“Having an education is a big, big asset in life,” says Sidney Toledano, who this week was elected chairman of the Paris fashion school Institut Français de la Mode, or IFM.
Toledano, who takes on the IFM title in addition to his full-time job as chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group and a member of the LVMH executive committee, has been on the IFM board for 24 years and vice chairman the last five, demonstrating his commitment to the transmission of knowledge that is key in fashion and luxury.
Toledano was elected at a closed-doors assembly on June 14, and he succeeds André Beirnaert, the textile executive who took over the presidency following IFM founder Pierre Bergé’s death in 2017.
Anne Dellière, Compagnie Financière Richemont’s group marketing and strategic plan director, succeeds Toledano as vice chairman.
Toledano was previously president of the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, which in 2019 merged with France’s IFM management school in a bid to become a world-class fashion school uniting business, design and savoir-faire.
That year, Condé Nast France executive Xavier Romatet was named general manager and dean of the IFM.
In a statement following Toledano’s election, Romatet lauded his “incomparable experience, his in-depth knowledge of global fashion and his multiple connections.
“His presence at our side will enable us to strengthen the influence of Institut Français de la Mode and its international appeal,” Romatet added.
In an exclusive interview with WWD, Toledano said his ambition is to elevate the school’s reputation as “one of the best for fashion management and fashion design.
“The main objective is to attract an international audience, to assure excellence in the level of teaching and research, and to be as inclusive as possible,” he added.
And as the conversation around fashion enlarges to NFTs, the metaverse and Web3 applications, his goal is to build bridges with educational and research institutions dedicated to technology and digital innovation, in addition to centers dedicated to textile research.
Toledano lauded the steady hand of Beirnaert’s long tenure, and gave a shout-out to Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, for helping to mobilize the industry behind the creation of a larger, stronger IFM.
An engineering graduate of École Centrale Paris, Sidney Toledano began his career at market research firm AC Nielsen, eventually finding his way into fashion when he took the helm of footwear concern Kickers and leather goods brand Lancel. But he is best known for his illustrious 20-year career helming Christian Dior, catapulting it to the pinnacle of luxury.
He now oversees an array of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton brands including Celine, Loewe, Givenchy, Kenzo, Pucci, Marc Jacobs, Patou and Moynat.
He described education as “the best passport, the best bridge to succeed in a career, or in entrepreneurship” and noted that today’s fashion students enter an increasingly complex industry grappling with digitalization, sustainability and a turbulent socio-political backdrop.
He touted that about a fifth of students at IFM have a scholarship, thanks largely to generous contributions from corporate donors. “We want it to be accessible to people, particularly on the creative side,” he said. “I’d love to see our design students competing for the LVMH Prize or the ANDAM prize, opening their own companies or joining big studios.”
Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the IFM has charted rapid growth, tripling the number of students over the last four years, and more than tripling the number of academic programs to 17.
Come September, when classes resume, the IFM is expecting 400 students in fashion design, 400 students in management and 300 students in savoir-faire.
A suave, warm and wise figure on the Paris fashion scene, Toledano has had ties to the IFM when there were fewer than 100 people at the school. “I’ve always been excited by this school and its spirit,” he enthused.
Over the years, Toledano has addressed students innumerable times about the realities of creative management and business imperatives, always appreciating their no-holds-barred questions, and relishing visits to classrooms where prototypes for dresses, bags and shoes are created.
“Presence is important: doing a course, helping, encouraging,” he said. “I’m really passionate about studios and ateliers, and you see these students are really well prepared to enter large fashion companies, or start their own brands.”
Toledano’s election comes as the IFM gears up for its first physical fashion show on the eve of Paris Fashion Week for menswear. The June 20 display at IFM’s new campus in Paris will showcase the final collections by 32 bachelor of arts in fashion design students.
Each is to parade six looks that integrate a sustainable development, technological or ethical element, according to the IFM, which introduced the three-year bachelor design program in 2019.
The program has attracted about 250 students, 44 percent of them from outside of France, over the past three years, according to the IFM, noting that “a significant need-based scholarship fund sponsored by the companies of the IFM Foundation allows the school to welcome all creative talents into the program, regardless of their financial situation.”
The foundation is funded by 35 companies including Adidas, Balenciaga, Burberry, Celine, Chanel, Chloé, Dior, Farfetch, Hermès, Kering, L’Oréal, Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, and offers scholarships to about 130 students per academic term. Fashion executives also teach, offer masterclasses, and participate in juries.
The IFM’s new 86,000-square-foot headquarters, designed by architect Patrick Mauger and built at a cost of 15 million euros, opened in January and now houses courses catering to all levels of fashion education, from vocational training to Ph.D.
Founded in 1986 by Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint’s Laurent’s business partner, the IFM has produced designers such as Guillaume Henry and Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, though it is mainly known for churning out world-class managers who have filled the ranks of leading luxury groups.
It is supported by the French Ministry of Industry and is known for its academic and market research. Nina Ricci’s Guillaume Henri and Ami designer Alexandre Mattiussi are among graduates of the IFM’s design program.
Famous alumni of the the École de la Chambre Syndicale, founded in 1927, include Valentino Garavani, Yves Saint Laurent, André Courrèges, Issey Miyake and Tomas Maier, though in recent decades it has been overtaken by overseas competitors such as London’s Central Saint Martins and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.
Toledano wears a few other hats in the industry: He’s also a committee member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and on the executive committee of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.