PARIS — See-now, buy-now? Non, merci.
The Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode is sticking by its guns and will shun the consumer-show juggernaut.
“We have a common position on this issue. What is Paris? Paris is undisputedly the fashion capital of creation,” said federation president Ralph Toledano. “As far as we are concerned, the present system is still valid.”
The head of French fashion’s governing body said its board unanimously decided to maintain the capital’s winning formula — with runway shows taking place a season before collections are sold at retail. The next session is scheduled for March 1 to 9, showcasing lines for fall.
The federation had appointed a task force whose members included Dior chief executive officer Sidney Toledano; Chanel’s president of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky; Saint Laurent ceo Francesca Bellettini, and Hermès executive vice president of manufacturing division and equity investments Guillaume de Seynes. They were charged to review options in the wake of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s decision to explore if New York’s fashion shows should be transformed into consumer events featuring in-season collections that are already on retail racks. The results of a Boston Consulting Group survey commissioned by the CFDA are to be tabled sometime next month.
Meanwhile, Burberry, Tom Ford and Mulberry are among London-based brands that plan to adopt a consumer-focused model to narrow the gap between runway and delivery, as reported.
In Paris, fashion houses on the federation’s executive board that agreed to maintain the current system are Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Nina Ricci, Hermès, Chloé, Agnes b., Issey Miyake, Isabel Marant, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Sonia Rykiel, Leonard, Dries Van Noten, Maison Margiela, Paul Smith and Kenzo.
In an interview, Toledano noted the federation canvassed its members, which operate luxury boutiques around the world, to find out if consumers were up in arms over the fact that they could not find what was shown on the runway immediately in stores.
“There is not one person who said it was a problem,” he marveled. “Our clientele is educated and informed on how the system works.”
In a wide-ranging conversation, Toledano outlined a variety of reasons for maintaining the status quo in Paris. For one, France’s luxury goods sector is thriving — a star industry that has created tens of thousands of jobs, even amid a morose economic backdrop for Europe’s third-largest economy.
The fashion business provides some 500,000 jobs and generates 125 billion euros, or over $130 billion at current exchange, in revenues, 40 percent of them achieved at export. Toledano noted that the federation’s 90 members export 80 percent of their production, suggesting robust international demand for French apparel and leather goods at the designer level.
“Our companies are extremely healthy. They have grown consistently over the last 20 years,” he said.
According to Toledano, “fashion” has become an umbrella term for three different types of businesses: “creative designer brands,” “marketing-driven brands” and “lifestyle brands.”
While he declined to give examples of the latter two, he noted that brands in those categories recently started staging fashion shows in other cities, which has popularized the idea of consumer-facing shows.
“It’s a promotional tool some companies use. When I think of those marketing-driven brands, the idea of opening shows to the public and adding entertainment might make those events more interesting from a consumer point of view,” he said. “The product might not be the center of the event. I think it makes absolute sense for those brands.”
But “this was never the case in Paris because you have to go through the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter and we have precise criteria.”
The Chambre chooses designers for its official calendar based on creativity, craftsmanship and innovation, and considers them on an international scale.
Toledano asserted that the blend of French, Belgian, Japanese, Italian, British and American names on the Paris schedule — along with other nationalities — makes the city’s shows “the highlight of fashion weeks all over the world. Most of the best shows take place in Paris. This is not an accident.”
What’s more, fashion shows by designer-driven brands are targeted at a select group of opinion leaders and industry experts who gather to view the clothes in close proximity in order to appreciate the movement of fabric and fine details, he added.
Toledano said it would be difficult for designer-driven brands to shift to an in-season model for creative and logistical reasons.
For one, top fashion designers thrive on the pressure and competition of fashion week — and typically tire of their collection the minute it has hit the catwalk, compelling them to create their next one. “You cannot ask them to finish the collection and freeze it to show in four months’ time,” he said.
Another barrier: Moving to an in-season format would require having buyers and editors view collections under embargo. This would not eliminate leaks of imagery as clothes circulate among showrooms, factories and magazines for photo shoots.
“Instead of us controlling our image, our image would be in the hands of pirates,” Toledano said, noting that photos of collections would routinely leak out long before the Internet boom.
The advent of social media has given consumers virtual access to what had previously been a professional gathering for editors and retailers, compelling more fashion houses to consider a switch.
Toledano stressed that French fashion companies are embracing technology and using it for communications, customer relationship management, supply chain and inventory management — virtually every single aspect of the business.
“We put technology at the service of our business model,” he said. “We have to use technology and it will bring consistent improvements to our business, but it’s important not to be driven by technology.”
There are also mechanical considerations, according to the executive.
“Behind a fashion show is an industry. There is a supply chain. It takes several weeks to produce fabrics. It takes some weeks to sew and embellish the garments,” he said. “The supply chain is something very precise and very organized. It’s not something you can ignore. It’s a reality.”
Toledano noted production processes vary greatly between designer fashions and more banal and basic apparel.
“We are talking about different animals with different collection-building processes, with very different distribution, different supply chains,” said Toledano, who is also president of Puig’s fashion division, which includes the Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier houses.
Indeed, hinting at the perils of a marketing driven approach, Toledano quoted late Apple founder Steve Jobs: “It is not the client’s role to know what he wants.”
For the designer customer, “Desire and dreams are part of the buying process. Our customer does not need another coat,” he said. “Listening too much to the marketing kills creativity.”
Advanced companies such as Apple employ similar tactics to the fashion industry: Unveiling and publicizing products before they are released to build anticipation and stoke desire. Ditto for the film industry, with Toledano characterizing the Cannes Film Festival as a giant teasing.
He used another analogy to explain the element of delayed gratification that is integral to the luxury realm.
“When you have a Swatch and you take it for repairs, you want it back tomorrow,” he said. “When you have a Patek Philippe and you take it to Place Vendôme and they tell you it will take four months to inspect your watch, you say, ‘Wow, I have something special.’”
Toledano marveled that buy-now, wear-now has become such a popular rallying cry when he spies a more glaring and damaging phenomenon: Sales periods that are disconnected with changing climate patterns and customer buying impulses.
“We have to be careful that fashion becomes as promotional as other articles,” the executive said. “The problem is the sales period worldwide. It is detrimental to all of us. It’s shooting ourselves in the foot.”
He also noted that the federation plans to corral the sprawling pre-collection season in Paris, which now spans multiple weeks.
“I would like to have a calendar for pre-collections,” he said. “I think it would make sense to give better service to the retailers and the press that they know in advance when pre-collections will be shown in Paris.”
To wit: Pascal Morand, the federation’s executive president and an adviser to Toledano, has been tasked to study the topic and table options in the coming weeks.
Toledano said the goal is to define a specific period for pre-collections when the lion’s share of French brands would show.
As for the main fashion weeks, Toledano stopped short of saying in-season displays would be forgiven. At least one brand that shows in Paris, Vetements, said it wishes to eventually swap seasons to increase sell-through.
Toledano said the federation encourages smaller designer companies that aren’t equipped to do pre-collections to take bookings on the bulk of its seasonal offering well ahead of fashion week in order to order to ensure more timely deliveries. A small number of new styles can be added for the catwalk showcase.
The Chambre’s decision follows the statements last week by Kering chairman and ceo François-Henri Pinault, who said he was against the idea of showing collections six months after they are designed. “In luxury, I think that is a mistake. The notion of ‘see-now, wear-now, or sell-now,’ for example, is a negation of dreaming, of desire,” he said. “The catwalk show is an integral part of the creative process. You don’t cut the creative process in two in a luxury brand.”