On the one hand, its perfume division has been powered by global bestsellers like 1 Million and Invictus, which trade off an image of conquering masculinity. On the other, the women’s ready-to-wear business has got its groove back under the creative direction of Julien Dossena, who has updated its signature chain mail for the modern era.
At times, finding common ground between the two has been something of a stretch, though as the Space Age brand celebrates its 50th anniversary, that is about to change, according to Bastien Daguzan, who took over as general director of Paco Rabanne fashion last year.
The company has implemented a new policy, One Rabanne, that aims to unify the two branches to better extract synergies. The strategy won’t come to fruition before 2019, when Paco Rabanne is expected to unveil its first fragrance with creative input from Dossena. “Broadly speaking, we have to take the fragrances upmarket and to make the fashion more accessible,” he said.
In the meantime, Daguzan aims to reset the overall tone of the brand with an advertising campaign introduced for spring, designed to appeal to Millennials by featuring women wearing its clothes, as opposed to previous advertisements highlighting lifestyle and design.
The idea is to introduce just one new campaign per year, to be complemented by digital activations involving influencers, in tandem with partnerships with leading retailers such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris, where Paco Rabanne recently opened a shop-in-shop, Selfridges in London or Dover Street Market in Tokyo.
Its current Paco Factory campaign, playing out on Instagram, features young creatives including Miami rapper 070 Shake and New York-based photographer and model Michael Bailey-Gates wearing T-shirts from Paco Rabanne’s second collaboration with graphic designer Peter Saville.
While the house has no major events planned to mark its anniversary, Dossena included in his fall collection several original designs by founder Paco Rabanne, who presented his first couture collection in 1966, calling it “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.” Puig acquired the brand in 1968.
In an interview with WWD, Daguzan talks about psychological price points, his “try and learn” approach, and climbing the digital learning curve.
WWD: How broad of a remit do you have as head of Paco Rabanne fashion?
Bastien Daguzan: My primary responsibility is over fashion, but the brand is also thinking about how fashion and fragrances can evolve hand-in-hand. That’s been a big focus for me, even though I don’t have direct responsibility over the perfume activities.
We have a project called One Rabanne that aims to create a holistic brand universe in the medium to long term. The idea is for fashion to play a bigger role in the perception of the brand and for fragrances to support fashion, on some projects, so that we set the tone of voice for the brand overall.
For example, we are thinking about a Paco Rabanne crew that could work for both perfumes and fashion, or ambassadors who might work for the perfume side or the fashion side, but who could provide a bridge between the two. The idea is to begin merging the two thanks to these friends of the house. We’re also trying to coordinate our digital activities. Even if we currently have two separate Instagram accounts, we’re trying to find ways to express the brand in a new way while preserving its particular resonance on the market.
Today, the target customer for fragrances is clearly not the same as for fashion, so we have to find ways to make them converge without harming the business, or making short-termist decisions. That is the major challenge we face today.
WWD: What was your analysis of the brand when you took over last year?
B.D.: I thought the foundation was very strong. There was a real vision of youth, with a very directional take, and it needed to be opened up a bit more.
That involved repositioning the brand both in terms of the product offer, which had to be improved, and communication, which had to be more inclusive. The work had been done with members of the industry, who have been supportive of the brand, and needed to be extended to the final consumer, who is the key decision maker today. That involves, of course, digital activations and direct interactions with the consumer. It requires a lot of agility and a new method that we have implemented, which is “try and learn.” In essence, we test things on a small scale and then we do them on a more global level.
Our communications strategy was segmented into institutional communication and product communication. We have tried to merge the two by embodying the concept, meaning that we now have models in the campaigns alongside the house’s iconic products.
The idea is to personify the vision of today’s Paco Rabanne in a relatable way. Relatability should be the main driver of the brand: in other words, do you want to be that girl, do you want to wear the clothes, and are they accessible, both in terms of price point and style? This is a brand that was born with founder Paco Rabanne’s show of “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials,” which is not an easy premise. While respecting our DNA, we are searching for a new way to express the brand and meet the needs of our customers, who are very much digital natives.
WWD: When did this first digital campaign launch?
B.G.: We are testing it on a local scale. We have a more large-scale online project in the pipeline, so the idea is for our digital learning curve to peak in time for the global launch, which won’t be until 2019.
We are partnering locally with department stores on social media campaigns. What we are doing with Galeries Lafayette is an excellent example of this. We define a global brand awareness strategy via the campaign, and the idea then is to bring that message to the consumer directly on a local level. As part of our “try and learn” policy, we introduced a new shop-in-shop format at Galeries Lafayette, which was a temporary space anchored to an event. We did a party with them and were featured in their catalogue — they kindly put us us on the cover — and in the store windows. As part of this virtuous ecosystem, we also created a digital activation with influencers and featured this on the Paco Rabanne fashion web site, in order to generate a direct interaction with the local consumer. What we have come to realize today is that, while we have global ambitions like any other brand, it’s about delegating power to influential local partners in order to guarantee a certain degree of flexibility in the development of the business. Finding the right tone of voice for each market is crucial, because you don’t communicate in the U.S. the same way that you do in Japan.
WWD: What lessons have you learned so far from your trials?
B.D.: We often see things from a brand perspective, and fail to appreciate that consumers are not always up to speed with every new evolution. We’re coming to realize that you should never assume any knowledge on the part of the consumer. You have to keep educating, transforming and informing. As a brand that produces a new collection every season, it’s about how we can create a lasting relationship and an ongoing conversation with the consumer. That is a huge learning curve for us as a brand.
WWD: Are you more interested in talking about the history of the Paco Rabanne brand, or about the current esthetic of the brand under the creative direction of Julien Dossena?
B.D.: I think it’s important to preserve the foundations of the brand, and Julien is very respectful of that heritage. This was apparent in his last show, which featured modern interpretations of the codes of the house, its assembly techniques and metal mesh. We are going even further with the ready-to-wear by trying to find ways to make these things, which are complicated by definition, more wearable. Julien Dossena’s reinterpretations are relevant for today. If we limited ourselves to copying the past, the end result would quickly feel outdated and irrelevant to customers today. [Although] we do use it to highlight our know-how. The last show featured some dresses from the archives that we mixed in with new designs, because Julien thought that some of these looks felt very modern today. These are special-order items that come at a certain cost. We make them to order and we hold trunk shows with some of our retail partners, such as Galeries Lafayette.
WWD: In terms of the ready-to-wear collection, you have lowered the average price point. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
B.D.: This was the first order of business when I joined. Having spoken to retail partners and customers that I knew, I thought the average price of the clothes could be a barrier to sales as the customer base is quite young. Naturally, you can reach that target group via specific product categories like the Bodyline collection, which is a real traffic driver in stores, but the brand should not be limited to that.
Instead, the idea is to create categories within our offer. At the top of the pyramid is our know-how, and here, price is not an issue. The second category is the fashion show, which really shows the breadth of Julien’s creativity. And then there is a third category, which is new, which I have loosely dubbed “easy wear.” It’s about finding new ways for Paco Rabanne to dress people in the street. Finally, there is the Bodyline collection, which generates a lot of volume and introduces a new type of customer to the brand, because that is our access price product. Thanks to this, we have lowered our average prices. To give you an idea, between spring 2018 and spring 2019, retail prices came down by 40 percent. In concrete terms, we have cast away the old model and we are working on the basis of psychological price points, rather than the classic fashion system of working from a cost price that you then mark up. The psychological price is based on a market benchmark. We hold product meetings where we set the price we think is fair to the consumer. We have reversed the logic, because it’s not up to the consumer to be at the whim of sourcing or fabrics. Rather, it’s up to the brand to adapt to everyday needs and realities.
WWD: How has Julien Dossena reacted to this?
B.D.: The idea was to make it as easy for him as possible. Firstly, he is a very smart person, someone you can have a conversation with, which is very helpful in terms of evolving these procedures. Secondly, there is market evidence. Our first two seasons together showed there were clear gaps in our offer. As a result, today it’s a collaborative effort that takes into account both creative and business considerations. I think we have found a middle way.
In pragmatic terms, say you are looking at fabric: if you want to arrive at a sensible average price for the consumer, it should cost between x and y. Then it’s up to the fabric manager to find fabrics that fit creative needs, but also meet business criteria. So it’s not a case of one or the other winning out, it’s both at the same time, and if you fail to meet both of these requirements, it doesn’t work. So that is the idea we have implemented, and then we also slashed our margins the first few seasons in order to drive volume. If you don’t take risks in fashion, you can’t get anything done.
WWD: What has been the impact on wholesale revenues?
B.D.: For fall 2018, the results are exceptional, since we are up 90 percent versus the previous winter. For summer 2018, we were up 20 percent compared with the previous summer, which means revenues are up by a little more than 50 percent this year. In terms of quantities, we are selling two and a half times the amount sold the prior year. So everything makes sense. The secret is how we are doing it, because it seems simple in theory, but in practice, it involves constant negotiation with the team, with the designer and with the parent company.
WWD: What percentage of sales does the Bodyline collection account for?
B.D.: Twenty percent of revenues.
WWD: And that’s within 18 months of launching?
B.D.: Yes, exactly. Initially, the Bodyline collection consisted of a top, a shorty, underwear and leggings, and it was very activewear-oriented. It has evolved since then to encompass items like parkas, pants, jackets and Windbreakers.
WWD: What is the percentage of online sales, both on your own site and through partners such as Net-a-porter?
B.D.: Net-a-porter.com, Matchesfashion.com, Moda Operandi and Shopbop have all picked up the fall 2018 collection. In terms of my strategy, I wanted to develop three axes. The first was to be present in top doors only, even if the product positioning has been revised, in order to send a strong message about the brand positioning. The second was to partner locally with multibrand stores that share the spirit of the house in terms of its eclecticism, its values and a young target customer — so we’re happy to take risks on that front. Finally, we want to have a new learning curve in retail, whether through our own flagship in Paris, our e-commerce site or our shop-in-shop formats, in order to get to know our customer better. Having these new online partners is going to give us a real visibility on which pieces the customer responds to. It’s a huge online push. Our customers are young, so they’re mobile addicts. We’ve also just signed for a more permanent presence at Galeries Lafayette, where we opened a shop-in-shop this month in the first floor women’s department between Chloé and Balenciaga.
WWD: In terms of reaching a more democratic target, are you not worried that positioning the brand between these two designer labels could intimidate a younger consumer?
B.D.: Of course. It’s important to establish a clear environment for the brand, because otherwise, the risk is that people buy only the Bodyline product and position us in zones where we don’t want to sit. I don’t want us to end up as an underwear brand. So we are starting there, but we wouldn’t mind eventually sitting alongside the likes of Balenciaga, Chloé, Kenzo and Acne Studios. All this is a matter for future discussion, and we are very adaptable on that front. At this point, what we’re after is foot traffic.
We have further shops-in-shop and pop-ups in the pipeline. This year, we will be at Selfridges in London and Dover Street Market in Tokyo. The idea is to start with pop-up stores and depending on how they perform, to negotiate a more permanent presence. Then we will be coming to Isetan in Tokyo and Galeries Lafayette in Shanghai.
WWD: What can you tell me about your new digital campaign?
B.D.: In the past, the Paco Rabanne campaigns were still lifes. The first change here is that there is a model in the picture. The images were art directed by Julien Dossena with Marc Ascoli, and styled by Marie-Amélie Sauvé. Rather than doing seasonal campaigns, we will be producing campaigns on an annual basis because the idea is to communicate about the brand, rather than a particular collection.
The first images broke in the February issues of selected magazines, and a second round, this time featuring items from the fall collection, will appear in publications such as Self Service, Pop, i-D, CR Fashion Book and System in September. In parallel to that, we are working out how best to target our customers online. Photos are great, but they’re no longer enough, so we are also adding a video component [that] is very Instagram-friendly. This gives you the scope to express the brand in a slightly different way that speaks directly to the consumer. In addition, we’re developing digital activations where we create content with different media partners.
We have someone working full-time on reorganizing the house archives, which is a huge project. The idea is to have a database, including film footage, that we can share with our partners and members of the press. We’re also working on other projects, but the idea is to focus on smaller projects that speak directly to the customer and allow us to have an interaction and discuss the brand in a fairly diverse and eclectic way, rather than running a global campaign.
WWD: What more can you tell me about the One Rabanne project? In recent years, the brand’s fashion and fragrance activities appear to have been two completely separate entities, with the only uniting factor between them the use of metal.
B.D.: I believe the brand must evolve in two directions. Broadly speaking, we have to take the fragrances upmarket and to make the fashion more accessible, so it’s about how to achieve that without betraying the brand, which is all about eclecticism. The metal theme links the two, but that’s not enough. It’s an example, but it does not constitute a global brand image.
This brand is non-conformist, eclectic and humorous, in a sense. It’s about finding the right emphasis so that the fragrances aren’t too humorous and the fashion isn’t too cerebral. One thing the two sides have in common is the history of the brand, so the question is, how we can create a common universe for the brand starting from there? We’re working on it and there are some surprises in store, starting in 2019, probably. One Rabanne is not a concept, it has to be a reality.
WWD: It’s tricky, because the fragrance advertising has been so successful that you don’t want to damage that image. Fortunately or unfortunately, the launch campaign for One Million was very striking.
B.D.: Indeed, it was one of the most striking of the last few decades, so we do have to bear that in mind. It’s a strength of the fragrance side, and it’s also the biggest risk for the fashion side. The target customer is not the same. The brand is so huge that naturally, you need to be very vigilant to preserve these brand building blocks.
In 2018, we’re going to finetune or improve our strategy through “try and learn” projects. It’s fascinating because it’s very complex. You’re talking about two completely different ecosystems. If you manage to inspire people to work together, you achieve brilliant results. That is the most gratifying thing for a manager or even for the teams. I think we have crossed a threshold where we have found a way for our ecosystems to meet. I would say the bulk of the job is done.