Australia fashion week trimmed by economic blues

SYDNEY Wed Apr 29, 2009 1:12am EDT

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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Australia's fashion week was thinner this year as the global economic crisis crimped designers and buyers' participation, but the catwalk remained an explosion of colors amid optimism that spending will pick up.

Organizers of the 14th Australian Fashion Week that began Monday said the event was 15 percent smaller than last year, with 41 shows and two rather than three catwalks, which mirrored cuts in the fashion capitals of London, Paris, New York and Milan.

Some of the biggest names in Australian fashion were notably absent from the five-day lineup of spring and summer fashions such as Akira, Michelle Jank, Alex Perry, and Bettina Liano.

Big names left on the schedule were Sass & Bide, Camilla and Marc, Wayne Cooper, Nicola Finetti, Zimmerman, Kirrily Johnston and Lisa Ho while Dion Lee won high praise for his catwalk debut.

Organizer Simon Lock, who founded the event in 1995 but sold it to New York-based marking company IMG in 2005, said the numbers were down this year but the mood was upbeat with forecasts of spending rebounding later this year and into 2010.

"We certainly aren't seeing dark and demure collections as the media seems to think fits the times. We're seeing a lot of really directional fashion with lots of great colors and inspirational collections," he told Reuters.

Retail analyst IBISWorld has forecast Australian clothing exports falling 2.4 percent to $322.5 million this financial year as consumers in the United States, Europe and Asia buy less high-value Australian fashion exports.

IBISWorld's general manager Robert Bryant said this meant that Australian retailers and brands positioned at the luxury, high-value end of the market would struggle.

"As ... so-called recessionistas turn to mid-market brands for more affordable options, revenue within the top end of Australia's fashion field is likely to fall by 19 percent this year," Bryant wrote in a report released as fashion week began.

"While relative prosperity over the past five years led to an increase in the number of designer boutiques and luxury clothing stores, this sector will fall the hardest during the current crisis, with brands such as Morrissey and Herringbone already closing their doors, and more likely to follow."

But Bryant predicted the trend would be short-term, with spending rising in 2010 as economies globally recover and enthusiasm for high-end fashion returns.

Lock said the Rosemount Australian Fashion Week was still attracting good numbers of overseas buyers, with strength from the Asia Pacific region, particularly Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

European and North American organizations were still represented but by fewer people as travel budgets were cut.

"But we are yet to get a feel for the strength of the check books," said Lock.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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