PARIS — Ralph Toledano has been elected president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, opening a new chapter at a governing body that has catapulted Paris to become a preeminent fashion capital.
This story first appeared in the July 2, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
He succeeds Didier Grumbach, 77, who has headed the federation since 1998, and quietly laid the groundwork for his exit over the past two years. He is to pass the reins officially in September.
At the federation’s general assembly here on Tuesday, Grumbach was named honorary president in recognition of his achievements invigorating couture, helping young designers and giving the French fashion capital its international complexion.
Toledano, president of Puig’s fashion division since 2012, will remain in that role in addition to his new responsibility helming the federation.
In light of Toledano’s professional obligations, overseeing fashion houses including Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier, the federation created a new post — that of executive president — to be held by fashion consultant and Hermès veteran Stéphane Wargnier.
Toledano told WWD that Wargnier would implement the strategy set by him and the federation’s executive committee, calling Grumbach an exceptional person who can be “succeeded, but never replaced.”
In 2012, Grumbach instituted a five-member executive committee to bolster the federation’s brain trust, multiply its missions and speed decision-making. Its members are Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel; Guillaume de Seynes, managing director at Hermès, and Sidney Toledano, chief executive officer of Christian Dior. Ralph Toledano and Wargnier round out the committee.
“It’s a dream team,” Ralph Toledano said, calling the committee approach a “stable and modern governance body” to continue building on Paris’ strengths, and meet future challenges.
A pensive and discreet executive very much in the mold of Grumbach, also sharing his strong relationships with a broad swath of retailers, Toledano has helmed a number of fashion houses, including Chloé, Guy Laroche and Karl Lagerfeld.
He was already a committee member as head of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. He will not run for reelection when the vote is held in October.
The federation comprises three trade associations, each known as a Chambre Syndicale, for couture, women’s ready-to-wear and men’s fashions. Together, they boast about 100 corporate members, including companies from France, Japan, Italy and Belgium, reflecting the increasingly global complexion of fashion.
Grumbach, a popular and indefatigable figure on the Paris fashion scene, was founder and former president of Thierry Mugler before joining the federation. A key instigator in the country’s nascent rtw business in the Fifties and Sixties, he is a living encyclopedia about French fashion’s creative legacy, and its industrial history.
At the federation, he has been a vocal and peripatetic cheerleader for Paris as the cradle of world fashion, frequently traveling to China, India and other emerging markets to wave the flag for the French capital, and build trade relations.
According to him, “We are all the same market: the world. There are no frontiers.”
Today, the calendar for Paris Fashion Week boasts designers of 25 nationalities, as Grumbach accelerated a tradition that stretches back more than 100 years, when Paul Poiret invited English designer Lucy Duff Gordon, widely credited for inventing the runway show, to come to Paris.
“We never had that notion of nationalism in fashion,” Grumbach said.
A 2013 survey of 30 of the federation’s largest members found they have cumulative revenues, excluding fragrances, of 15 billion euros, or $19.92 billion at average exchange rates, and employ 35,000 people. Exports accounted for 87 percent of sales.
Born in 1937, Grumbach grew up in the fashion business at his family’s clothing manufacturing company C. Mendès in the Sentier district of Paris, ultimately taking charge of exports.
He recalled renting suite 901 at The Plaza hotel and selling such French labels as Lanvin, Jean Dessès and Emanuel Ungaro to retailers including I. Magnin and Lord & Taylor. His eyes widened when he saw the buyers jotting down quantities unheard of in France — six to eight in each size for each garment.
Alongside Pierre Bergé, he helped found Yves Saint Laurent’s rtw line, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, in 1966, and chaired YSL’s American subsidiary.
In 1971, eager to help other budding French designers, Grumbach founded Créateurs et Industriels (Creators and Industrials) with interiors maven Andrée Putman as a forum for fashion designers to meet manufacturers and sell their designs. Though short-lived, the company helped launch the careers of the likes of Issey Miyake, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Thierry Mugler.
In 1978, Didier Grumbach became the president of Mugler’s fashion house as well as a shareholder in Thierry Mugler perfumes.
He compiled his experiences and brushes with some of the 20th century’s most important fashion figures in a book, “Histoires de la Mode,” originally published in 1993 and since released in countries including Japan, Brazil, Romania and China, where apparel manufacturers were “interested to know how brands are created,” Grumbach said.
An updated English translation, titled “History of International Fashion,” is to be released this fall in the U.S., U.K. and India, and Grumbach hinted he had other book ideas brewing, pointing to his archive of documents, and recounting his own rich career lore, including that he produced 19,000 garments for Air France designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga around the time the Spanish fashion legend closed his couture house.
In an interview, Grumbach said his role became much more diplomatic and strategic in recent years due to his international approach, and competition from other fashion capitals flush with government aid.
During his tenure, he started a fund called Mode et Finance that takes minority stakes in promising young designers; created an initiative called Designers Apartment that encourages young designers to take orders before putting their collections on the runway, and established the Cercle Saint-Roch to strengthen ties between member companies and students at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs.
Couture was always a particular passion for Grumbach, who could often be seen welling up at fashion shows. He championed new high-fashion entrants such as Bouchra Jarrar and Alexis Mabille, as well as stalwarts including Adeline André, viewing couture as a versatile tool, platform and observatory for business and creativity.
Grumbach’s successor as president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture is to be elected at a later date.