The trench coat, duffle coat, cardigan and the twinset were among the cross channel classics that wowed visitors at the French Intersélection trade fair earlier this month.

Earlier this month the French Intersélection trade fair celebrated its 25th birthday. Its longevity is attributable to spotting and directly targeting a particular market.

Intersélection was early in identifying the degree that retail would influence future fashion tends. And indeed its own research reveals that today in France 70 per cent of all clothing sales are made by mass market retailers operating nationwide, often international chains of similar outlets.

Across the major fashion conscious nations of the EU - Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK - the share of such retailers rises to a massive 81 per cent of total spending on apparel.

The forecast is that between now and 2007 mass retailers in these key nations will increase their market share by a further four per cent, largely at the expense of independent outlets and department stores.

Sports stores with a strong interest in clothing sales are also expected to put on business though to a lesser extent, just ahead of the hypermarkets and non-food departments of grocery superstores. The Intersélection forecast for growth in these market sectors up to 2007 is 1.3 and 1.2 per cent.

Retail fast-forward
The Eurovet group, which has sponsored Intersélection for the past quarter century, also pinpoints the factors which have helped stores to move forward.

Cited is the Spanish owned Zara group with its stress on attractive windows and in-store displays, but more especially its flair for "rapid adaptation to consumer demand" as the template for retail success in today' markets.

Eurovet also describes Zara as being "ultra responsive" to consumer demand with its policy of introducing new, but limited, garment ranges to its branches every two weeks.

"The aim is to give customers the impression that they are buying a one-off design. This idea is subtly reinforced by the mix and match opportunities which are integral to the way displays are organised.

"Such policies additionally implant in the mind of the consumer the idea that if they do not snap up a new style immediately it appears on the store's rails, the opportunity to be in step with what's new will be irrevocably lost."

Eurovet also believes that offering "mix and match" garment selections which allow consumers to create individual looks is essential in attracting the all important 15-25 year old consumers who are Europe's most free spending shoppers.

What's on offer for next winter?
So what did exhibitors have to offer the 8,000 trade buyers who attended the May 2004 Intersélection?

The overall trend can be summed up as classics with a twist, and preferably classic styles which initially originated in Britain.

Cross channel borrowings expected to be next winter's fashion best sellers include the trench coat and the duffle coat, the cardigan and the twinset.

The trench coat, originally uniform for officers in the First World War, has now been given a more youthful image with a change of fabric. Trench coats for winter 2004/5 will be available in linen, in leather, in denim, and in semi-transparent plastic, the last an idea from the German accessory house of Capelli.

They will also come dyed to every shade of the rainbow but with ultra bright peppermint rock or shocking pink expected to be the shades selling best to the under-25s.

The duffle coat is also lent renewed appeal by being dyed to a range of fashion colours. It was shown at Intersélection in a fluorescently bright lime by Joff Distingo, while Morocco based manufacturer Belcof used white felted wool adorned with black embroidery for its duffels with a difference.

Meanwhile, updated cardigans include Aran knits dyed to subtle pastel colours and, at Carling, collared cardies finished with pink bows at the neck.

Ribbon trimmings
The trend for ribbon trimmings ran right across all types of garment seen at Intersélection. Glossy ribbons banded ruched cotton skirts and tied the gathered legs of pedal pusher length pants, including the three-quarter length trousers of suits in Donegal tweed.

Tweeds of this type, sometimes not actual woven tweeds but cotton or lightweight woollens printed to look like tweed, were often overprinted with dark coloured floral or geometric motifs.

Elsewhere at Intersélection manufacturers were ringing the changes on the classic twinset by introducing crossover and off the shoulder cardigans worn over skinny fit, polo neck gilets.

Yet another UK classic which Europe is re-interpreting is the kilted skirt. Produced in plain rather than plaid fabric and again dyed to the brightest of colours including vivid pink, the new kilts are essentially mini skirts. Most measure less than 12 inches from waistband to hem with their pleats permanently heat set by manufacturers like Turkish exhibitor Ekim Line & Zizania.

As well as the Turks and Moroccans, Tunisian manufacturers were out in force at the show, many commenting that the bi-lingual legacy of having been considered a French province in colonial days considerably eased selling their garments into the French mass retailing market.

Many of these exhibitors will also be coming to London in June for their nationally sponsored fashion event. The big question for such companies will be just how well the average British buyer will react to the Tunisian updates of kilts, raincoats and twinsets to which Paris responded so enthusiastically.

By Sonia Roberts.