PARIS — As the Institut Français de la Mode continues on its trajectory to “the world’s best fashion school,” executive director Sylvie Ebel has been distinguished for fighting the good fight for more than 30 years.
On Thursday, the education executive received the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest distinction, during a ceremony at the school’s campus.
Sidney Toledano, the chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group and president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, bestowed the rank of Chevalier (or knight) upon Ebel.
The fashion executive, who was elected this year as chairman of the Paris-based fashion school, repeatedly lauded Ebel’s “engagement, loyalty, solidity and discretion,” adding a personal note about the “calm she diffused throughout the school and her impressive ability for listening.”
A graduate of France’s prominent HEC business school, Ebel began her career in 1981 when she joined the Printemps department store as fashion buyer, private label and lingerie.
Toledano recalled her comment that this position was a “disruptive choice” at a time where business schools didn’t prepare for such professional tracks, leading her to discover a “less rational and more emotional world.”
A chance meeting with another HEC graduate, Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode executive president Pascal Morand, who was at the time general manager of the IFM, led to her arrival at the school in 1992. It was the start of a 31-years-and-counting tenure that saw her become secretary general in 1993 and head its entire educational branch.
After the 1999 merger between the IFM and the Centre Textile de Conjoncture et d’Observation Economique, an institution dedicated to studies on production, consumption and trade in the textile industry, Ebel was named deputy general manager of the resulting school.
She was also instrumental in the later fusion of the IFM and the École de la Chambre Syndicale, said Toledano, highlighting her role in the construction of the campus in the Cité de la Mode et du Design, a striking contemporary building on the banks of the Seine.
“As an engineer, I love making stores, buildings. I was told of this campus project and I asked where the plans were, so I summoned [Ebel],” said Toledano, recalling being impressed by her “rigor and sense of detail” upon seeing the plans.
Serving under three general managers was less a demonstration of Ebel’s adaptability than of her “personal qualities of intelligence, rigor, benevolence and most of all, her competence and knowledge of the IFM.”
“What this story says is the multitude of emotional connections created by and thanks to IFM, far beyond professional acquaintances. I could give multiple examples with [you all] who have come [to the ceremony],” said Ebel, looking at an eclectic crowd of fashion executives, industry friends, fellow higher education directors and family.
Calling the school “a company like no other that has an ambience and a particular spirit to which each [person] contributes in their own way,” she expressed her satisfaction at the school’s recognition as a private higher education establishment of general interest, or or EESPIG, by the French government.
Beyond her personal achievement, Ebel paid particular homage to the women of IFM, calling them the “backbone of the house, its pillars who have been there since the start or who arrived over the years.”
“I am proud to represent them tonight and that through me, their implication, their resilience and their exceptional loyalty are highlighted,” she continued, noting that she hoped their male colleagues would not mind this feminist moment.
Ebel was among the inductees of the Légion d’Honneur’s New Year decree in 2019, which is published on New Year’s Day every year by France’s Journal Officiel, distinguished as the general manager of a higher education institution in fashion with a 40-year career.
France’s highest distinction, the Légion d’Honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte to recognize both civil and military merit. Its order counts some 92,000 members who received the award for “their eminent merits in service of the [French] nation.”
Toledano was named a knight of the Legion of Honor in 2005.
It has five degrees of increasing distinction, from Chevalier to Grand-Croix (grand-cross). Only French nationals can be inducted into the order, while foreigners may receive the distinction if they have rendered cultural or economic services to France, or supported causes such as human rights or humanitarian actions.