Nov 2, 2007
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Duty-free accessories flying first-class

Nov 2, 2007

CANNES, France, Nov 2, 2007 (AFP) - From matching diamond-encrusted mother-and-daughter gold chokers to the latest must-have bags and glasses or even a hand-crafted humidor, duty-free goods are increasingly going first-class.

People visit the TFWA, 25 October 2007 in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France - Photo : Valery Hache/AFP

"We are an industry that lives and breathes some of the best brands in the world," Erik Juul-Mortensen, head of the Tax Free World Association (TFWA), told a trade salon here last week. "Let us focus on providing a shopping experience travellers will not find elsewhere."

If the annual TFWA World Exhibition was anything to go by, up-market passengers with deep pockets are heading for a bonanza spending spree while kicking their heels at airports next year.

And while leading couture houses such as Italy's Versace, France's Hermes and Germany's Boss flew in to the Riviera fair to display their latest designs, there were also hundreds of smaller specialist up-market brands, reflecting burgeoning competition in deluxe accessories for children as well as adults.

"There is increasing demand for high-end luxury goods whether it is in electronics, cosmetics or fashion, and I expect this trend to continue," Colm McLoughlin, who heads up Dubai Duty Free, told the TWFA magazine.

As a result, business in the fast-growing number of duty free outlets in airports, cruise-liners, ferries and shops is expected to keep growing, industry experts here said, getting an extra boost from the rising number of travellers worldwide.

Duty free shops in the Middle East, Dubai in particular, are experiencing massive growth. But it is in Asia, notably South Korea, Macao and China, where the shopping bonanza is really taking off, a TFWA spokeswoman told AFP.

People visit the TFWA, 25 October 2007 in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France - Photo : Valery Hache/AFP

The buying surge should help the industry reach the 30 billion dollar mark this year, noted Juul-Mortensen.

Despite security scares, international air passenger traffic rose 8.6 percent in August 2007, the fastest growth rate for 16 months, according to the IATA international air transport association.

And with airport restrictions on carrying liquids and gels still in force in some countries, there was added interest in the huge array of fashion accessories on offer at the TFWA show.

Woman's handbags remained one of the most popular accessories, but legendary leather goods companies from Hermes to Dior and Ermenegildo Zegna are facing increasing competition from less pricey brands such as Furla, Longchamp and Korean-owned MCM.

People visit the TFWA, 25 October 2007 in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France - Photo : Valery Hache/AFP

French-owned Longchamp's new "Legende" line is one of the season's must-haves. After being photographed on the arms of British supermodel Kate Moss and pop icon Madonna, the bags have sold out in high street stores but are available duty free. "All the duty free operators want to stock our bags, it's a great opportunity for us," Longchamp's Sandrine Wezel told AFP.

Deluxe kids' accessories are also catching on around the world.

After starting out life in Japan, the "Hello Kitty" brand is fast becoming a cult with youngsters and their mums, and a new luxury range designed by Victoria Couture in France that includes diamond-studded gold kitty necklaces costing from 390 euros up to 2,250 euros is taking the brand to new heights in duty free stores.

"This is the first time we're showing the brand at the TFWA and the feedback from buyers is incredible," said brand manager Olivia de Wailly of distributor L.A.T.R.

The range, including "mother and daughter" tops, belts and bags, will shortly become available in around 40 retail points around the world including China, in time for the Beijing Olympics.

"There's a definite increase in luxury products for children," explained France's Kidow chairman Eric Lemoine.

People visit the TFWA, 25 October 2007 in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France - Photo : Valery Hache/AFP

Until recently, children's accessories and gifts in duty free stores tended to be cheap. "But today's business travelers want to buy more valuable presents to take home and this is promoting this new market," Lemoine told AFP.

His brand includes silver and diamond napkin rings and high quality lacquered music boxes that play "It's a wonderful world".

It is the same story for scarves, ties or sunglasses, perennial favourites with duty free customers.

"The luxury end is growing steadily," said Lidia Flazone of Italian silk specialist Mantero Seta, which makes ties and silk squares for top world brands.

But perhaps the most unusual expensive accessory at the duty free extravaganza was a range of hand-made leather pocket humidors for connoisseurs who want to ensure cigars will not dry up even in the most extreme conditions.

The exclusive leather cigar cases made by French-based Fallon retail at 250 euros for a crocodile leather case up to 5,835 euros for one made of stingray skin.

And cigar lovers can also purchase a limited edition Fallon handbag, matching the humidor and containing a pouch in the bag to hold "sir or madam's" pocket humidor.

By Audrey Stuart

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