Lyne Cohen-Solal

PARIS — While globally revered, France’s fashion industry is “impeded by its structures and history and not dynamic enough to face global challenges.”

So says socialist politician Lyne Cohen-Solal in a report that has made waves since its release during the holiday doldrums.

“Some said it was a bitter report. Not at all! I look at fashion with a benevolent eye,” said Cohen-Solal, former Paris deputy mayor in charge of commerce, craft and métiers d’art and elected in Paris’ fifth arrondissement since 2001. “I just pointed out that, for instance, it’s humiliating for France — the homeland of fashion — not having fashion recognized by university…I don’t blame anyone: what I assess is the result of a legacy that has become hard to manage. I make proposals to stand together and join forces,” she explained in an interview.

Her 52-page report is titled “With smartness and talent at the fingertips: fashion, a creative industry and growth driver.” In it, she draws attention to the fact that all finalists of French fashion’s most coveted competitions in 2015, including Hyères, ANDAM and LVMH’s Young Fashion Designer Prize, essentially came from three foreign schools three foreign schools: Central Saint Martins in London, La Cambre in Brussels and Aalto University in Helsinki.

To address this, France’s minister of culture and communication Fleur Pellerin, advised by Cohen-Solal, recently announced a “public elite university for fashion” a partnership between the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Mines ParisTech and Paris Dauphine University.

In early 2015, the Ministry of Culture and Communication together with the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs commissioned Cohen-Solal to create a report on the fashion industry — a sector she knows well since she had already been charged between 2001 and 2004 to promote the fashion sector in the capital.

WWD sat down with Cohen-Solal to discuss the key recommendations she outlined in her report:

Create synergies: There are more than 20 industry federations in France. This creates confusion, according to Cohen-Solal, who suggests creating at Fashion Forum where all players would meet once a year to discuss common interests and have a stronger voice when bringing them up to the government. These include lobbying actions to take into account the specificities of a métier in the French labor law that imposes a maximum number of work hours. It’s an impediment for the ateliers during Fashion Week, according to Cohen-Solal, who advocates for a more flexible legislation, comparing Paris Fashion Week to the grape harvest for the wine industry. “The sector employs 700,000: It’s more than the car industry: it better gain some visibility,” she urged.

Improve public education: In addition to the ENSAD — Mines ParisTech — Paris Dauphine University partnership, there are plans to create a research chair within a public university and a program that would be more art-oriented — a partnership between École Duperré and Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle university. Cohen-Solal also has a flurry of other suggestions: Schools should more systematically help students hook up with a business partner. “Not everyone is Yves Saint Laurent and has met his/her Pierre Bergé,” she said. Another lead is to encourage a cross-disciplinary approach. “Collectives such as Études Studio that dabble in arts, fashion, musics, etc. prove to be fruitful. We need to help these structures,” she said.

Create an effective financing system to help independent designers:“Designers are very isolated,” she said. She cited a recent report by McKinsey & Co. showing that the apparel, footwear and luxury sector has actually outperformed other high-growth sectors like high-tech, telecommunications, banking and retail in terms of shareholder value delivered. Yet banks and investors in France have cold feet, she deplored, before quoting Belgian entrepreneur Anne Chapelle, owner of Ann Demeulemeester and Haider Ackermann:  “You have first to know how much you can lose and for how long [before making a profit].”

She advocates the creation of an organization under the aegis of Defi, an entity for economic development and promotion of clothing industry, that would help dozens of designers — providing them with a range of services such as accounting and advice on legal matters, exports and communications — as well as coaching. The Defi has funds coming from the para-fiscal taxes on clothing: 0.07 percent on clothing sales and imports in France. In return for smoothing relationships with banks and financing institutions, the designers would have some obligations such as buying a certain percentage from French suppliers. “Fashion is a sector of the future,” Cohen-Solal stressed.

Negotiate with commercial real estate firms to feature designers: Municipalities should oblige real-estate developers to give a good play to independent designers in shopping centers. Cohen-Solal enthused about the opening later this year of a 4,300-square-foot space dedicated to upstart labels within the Forum des Halles shopping mall, revamped by Unibail-Rodamco, on the ground floor, under the canopy. It will be under the guidance of Regis Pennel, founder of online retailer L’Exception specializing in French labels.

Improve quality of service in Paris during Fashion Week: The annual impact of PFW on the city is estimated at 400 million euros, or $435 million at current exchange. “And that doesn’t include retail sales,” Cohen-Solal said. “Paris has to offer a quality of service at the top, starting from the welcoming at the airport to hospitality, parking facilities, etc.”

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