The French retail trade is recovering its traditional interest in underwear. Figures just released by the organisers of the recent Paris lingerie show reveal what they describe as a "gratifying upturn" in the numbers of home market buyers who attended.

They use the term gratifying because the previous year had been spent whipping up renewed enthusiasm for an event that many in the trade believed to have "passed its sell-by date" for France's most influential buyers.

And the organisers' wish to have their message reach every sector of the trade was also gratified since analysis revealed that the proportion of visitors from various categories of retail, from specialist boutiques, through departmentals and chains to supermarkets, represented an almost exact microcosm of the overall distribution pattern of today's trade.

The nation by nation tallies of visitors to the Paris show also suggest that UK export prospects represent one of French manufacturers' best foreign markets, with British visitor levels up three per cent on last year.

Numerically however the 761 British visitors were heavily outnumbered by their German and Italian counterparts - and Italian visitors, though still more numerous at 1,742 than any other nation, showed a drop on the previous year. German attendances also showed a drop.

Exhibitor comment on this situation suggests that Italian consumers who would formerly have looked to France as the source of the most stylishly exciting underwear are now happy to opt for Italian-made garments which they often regard as more avant garde than the French in styling, colour, fabric and trims.

By Sonia Roberts