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New format at Who's Next is a hit

By Julia Garel

Jan 26, 2023

Fairs |REPORT

The entrance to the Who's Next trade show, Paris, Porte de Versailles, January 2023 edition. Photo credits: FashionUnited

Who's Next FW23/24 has succeeded in the objective it set for itself. Shortening the duration of the event, which was organised over three days instead of four, from 21 to 23 January, proved to be quite effective. Overall, visitors were concentrated in a shorter period of time, creating an influx of visitors to the Who's Next premises. FashionUnited looks back on three days of meetings and business.

A dynamic edition and a strong visitor base

"The numbers are excellent," Frédéric Maus, CEO of WSN, the organiser of Who's Next, declared on Monday. The number of visitors was not yet known, but you only had to look around to see the crowd that came to discover the fall/winter 2023 collections. "Overall, we will have reached a pre-covid level in terms of visitor numbers, which is just extraordinary," Maus added.

This season, the great novelty of Who's Next was not only its shorter duration. Alongside it, for the first time, the Salon International de la Lingerie and Interfilière took place in the neighbouring pavilion. The synchronisation of these two other fairs - now both managed by WSN - created a dynamic ecosystem to which visitors had access with a single badge and where they could travel from one fair to the other by small electric shuttles.

The other new feature of this season’s fair that was announced recently was the presence of Neonyt, a German trade fair focusing on sustainable fashion. However, this was only a preview, in the form of a stand and the presence of the German organisers who were able to meet the Who's Next community. The real start of the partnership will be in September 2023 when the two fairs will be held side by side.

Strong colours and bohemian brands in full force

From the moment visitors set foot in the trade show, the Who's Next organisers wanted to convey its dynamism through a brightly coloured labyrinthine entrance, the theme of which was ‘District Fantasy’, uniting the show's scenographic concept. The main aisle then led the visitor to the new ‘CXMP District’ space. Designed as a concept store, this pink-tinted area featured a mix of ready-to-wear, accessories and beauty brand stands.

The autumn/winter 2023/2024 season is all about a bohemian wardrobe with check prints, vibrant colours and casual knitwear. Also noticeable at the Parisian fair was the strong presence of corduroy trousers, often in more daring colours than their usual neutral tones.

Trade show Who's Next, Paris, Porte de Versailles, January 2023 edition. Photo credits: FashionUnited

Established brands: meeting with Labdip, NotShy and the Imperial Group

After a difficult period due to the pandemic, 2022 will have been, for a large part, a year of consolidation or growth for the brands present at Who's Next. A situation that has been complicated further by the war in Ukraine and the rise in energy costs, but the industry remains confident.

This also applies to Labdip, a brand created about ten years ago that promotes Chinese know-how, with co-founders of Chinese origin, through a specialised offer in trousers (boutique prices are between 115 and 120 euros). The brand does not have its own shop but works with 250 retailers in France and abroad.

"It was a good year," Chloé Ridouh, sales manager for the Labdip brand, says looking back on 2022. “In terms of business, turnover has increased. We have a growing clientele, a webshop that is gaining momentum. And from a B2B point of view, we are very happy. We continue to have a strong following of customers who go to multi-brand stores and that's great".

The brand has been showing at Who's Next for 10 years. "It's a fair where we meet a lot of our export customers. It allows us to see them in person, which also creates a working relationship," Chloé explains. “It's really more for exports than for France, because when it comes to France, we are represented by sales agents, so they make their appointments with clients directly in their showroom. And then, it's also for visibility, to show that we're still here, that we have new things to offer. And it is important to see the other collections on display.”

Among its new products, the family business based near Shanghai offers a range made of denim and silk, including a pair of soft, lightweight pants. Making its jeans comfortable has become the brand's guiding principle, and this is taking shape in the form of hybrid items, ones that combine denim and classic trouser cuts with welt pockets. "That's what's proving to be more and more successful with clients," Chloé says.

For the past year, Labdip's teams have been receiving customers directly in the Paris showroom in a reinvented space called Le Lab. Customers make an appointment on the website and come in for a fitting. "We take their measurements, determine their body shape with them and then have them try on the jeans that will make them look their best," Chloé explains. The concept has been extended to retailers in order to "bring a bit of commercial activity back to the points of sale" and to build customer loyalty.

The ‘labyrinthine space’ at the entrance of the Who's Next trade show, in Paris, Porte de Versailles. January 2023 edition. Photo credits: FashionUnited/figcaption>

A little further on, the crowd gathers at the XXL stand of the cashmere brand NotShy. Here too, morale is high. "We had a very good year and an exceptional year-end," Olivier Criq, co-director and co-founder of the brand that was launched 25 years ago, says. "We've been making double-digit progress for almost five years now," he says.

But for 2023, the executive remains on his guard and is "cautious" because of inflation. He explains that he is not afraid because the brand is aimed at "a clientele that is a bit out of the ordinary" because of the high price of its products, so its customers are not the most affected, but, according to him, there will be "a response all the same."

NotShy is a regular at Who's Next. Its stand is often packed with customers and the brand knows almost all of them. But despite appearances, this meeting format is perhaps not the most relevant for the company today. Olivier Criq confides that he is thinking of organising presentations in the privacy of his new Parisian offices: "I think that in the short term we will start receiving our clients at home, for more intimacy, more of a show, something a little more sophisticated. I'm not saying that it's not good here, but everything is mixed up. It's not all about selling, you have to accompany your clients, build joint projects and at trade fairs you don't have the time. I think it would be reasonable for us to have perhaps a few less clients but to better exploit our potential with long-standing clients who believe in the brand.”

The manager adds: "The brand is 25 years old. If we want to continue over time, we have to find new ways of working with distributors and shops. We need to talk about CSR, quality issues, etc.".

The Imperial Group is also doing very well. The Italian group, founded in 1978, which includes Imperial, Imperial men, Please (since 1993) and Dixie (a Florentine brand bought in 2014), had an "excellent" year in 2022, "but that doesn't mean that the overall market is doing better. Rather, the market is coming to us," Alban Valentin, sales director for France, says. Luca Deluca, managing director of Imperial France, adds: "The year 2022 has been extremely positive for us because we invested beforehand in the structure, we trained people, and when the post-covid arrived they were ready."

Focused on the business model of fast fashion that is entirely Made in Italy, the company works with immediate delivery and presented not just its fall/winter 2023 collections but also those for spring/summer 2023 at Who's Next. The four brands of the group offer new products every week and therefore have a large range of products, which was reflected in the size of the stands.

The Imperial group opened its French subsidiary 10 years ago. It now has five showrooms in France and a large logistics base near Aix-en-Provence, which enables it to deliver most items to shops within 24 hours. For 2023, the company is aiming for 15 per cent growth. "The investments made between 2019 and 2022 must be further realised," explains Alban Valentin.

Small news and niche brands

Although established brands made up the vast majority of exhibitors at the most recent edition, young labels and niche brands also occupied a few square metres of the gigantic pavilion. These included Chez Nous and Our sister.

"This is the third time we've been to Who's Next and we've just come back from Pitti Uomo in Florence. It was great," Camélia Barbachi, the founder of Chez Nous, says. The young label was launched in October 2021 and focuses on a non-gendered ready-to-wear and accessories offer with an accessible premium positioning. Each piece is inspired by the founder's Tunisian origins and is manufactured between France and Tunisia.

Distributed in D2C and through a wholesale network, the brand has made an oversized, heavyweight T-shirt its best-seller. The piece is called Tataouine and features an embroidered inscription in Arabic calligraphy on the front, ‘Chez nous’, which refers to an expression used by Tunisians to describe people with dual nationality. "When we go to Tunisia we talk about France and we say 'Chez nous là-bas en France'," explains the 25-year-old designer. So it's a little nickname that I wanted to reappropriate by making it the name of the brand. Firstly because I think there is something unifying about it, it reflects values of hospitality, and also because the idea was to celebrate the plurality of identity."

Chez Nous is one of those young, committed brands that have today's new standards in their DNA: namely, more environmentally friendly production and an inclusive offering. The pieces are therefore offered in eight sizes, from double XS to triple XL: "Everything is designed to fit a maximum number of body types, so the pattern-making process takes a lot of time,” Camélia Barbachi explains.

The Our Sister brand at the Who's Next show in Paris, January 2023 edition. Photo credits: FashionUnited

On one of the racks is a high-waisted, slightly baggy, pegged denim piece: the Zooter, another Chez nous bestseller. "It's a jean inspired by the zoot suits worn by African-Americans at the time of racial segregation in the United States. I wanted to pay tribute to and celebrate the work done by minorities to reclaim their identity and I also wanted to make it in Tunisia because there is real denim know-how in Tunisia.

She adds: "I try to represent minorities, people who are not usually seen in the fashion industry. I'm of Tunisian origin and that's why I couldn't identify myself in the fashion industry.” The brand’s objective for 2023: to develop the B2B network in France and internationally.

Installed at the entrance of the show, in the ‘CXMP District’ space, the Belgian brand Our Sister makes a good impression with its colourful racks. Based in Antwerp, Our Sister is the women's counterpart to the men's brand Castart, founded in 2018. This young brand has a shop in Antwerp, its main distribution centres in the Netherlands and Belgium and is now expanding to Canada and Asia.

This was the first time the brand participated in Who's Next. “We like it, but we think it might be a bit too big for us, because we have a really personal and authentic brand, a bit of a niche," the exhibitor explained on Sunday, the last day of the event.

Although the company met some serious buyers, including a "big client" from Korea, it points to what other young brands hinted at in their conversations with FashionUnited. For although Who's Next attracts young brands, the show may not always accommodate the niche brands and small designers. The Author, a Korean brand with a pure style, had the same feeling and confided to FashionUnited that it was interested in fairs that are more focused on young designers, such as Tranoi.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and editing from French into English: Veerle Versteeg.

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