PARIS — Suzy Menkes is mad — and is crossing swords with American magazine editors, including Anna Wintour, in the process.
The fashion editor of The International Herald Tribune on Monday fired off an angry letter to organizers of Paris fashion week to express her displeasure at the schedule of shows March 7 to 15 and with the organization as a whole. In her view, Paris fashion week has become a grueling marathon in which luxury groups and established brands are allowed to trample over smaller houses.
As reported, organizers concentrated so-called major shows into the first five days at the request of American editors who have been lobbying for an abbreviated international calendar. The campaign was partially spearheaded by Wintour, Vogue’s editor in chief.
Calling the schedule “inhumane and unacceptable” Menkes wrote a letter to Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. “The attempt to compress the shows of the big and powerful groups into just five days works contrary to the spirit of Paris fashion, which has always welcomed all designers in a democratic way and has allowed small talents to root and to grow. I abhor the idea of a two-tier system.”
Menkes wrote that when European editors and retailers asked “to define the ‘big’ shows, we were told that this mostly applied to designers from the big groups, LVMH [Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton] and Gucci Group and any other ‘major advertisers.”‘
In addition, Menkes wrote that in meetings with other European fashion editors and retail representatives, the consensus was that they wanted a cutoff point for official shows at 8 p.m. each evening. She wrote in her letter that on the first three days of Paris shows, the last shows are at 8:30 p.m., 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
“On Tuesday March 12, there are 13 shows. This is an inhuman and unacceptable schedule. A 14-hour working day makes a mockery of the fact that France is the first country in the world to have adopted a 35-hour working week,” wrote Menkes.
But a spokesman for Vogue takes issue with Menkes’s complaints. “We agree that the Paris show schedule calls for lengthy days. However, the days are not markedly longer than in the past.”
As for smaller designers falling through the cracks, the Vogue spokesman said, “We manage to cover everyone in New York, so we should be able to cover everyone in Paris.”
Grumbach allowed that the schedule is “too concentrated” and vowed that “the situation we have this season will not be the same in October. We’ll do better next time.”
Of course, pleasing everyone is a near impossibility, Grumbach said. “You can’t make Anna Wintour happy, because she wants to go back to New York, and also please Suzy Menkes, who wants to go to all the shows she loves,” he said.
Others share Menkes’s view.
Maria Luisa Poumaillou, owner of Maria Luisa boutiques in Paris, called the calendar scandalous. Poumaillou said young designers will suffer most. “People like Angelo Figus, Bless, Lutz — designers that I should see, that I carry — I won’t be able to go to their show,” she said. “Before, Paris wasn’t like Milan, where editors went just to see advertisers. It was a place of discovery, where you were able to cultivate surprise. Those days are over.”
Reached in Milan, Joan Kaner, senior vice president, fashion director, Neiman Marcus, said, “It is a very long day. Everybody would like to see a shorter day and fewer shows at night. And a 9:30 p.m. show will start at 10, 10:30, and you don’t get out until after 11.”
– Robert Murphy, Miles Socha, Paris and Lisa Lockwood, New York