PARIS — Who could have imagined 15 years ago that men’s fashion week in Paris would become a force to be reckoned with?
Certainly not Ralph Toledano, the newly elected president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode.
“Nobody cared about Paris for men’s back then,” he said, marveling that the showcase has blossomed into a bustling five-day affair, arguably challenging Europe’s traditional men’s runway hub of Milan. “Because we are strong, Thom Browne shows here and we are happy to have him. Something has happened in this country.”
According to federation tallies, there were 36 men’s shows in 1999 versus 51 last month.
Toledano, who is also to continue as president of the fashion division at Puig, arrives at the helm of French fashion’s governing body to find the fashion capital in rude health — which is why he is adopting an urgent, proactive stance to widen Paris’ lead.
“You have to challenge yourself tremendously because you want to stay on top and you want to be better,” he said. “We want the most exciting shows to happen here.”
He acknowledged a changing of the guard at fashion weeks in Milan and London in the past two years — with the Italian Camera Nazionale della Moda appointing advertising guru Jane Reeve as its chief executive officer, and the British Fashion Council tapping Net-a-porter founder Natalie Massenet as its chairman — provides an extra impetus.
“I think competition is excellent,” he said, flashing a smile. “It gives us more reason to be very demanding on ourselves.”
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Toledano, who succeeds longtime president Didier Grumbach after the latter’s 16-year tenure, speaks in plural because he insists it’s a “team effort” thanks to a five-person executive committee Grumbach introduced to bolster the federation’s brain trust, multiply its missions and speed decision-making.
Besides Toledano, the committee’s members are Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel; Guillaume de Seynes, managing director at Hermès; Sidney Toledano, ceo of Dior, and fashion consultant and Hermès veteran Stéphane Wargnier, who was named executive president of the federation to run its day-to-day operations, given Ralph Toledano’s professional commitments.
“They are brilliant people, it’s really an asset,” Toledano said of his fellow committee members, noting that rivalries vanish when the executives gather in one room with the common goal of boosting Paris fashion. “I love it because it’s not a one-man show,” he enthused.
That said, Wargnier will take Grumbach’s seat at federation headquarters on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where it has been since 1935. “Stéphane is going to do the job,” he stressed.
Toledano said his overriding mission is to solidify Paris as the “unrivaled fashion capital of the world,” bolster training and education initiatives and cultivate and support new talent.
“We also need more financing than we have today to make all of those things happen,” he added.
Toledano said it’s too soon to map out concrete initiatives, but he hinted the federation would become “even more selective” to ensure that fashion weeks in Paris — headlined by the nine-day marathon of women’s ready-to-wear twice a year — mount in quality.
“The idea is not to make it longer; the idea is to make it stronger. Each show must deserve to be on the calendar,” he said, suggesting a Paris time slot could be rescinded for designers not up to snuff.
While Toledano is in the discreet mold of Grumbach, he acknowledged the federation could communicate more forcefully about its activities and accomplishments. To be sure, it has widened the footprint and appeal of Paris fashion weeks in tandem with the advance of French luxury, now a major economic force.
“Paris has been extremely low-key,” Toledano said, attributing that to the working style of Grumbach, a “visionary” who magnified the international complexion of the French capital and forged key trade and cultural relations with such powerful emerging economies as China, India and Brazil.
Among the federation’s quiet accomplishments was to prop up the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Toledano asserted that, with its unique mix of creative and technical education, it could become a legitimate challenger to fashion’s most famous school, London’s Central Saint Martins.
The École recently exhibited the graduation work of its fourth-year students, showcasing muslin prototypes and photos in an installation format that received wide acclaim.
Toledano said he does not view his federation role as an additional job, but rather an additional responsibility.
“Fashion is not a job for me,” he said. “It’s really something I love.”