In a shock move, the sun shone very brightly in London last Sunday afternoon and gave an appropriately bright aspect to the impressive glass canopy of Olympia’s Grand Hall.
In the aisles of Pure beneath this Victorian architectural marvel I detected a quietly encouraging spirit among the exhibitors and visitors to London’s largest womenswear show. The overdue rearranging of the floor plan and the re-editing of the show received widespread approval and fitted in with the sense that here was yet another new season and it was time to put one’s best foot forward with a smile on one’s face.
Several brands told Drapers they had seen a rise in the number of Irish buyers, which was a welcome sign that business is improving, albeit very slowly, in that troubled market. It seems a very long time since Ireland was booming and agents used to tell me, “If only the UK was as good as Ireland, I’d be a very rich person”. Despite the horrors of recent years, at least many of us can say of the memory of the Irish growth phenomenon: “It was fun while it lasted.”
Another impression that came through at Pure was that January, for many independent retailers, had turned out to be not a bad month at all. It may have been wet and windy, which made footfall fitful, but Sale stock was moved steadily and new spring merchandise got a positive reaction. As we report in our Pure round-up, there was plenty of appetite for buying stock and short-order delivery. Given the experiences of the past few years, I can only expect the stock houses and fast-fashion suppliers to be in even greater demand. Additionally I’d expect more traditional forward-order brands to look at more structured delivery schedules to keep regular amounts of fresh merchandise brightening up their stockists’ shops. This has been a norm, of course, for many years among many brands, but it is surprising how old-fashioned so many suppliers still are.
There will be more opportunity to gauge the mood of the market this weekend and early next week when London Fashion Week and Moda coincide. It would be hard to imagine two more different aspects of our fascinating industry and while both have their detractors, each does a pretty good job for its target audience. In London it will be interesting to see if significant orders are written by foreign visitors as well as all the catwalks, parties, celebfests and the rest of the brouhaha that fills the five-day schedule. There have been signs that LFW was becoming more than just a quirky shop window or non-commercial diversion, but the strength of the pound is a practical problem when it comes to getting non-sterling buyers to put pen to paper (or finger to iPad).
My big concern for Moda, which is consistently reliable for its mainstream audience, is the effect that the weather might have on attendance. The depressing news on Wednesday this week was that there is no end in sight to the bad weather, according to the Met Office boffins. As I’ve written before in these columns, it’s often more of an ordeal getting to the NEC at the weekend than it is getting to Berlin, Florence or Copenhagen. This year I’m trying the strategy of going up on Saturday evening and staying at a hotel at the NEC, so expect me through the doors very early on Sunday morning.
Another thing that struck me at Pure was how many would-be retailers and start-up brand owners were treading the aisles. It’s encouraging to see that for all its challenges, the fashion sector is still attractive to the creative, the bold, the entrepreneurial and the brave. Long may it continue.