Despite the current climate, Le Cuir A Paris was a resounding success. A total of 154 exhibitors presented their products with visitor numbers up 29% on the April 2002 edition to 2,700. There were 41 new exhibitors, 90% of which have confirmed their participation in the September edition.

‘This is the first time we have exhibited at the spring edition of Le Cuir A Paris’, explained Gunnsteinn Björnsson, sales manager of Icelandic woolskin producers Lodskinn. ‘Business is fine at the moment, although obviously we would like to see more happening. But we are finding that the current political situation is affecting us in that customers are now waiting as long as possible to place orders in case the stores cancel their orders in the meantime.’

Russian tanners Zao Russkaya Kozha, exhibiting at Le Cuir A Paris for the first time, explained that the Shoes and Leather exhibition in Guangzhou, China, had been postponed from June to September. ‘This has caused us many problems as the exhibition was at an important time for us. We are trying to move into the Chinese market and we had plans and meetings that have now been delayed. However, business in Russia is good for us at the moment. The market is stable and there is much more demand.’

Innovation is the key to success at a time when the leather industry is tightening its purse strings. One of the most noticeable products on display in the trend selection area was fish skins from Atlantic Leather of Iceland. The Nile Perch is caught in Lake Victoria bordering Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya in Africa, and transported to Iceland for tanning. ‘We produce only fish skins and our business is growing fast’, says Fridrik Jonsson, managing director. ‘In 2002, Christian Dior were our biggest customers and the year before that, Prada.’ The company tan a wide range of fish skins, including salmon whose softness makes it an ideal material for garments.

Hair-on cow leathers were clearly in evidence in the trend selection area, such as tartan and check finishes from Pellegrini Srl, and a hair-on cow hide from Pistolesi Srl shaved to give a leopard skin effect.

Turkish tanners Nadir Deri were also first time exhibitors to Le Cuir A Paris. The tannery specialises in the production of hair-on cow hides, a product which is still relatively new to the European market, explains Ihsan Aytekin. ‘We consider ourselves the best producers in the world for hair-on cow hides and we were the first producers in Türkiye.

‘We work with 17-18 sq ft pieces when many of our competitors work with smaller hides. When we visited the Milan exhibition, we saw that our quality was greater than out competitors, so now we have decided to exhibit at as many exhibitions as possible, such as Le Show in Moscow, Bologna and here again in September. We are very pleased with the way business is going at the moment.’

But one cannot deny that the French leather industry is currently experiencing difficulties. ‘One of the biggest problems we’re facing at the moment is trying to sell our products at a reasonable price when hide prices are increasing’, explains Christèle Campion, export manager of French tanners Sovos Tannerie Grosjean. ‘There is a general downturn in the global industry and people don’t seem to be buying as much.’

‘Times are difficult and we’re finding it hard to look to the future’, continues Sébastien Croidieu, commercial assistant of Tanneries Roux. ‘March and April are normally busy months for us, but not this year. And even though it’s normally slower at this time of year, it’s still very worrying.’ However, the tannery’s new range is proving very popular with customers. The new leathers in summer shades offer a pleasant supple, natural and lighter feel.

‘The general situation is very difficult at the moment, especially in the shoe sector’, says Marie-Christine Fichet-Carle of Maison Fichet Cuirs & Peaux. ‘Our business is mostly here in France and our customers keep asking us when things will improve. We say to them that the situation will improve but nobody knows when. For us, the crash happened very quickly at the beginning of this year. People just aren’t buying shoes at the moment. But today has been a good day at the exhibition and we’ve seen about 35 customers.’

Jorge Rodrigues, sales manager of Portuguese tanners Inducol, discussed the current differences in the shoe and garment sectors. ‘The garment industry is more stable at present. Leather is strong in fashion at the moment and maybe that is why we’re not having so many difficulties. A large proportion of our business is with the US, and the only problem we’re having at present is the weaker US dollar.’

But it is not all doom and gloom. For French tanners Thaff Clem’s Cuir, business is improving steadily at the moment. The company specialise in doubleface lambskins, one of only two manufacturers in France. They also produce cow hides and goatskins to fill the gap caused by the seasonal doubleface market.

‘Our business is mainly in France and in Europe, so we haven’t been affected by the drop in global business owing to the war in Iraq and the postponement of the APLF’, explains Fabien Taieb. They also had a new range of doubleface leathers on display in the trend selection area comprising three colours on the wool side and a new range of doubleface leathers with an antique finish on the suede side.