Fashion's big-time buyers learn to think small

Mon Mar 9, 2009 3:31pm EDT
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By Sophie Hardach

PARIS (Reuters) - The re-launch of a Russian luxury label in Paris this week neatly summarized the state of the industry: instead of a bombastic event dripping with Tsarist extravagance, the director held court in a small showroom.

After years of riding the luxury boom and thinking big -- big $1,000 handbags, big new markets -- fashion executives are learning to think small, finding hope in the humble scarf.

"Fashion jewelry and scarves are booming. Everything print-based, cashmere scarves, silk scarves are doing well," Geoffrey de La Bourdonnaye, chief executive of Liberty of London, told Reuters at the Christian Lacroix show.

And while some Middle Easterners and Russians are still willing to splash out on luxury, the vast Eastern riches buoying the luxury market have shrunk, forcing fashion companies to scrutinize who is buying what and why.

Boutique owners and big buyers at the fashion shows were betting on small, affordable accessories for highly cautious and selective shoppers.

In the showroom of re-launched Russian luxury label Irfe, which was originally founded in the roaring 1920s, creative director Olga Sorokina voiced optimism that wealthy clients would buy her 25,000-euro fur coats and python bags decorated with the Imperial crown.

Russia's economy is expected to shrink this year after 10 years of growth, and there were noticeably fewer Russian guests at this season's shows.

CAUTIOUS TONE   Continued...

<p>Olga Sorokina, Belarussian creative director of the Russian fashion house Irfe, poses for Reuters in her showroom for her first Irfe collection in Paris March 9, 2009. Irfe is reopening its doors after being put to sleep for 80 years. REUTERS/Charles Platiau</p>