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Luxury resortwear show makes a Splash in Paris

By Isabella Griffiths

24 May 2018

The third edition of premium resortwear show Splash is set to take place on 23 to 25 June in Paris, in custom-made tents on the right bank of the river Seine on the Port Des Champs Elysees. The show was established in 2016 by Claire Spencer-Churchill and Alexandra Lyles, the duo behind one of the most successful and prestigious fashion distribution agencies in the UK. Having more than tripled in size since its inception, Splash is going from strength to strength, attracting high calibre labels such as Albertine, Broochini, Eberjey, Kate Spade, Madeleine Thompson, Michael Michael Kors, Star Mela and more, and an equally impressive buyer profile to match. FashionUnited caught up with Spencer-Churchill to get the lowdown on this season’s show and find out what is driving the continued growth of the resortwear sector.

You are first and foremost fashion distributors. What made you launch a resortwear show in Paris?

It was pretty much by chance, to be honest. Back in 2016 the UEFA football tournament was hosted in Paris, and as a result most of the venues in the city were taken over, which meant that lingerie and swimwear trade show Mode City was forced to move to Lyon. When the news broke, we received numerous phone calls from luxury brands that were meant to take part, saying that they didn’t want to be in Lyon, and could we not host them as part of our showroom. For the first three phone calls or so, we were politely declining, but as the phone calls kept coming in, we realised there was an opportunity there, so we jumped on it. We called a local showroom company that we were already working with, found the venue on the banks of the river Seine and set up our custom-built tent there – and Splash was launched. The first edition was very much an extension of our showroom; we hosted around 30 brands, but the interest was so strong that a year later we had tripled the space and exhibitor numbers.

What is the set-up this time around?

This year Splash will host 110 stands showcasing 135 brands across beachwear, swimwear, a few relevant activewear brands and accessories. The brand profile includes regulars such as Juliet Dunn, Heidi Klein, Mara Hoffman and Camilla, and newcomers including Pared Eyewear, Kiini, Innika Choo, March 11, Figue and more. There’s a great mix of labels and products.

What differentiates Splash from other trade shows out there?

I think the main difference is that we are organising it very much from an agency and showroom perspective. As we have been running our agency for 12 years and have been visiting trade shows ourselves extensively the world over, we have a real insight into what works and what we – and buyers - want from a trade show. The curation of the brands is really important to us, as is offering our exhibitors a straight-forward package. With some bigger corporate trade shows you can easily double your exhibition budget by the time you have totted up all the extras you have to pay for. But we have made the process very streamlined and easy. We have a purpose-built tent, so we can ensure that every one of our brands has a great space to showcase their collections in, whereas often in other venues there are some awkward spaces that need to be filled and this can put some brands at a disadvantage.

But more than anything, we try to keep Splash intimate, friendly, easy to navigate and just a beautiful environment for buyers. The venue is lovely, one side of the tent has a large window front overlooking the Seine; we have a café, massage services on standby and a bar, and there is a real holiday vibe going, which fits with the whole resort and beach concept of the show. For buyers, it’s such an advantage to be able to see so many brands in one place rather than having to hopscotch across the city to visit each individual showroom.

What profile of buyers does Splash attract?

We’re very lucky that we are attracting the cream of leading store and boutique buyers from Europe, the Middle East, the US and further afield. From the UK we have the likes of Net-a-porter, Matches, Selfridges, but also John Lewis and Asos, followed by international stores such as Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marche, El Corte Ingles, Neiman Marcus, Barneys etc., as well as hotel and resort groups such as the Four Seasons Group, The One & Only Resort and Aman Group. We expect to have around 1000 visitors this season, 700 of which are buyers.

Do you still want to grow Splash?

We’re at full capacity now with regards to the tent space, and this is probably as big as we would want to grow the show anyway to stay true to the original ethos. It’s easy to add label after label, but then you run the risk of diluting your concept too much and loosing what made the show successful in the first place. The interest is there though. We had over 500 brands contact us for this year’s edition – we didn’t even know there were that many resortwear brands out there! Obviously, not all are suitable anyway, but it shows that this category has real momentum. However, I think we will stick to the current size – hopefully all it means is that the brands who really want to be there will sign up earlier.

What do you attribute the growing popularity of resortwear to?

The way people dress is changing drastically. Activewear has led the way in this trend; you only have to look at denim sales, which are noticeably down while activewear is up and penetrating our day to day dressing. People are much more fluid and casual in the way they dress today, and the categories are merging. The contemporary womenswear market is so saturated, and people are looking for something different. I think we are also seeing real lifestyle changes. Generally speaking, people spend more money on holidays, experiences and travel than ever before. With all the budget airlines that are around, it’s so easy these days to just hop on a plane and jet off somewhere sunny, whereas ten years ago or so we didn’t have that option. This influences and drives a lot of the demand for resortwear. We (Claret Showroom) represent a number of resortwear brands ourselves, and our figures for resortwear match our figures for our ready-to-wear labels for s/s, which is astonishing.

You and Alex (Lyles) have been friends since school and have been running Claret Showroom together since 2006, and now Splash. How do you successfully combine friendship with business?

We’re very lucky actually. We just complement each other; we’re like Yin and Yang. Alex is great at being patient and concentrating on the little details, she’s brilliant with the logistics side of the business, the accounts and making sure that everything runs smoothly with the supply chain. I’m more the creative one, I enjoy developing and implementing new ideas, heading the brand sales, organising Splash and things like that. We have honestly never ever fallen out over anything or had any kind of argument. There have been occasions where Alex felt strongly we should do one thing, and I wanted to do another thing, but we have always managed to resolve it. We were very young – and naïve! – when we started out business together, and we have evolved together. Back in the day, we were happy to take risks we now, with the knowledge we have and the stage in life we are at, just wouldn’t and couldn’t take, but it has made us a tight unit.

You obviously have a talent for seizing opportunities and developing your businesses. What’s next for you?

We are always keeping an eye on the market and opportunities, though sometimes they just find us! At Claret Showroom we are in the process of establishing a permanent US presence, as we have a number of brands that we represent there. And in terms of Splash, we may introduce a second show a year, later on in the dateline, probably around the end of September or October, showcasing s/s ready to wear collections. But right now, we’re eating, breathing and sleeping Splash, so all our focus is on the next edition of the show and making it another success.

photos: FashionUnited