, it required more staff at the gates and a thorough security briefing for all staff.

We used feedback from buyers, our agents based abroad and our sales team to gauge how buyers and exhibitors were feeling. Some countries were definitely more anxious than others, and our agents worked hard to broadcast the message about the security measures. Nevertheless, the number of international visitors to the shows in January was down 9% on last year. That was skewed by a drop of 25% among Asian visitors, but we were prepared for this as the Japanese government had issued advice not to travel to Europe.

It is hard to get homogeneous feedback when you welcome that many diverse brands. But most of our VIP buyers came, and they were very happy about the new brands they discovered. On our side, we were very happy with the quality of buyers. Despite the attacks, all the big players were there, and we also welcomed new ones.

In the end, most of the people talking about the attacks were the ones that did not come to Paris to see for themselves that it is still the same city. People who were there found nothing has changed. The energy is still there, the business is still there. We remain a cosmopolitan city. And the fashion capital of the world, no matter what.

Who’s Next and Première Classe ran on January 22-25.

Boris Provost is director of brand strategy for Parisian trade shows Who’s Next and Première Classe

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