February 24, 2009 / 6:41 PM / 9 years ago

London fashion buyers say spending with caution

LONDON (Reuters) - Buyers at London Fashion Week said they plan to be more cautious about spending and will take on fewer new designers in the uncertain economic climate that has emerged from the global credit crunch.

Even though the single European currency has strengthened against Britain’s pound in the past six months, buyers from countries which have adopted the euro said they had tightened their purse strings slightly. Reuters correspondents failed to find representatives of U.S. retail stores at the shows.

“I think we’re just being more cautious about the way we spend our money,” Coco Chom, a buyer for luxury British retailer Harvey Nichols, told Reuters dressed in a black fur coat.

Business consultancy Bain & Co have said sales of luxury goods could drop as much as 7 percent worldwide in 2009.

Silvia Bertocchi, who works for department store 10 Corso Como in Milan, said her budget was “almost” the same as last year‘s: “Just a little bit lower.”

But Parisian buyer Maria-Luisa Poumaillou, who has stores in Hong Kong and Qatar, said she cut her budget by 20 percent.

“The same quality, the same selection, just slightly less,” she told Reuters.

One store’s representative, however, said business would carry on as usual.

“(Our approach) hasn’t really changed, regardless of the economic climate,” said Ed Burstell, director at London’s Liberty department store. He said customers had “not yet” reined in spending and that he was carrying on as before.

“(The budget is) all flexible, it all depends on the product,” he said. “We look for things that are unusual and unique, and really have original thought to them.”

INVESTMENT

The buyers, including Chom and Bertocchi, said they said they were confirming orders with their usual brands but were taking on fewer up-and-coming designers, in a city famous for producing some of fashion’s biggest innovators.

Vincent Frayssinet, sales manager for Betty Jackson, agreed: “Stores might be buying less brands, but when they go for one brand they actually focus on it.”

Niki Scordi, managing director at Nicole Farhi, agreed that buyer’s budgets were being scrutinized more closely.

Frayssinet said sterling’s weakness against the dollar was helping to attract more foreign clients.

“We have international interest, especially from South America. Saudi Arabia as well,” Frayssinet said.

To boost demand, London’s mayor’s office organized trips for buyers from Dubai and elsewhere, at a cost of 40,000 pounds to the taxpayer.

Retailer Barney’s New York, owned by the Dubai’s investment agency Istithmar World, said that it was not sending its chief buyer to London, as it had in the past.

“Our overall budget at this moment is really dictated by the economy in general,” a spokeswomen for the store said. Fellow U.S. luxury chain Saks Fifth Avenue declined to comment on its budget or whether it was sending a buyer.

SHOES, BAGS, BELTS

Although French buyer Poumaillou said her clients chiefly wanted clothes, others said they were keen on accessories.

“Clothes and accessories, both,” Bertocchi said.

Chom said she was looking for clothes, but that accessory sales would probably be quite resilient in the downturn.

“It’s always an easy way into a brand,” Chom said. “And an easy way to update an outfit.”

Zoe Lem, who runs a boutique in London’s Islington area, said accessories were popular among her clients, who were willing to spend money on “investment pieces.”

“I’ve noticed over the last 3 or 4 months that they’re not coming to me for basics,” she said. “They’ll go to the high street for a black trouser but they’re coming to me for the special bits.”

Among the exhibits at London Fashion Week’s main tent, several vendors said buyers were being more cautious this year.

“They haven’t been talking about budgets at all actually,” said Heather Whittle, who works for shoe-maker Beyond Skin and has been attending fashion week for several years.

“The reaction that we’ve had from our showroom is that people are wanting to commit a bit later,” she said. “This season we could be doing... a bit more hounding.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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