Weak dollar hurts at Paris fashion shows

( AP ) - American retailers attending the Paris ready-to-wear shows this week have been feeling the sting of the weak dollar.

With the U.S. currency hovering near a record low against the euro, the cost of European goods has never been so high. Buyers said that while they were not slashing their budgets, they were being more careful about what they order.

"You have to be, you have no choice," said Jim Gold, president and CEO of New York luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman.

In turn, designers in the world's fashion capital have been pulling out the stops with high-concept shows destined to highlight exceptional craft and creativity.

On Saturday, Kenzo showed birds of paradise in rainbow-colored feathers in its spring-summer ready-to-wear collection, while Chloe sent out breezy silk dresses with graphic brushstroke prints.

Hermes, the purveyor of luxury handbags and silk scarves, cannily eyed the fast-growing Indian market with a sumptuous collection of maharajah suits and flowing sari dresses.

Didier Grumbach, head of French fashion's governing body, said Paris could withstand fluctuations in the dollar because it showed only designers at the top of the luxury scale.

"If you are a mid-tier brand, it puts you in another category and that is bad, because suddenly you have different competitors, but when you are absolutely top-end - and I mean on a world scale - then there is an impact, of course, but it is not considerable," he said.

That view was echoed by Ralph Toledano, chairman and CEO of Chloe, which belongs to the luxury goods conglomerate Richemont.

"Even when the dollar is very, very weak, people come here to buy what they can't find in the United States," he said. "Our customers are customers who don't need to buy. They are customers who need to be given a reason to buy."

Toledano said Chloe designer Paulo Melim Andersson had not been given any specific instructions to produce more so-called "special pieces" or accessories to entice dollar clients, but management was busy devising strategies to streamline production.

"You can always improve productivity," he noted.

Bergdorf's Gold said some brands in Paris and Milan had done an "outstanding" job of managing their pricing strategy in the face of the currency swings, while others had not been so successful.

"Those who offered product that wasn't particularly exciting and let the prices run are likely to have reduced orders," he said.

Overall, retailers noted that American consumers were willing to shell out extra dollars for certain categories like handbags and shoes, but might balk at items that don't scream "must-have."

In recent years, Chloe has become one of the most coveted brands on the market, but it is undergoing a transition since Melim took over last season.

The Swedish designer, who has a tougher edge than his predecessor Phoebe Philo, drew mixed reviews for his first collection in March, but it was widely copied by high street retailers - a sure sign that he has his finger on the fashion pulse.

This time, Melim showed translucent white sundresses with graphic pink and gray patches, which were paired with offbeat dog-eared purple crocodile clutches and patent leather sandals with pyramid heels.

At Kenzo, Italian designer Antonio Marras had models parade around a curtain of dense tropical foliage in oversized creations that bucked this season's trend for emphasizing the waist.

A babydoll dress made from panels of purple and yellow eel skin flared out like a giant lampshade, while the deep folds of a yellow swing coat glittered with intricately embroidered birds and leaves.

Hermes designer Jean Paul Gaultier showcased luxurious items like a trench coat made from the house's trademark silk scarves and crocodile leather boots in black or even fuchsia pink.

A large caramel Kelly bag was set off against beige jodhpurs worn with a gold lurex twinset.

The outfits were an explicit nod to India's potential clients for French luxury products, which the Comite Colbert - an industry association that groups many of France's biggest luxury goods names - recently estimated at between 10 and 30 million people.

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