Moving Fashion Forward
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
What makes Paris fashion week the pinnacle of the industry is not just the collections from venerable French houses, such as Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Lanvin. No matter the brand, the Paris shows cultivate a sense of tradition and respect for craft. It is a mood that is established by history and maintained by the efforts of the president of the Fédération Français de la Couture, Didier Grumbach, who if he had his way would make the week an even more civilized affair.
While fashion week in New York is a splashy, visible event, the Paris shows are, for the most part, more discreet. The calendar of shows is created by the Fédération, a governing body that includes divisions for couture, ready-to-wear, and menswear. The division that presides over couture was established in 1868, which lends a sense of tradition to the proceedings. In New York, a centralized fashion week was created in 1993 by the industry group 7th on Sixth; that group was bought in 2001 by the sports and entertainment group IMG, which today produces the New York event, as well as fashion weeks in Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Moscow.
Backed by history, Mr. Grumbach’s organization guards the gate closely. Designers who show in Paris need not be French or based in France, but they must sell internationally. Brands that sell only to the French market are not permitted to show. “We request that they sell in Asia and America before we put them on the calendar,” Mr. Grumbach said.
Furthermore, no secondary lines are shown on the French runways. Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, for example, is presented to buyers and the press within a showroom, while the Sonia Rykiel collection is given a full runway show. “A fashion show is a demonstration. If the product is such that it sells on the hanger, why show it on models?” Mr. Grumbach said.
New York’s rules are looser. Emerging designers who may only sell to a few key stores may show in the tents. And the calendar contains a designer’s top collection as well as additional lines.
The Fédération also deals with the industry’s lobbying issues, which in America are taken up by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Now led by Diane von Furstenburg, the CFDA has been taking the lead on issues such as cracking down on counterfeiting. And that is also one of Mr. Grumbach’s top agenda items. “We are extremely interested in things that protect designs,” he said. “We are reassured by the actions of Diane von Furstenburg.”
But Mr. Grumbach has a larger fix in mind, too. Like many in the industry, he argues that the fashion cycle is too fast — so fast as to be perverse. What he advocates is not slowing things down, but operating more efficiently — and with the protection of the designs in mind.
Given a magic wand, he would establish a system (which would actually be a return to the way it was) in which designers present their collections to a limited, carefully chosen group of editors and buyers. “Each house doesn’t need to receive everyone. When you receive 1,500 journalists, you receive none of them,” he said, giving an example: “It’s far better to say, ‘Hello, Ms. Wintour. How are you?’ rather than have her sitting alone in the first row because nobody had the time.”
If the houses were more selective, the information would be disseminated in a more controlled manner. As it stands now, the new collections are on the Internet almost as fast as the models walk down the runway. Editors hype the looks. Shoppers are excited by what they can’t buy for months. And the knockoffs are in production immediately. In the most reductive terms, by the time a garment hits the stores, it’s old news.
In Mr. Grumbach’s words: “We run, run, run, but as soon as the design is seen, it is owned by everyone.”
If the designs and collections were kept under wraps until just before the deliveries were made, consumers would see the images and then be able to buy them immediately. To pave the way, Mr. Grumbach has created En avant-première! on the Fédération’s Web site, modeaparis.com. It allows designers to post photos from their collection closer to the time of delivery; points of sale are also listed.
“Even if the runway show was in March, we put it on our site when it is delivered in July,” he said. “We know that it is an extremely tiny step. But you can’t change in one minute something that has been destroyed over 15 years. You just have to prepare the way and hope the designers will use the concept.”
And if it takes 20 years to change, that’s okay: “Twenty years is extremely short.”