The big German international shoe fair, GDS, celebrated its 100th show (50-year anniversary) this September. There was a welter of events, presentations and parties for buyers and exhibitors. But the talk was more of business and politics, with the indecisive national German election coming slap bang in the middle of the fair and taking a lot of attention away from the shoes. Penny Leese reports.

Coming so soon after the recent 'Bra Wars' debacle and problems with clothing imports from China, both buyers and suppliers are wary. Companies are now talking about moving some of their production out of China into neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam. But on this matter nothing is clear either, and the fair was rife with rumours about what the EU would do next.

There are fears of anti-dumping duty being imposed on other countries such as Vietnam, so a lot of exhibitors were unsure abut how to work in the future. And the unstable political situation in Germany and the not exactly thriving economy didn't help either.

The huge fair is becoming more and more of a domestic event, attracting buyers from the German speaking countries, and northern Europe including Scandinavia. Its main part has shrunk despite huge efforts by the organisers - which sadly did not transfer to the planner which was largely a map of the halls with just numbers and an index. Maybe a sign of late booking by exhibitors?

Three of the halls were dedicated to national stands and importers, with one new hall just for leather goods. As one UK agent commented: "If I was asked a few years ago what the best UK fair was, I would have said GDS, as all the top British buyers would be seen there. But now I would have to say Milan."

The move of the famous Italian MICAM fair this time to a new showground with more space for additional exhibitors and better facilities has just made it even more popular.

Cracked painted leather, KangaROOS

Traffic generally appeared quite light, although figures say that visitor turnout was similar to last time. It was apparent though, that strong brands with reasonably designed mainstream products and excellent presentation (like S Oliver and KangaROOS) were doing well and attracting plenty of visitors at the fair since they service their customers well.

Comfort footwear selection
Always good at the GDS fair is the comfort footwear selection, today better known as 'wellness.' Here the range of choice and colours for both men and women is constantly getting better.

Air cushioned soles, by Aerosoles, were put onto fashionable, colourful nubuck styles, with padded socks - smart dressing and all day comfort combined. Moccasins and driving soles, where the rubber sole comes out through the leather which wraps all around the feet, are available now in a myriad of colours, materials and styles.

Relatively bright colours such as red, pink, royal blue or white are still very popular, especially in easy to care for leather; while nubuck versions looked good in off white and beige.

Richter's Gore-Tex XCR for summer

The travel concept, inspired by sports brand Reebok with its ultra flexible Packable shoe, has influenced leather shoe makers, with Marc making super soft men's leather shoes designed for travelling. Apparently that is a theme to look out for, with Gore-Tex soon promoting its ultra breathable XCR membrane for precisely that.

European presentation
Since almost all the big European brands show at GDS it is a good place to see how they present themselves.

French shoes to match French Lollipops bags

Lollipops is a famous French bag brand making highly decorated bags with pretty motifs like the Eiffel Tower - hand painted and sequined. The shops are tiny; all dolled out in pink and are very popular. The shoes have been designed to totally match the bags but will be sold elsewhere under licenses; since the bag shops are just too small.

The line separating shops and suppliers is getting more blurred, with most big companies now having flagship stores. Mephisto's complete stand was done up as a series of shop windows and the company was clearly advertising for more applicants to open up new Mephisto stores, as they have been so successful already in France and Germany.

Fashion flies high
Niche brands that have got a good name in the fashion world for quality and deliveries, such as Fly London, reported that they had an excellent show. Fly showed high wedges and natural looking stack leather heels; whereas Firetrap had espadrille inspired covered conical heels on Brazilian look leather sandals.

For women there were some new themes. The marine/boat shoe look, for example, had been updated with lot of success by Vagabond. Wedges, too, are definitely making a comeback, on a high version with soft oval toe from Vagabond.

Wooden wedges and espadrille look sandals are not really going away. It is all part of the more natural look which is taking over from the highly decorated bright florals of before.

Uppers are in softer colours, materials are real leather or jute, and details are hand stitch, or dull metal studding, for example. Trims on soft natural brown leather dressy sandals on stack leather heels by S Oliver were made in raw edge linen with hand stitching.

Some dressy shoes came with small platforms, like some pretty suede peep toes from Marc O'Polo that had a 40s feel, in brown suede with bronze trims. Generally even on evening shoes and sandals the toes are rounded and heels block, knock on construction.

Boots were everywhere, especially versions of western fancy and western basic versions, a fashion that has already done well in England but has taken longer to hit mainstream Europe.

Unstructured by Timberland

Many of the newer summer boots are unconstructed, like the summer versions of this winter's successful Mukluk boots - flat suede moccasins on a comfort toe and wide pull on shaft.

The Timberland classic boots have had the lining stripped out and been made in soft canvas for summer wear. And many shoes now have a lot less lining and stiffening, making them instantly more comfortable to wear.

Men's shoes
For men the message is still unstructured, with natural soft suede and nubuck, sometimes combined with brighter colours.

Velcro straps on glossy leather shoes are typical German hybrid products, mixing city and fashion. Also a number of companies are showing brogue punching (known in Europe as "golf" punching) on soft rubber soled casuals in matt nappa.

Smelly shoes
New at GDS by Otway of Australia (distributed by CD Shoes) is a boy's range of sporty shoes designed to stay fresh. There is a Fresh Box inside the insole that smells good, with the perfume released by foot pressure. And it can be removed and replaced.

The same company has just got the license for Chipie kids' shoes, which are very trendy, especially in France. It showed classic French softy unstructured ballerinas in pretty colours on real rubber soles - the old fashioned injected type. Different colours have different smells, pink being strawberry flavour of course!

Smelly shoes are available for adults too. Even old fashioned galoshes come in a range of brilliant hues and, being made of TPR, can have different smells added - so no rubbery smell.

For kids, it is hard to beat the German WMS varying-width fitting systems. Here brands like Romika and Legero (from Austria) do excellently with their anatomical fitting lasts and precisely correct sizes - shoes that retailers can rely on season after season.

Italian fashion brands are making inroads into the market though. Naturino is strong in Denmark particularly, and has just got the worldwide Kenzo kids' shoe license.

Moccasin boot by Primigi

One of the most talked about kids' brand is Primigi of Italy for its fashion content, especially on girls' shoes. There are even pretty floral scratch flower print leather sandals for the tinies.

Stones and Bones made pretty girls' pink sandals more fashionable and less Barbie-like with sand and beige details and soles.

Bright colours for kids predominate still, especially for the youngest ones. Legero had smart injected sporty shoes in bright combinations like red/orange and green/yellow. KangaROOS girl's ballerina shoes appeared in bright mixes of lime and fuchsia on a white leather base with fuchsia printed animals. Bright aqua socks are good for kids and practical too, as from Timberland.

For boys' shoes, soccer is a strong influence with studded soles and rounded toes being popular. Dutch fashion brands tend to do well in the German market for their keen pricing. Sandals look newer when they have antique and scratched leather look uppers (Lumberjack, Kamik). The best selling patterns today are still the safe and sure - ankle boot sandals with a simple two or three double Velcro strapping system.

A small area of the fair at GDS is dedicated to strong sports labels such as Meindl, Gola, Raichle and Kamik, which also sell to shoe shops as well as sports shops. Kamik of Canada showed real camouflage photo print boots, where the printed lifelike pattern went down all the way to cover the midsole in the same print.

Early dates for GDS 2006
As from 2006 GDS plans to meet the market on earlier trade fair dates Therefore it will now run for only three days (instead of four) from Sunday 5 March to Tuesday 7 March 2006 and 10-12 September 2006.

By Penny Leese.