Paris has just wrapped up a bustling menswear week with more than 80 attendees over six days, and is gearing up for a haute couture week with around 30 houses on the program from July 4-7.

For Ralph Toledano, who leaves the presidency of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode after an eventful eight-year mandate, it is the confirmation of his convictions that Paris is the “indisputable capital of fashion”, and that shows, framed by a curated and organized fashion week, remain “indispensable” for creative brands and designers.

“Fashion weeks create competition between brands, while motivating designers to give their best,” he explained in an interview. “The show is such a catalyst for this that the closer it gets, the more creative the design teams become.”

And this energy reverberates throughout the fashion house. “It’s a unique moment of intensity and emotion, where everyone comes together to support the design team and make the show a success,” said Toledano, who over the years has led brands such as as Karl Lagerfeld, Guy Laroche and Chloe.

Moreover, fashion week “is a unique moment of excitement at a specific time – bringing together fashion experts to see, feel, touch, the results of months of hard creative work in terms of clothes, bags , parades, jewelry, beauty”. he said. “Everyone appreciates the work. The reality is that the fashion world is delighted to meet in Paris for the physical fashion weeks.

One of the industry’s most accomplished and revered executives, Toledano completed three terms on France’s fashion governing body, making him ineligible for re-election.

He leaves on a high note, and with one piece of advice for the federation in the years to come: “Raise the bar!

Toledano was president of Puig’s fashion division, overseeing houses such as Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier, when he was elected president of the federation in 2014. He is currently a senior partner at Neo Investment, which holds holdings in Victoria Beckham, Vuarnet, Valextra, Miller Harris, Alain Mikli and luxury brands in the food and design categories. Toledano is also chairman of Victoria Beckham; he sits on the boards of directors of the Institut Français de la Mode, and of the Association Villa Noailles, which organizes the Hyères Festival, and he remains president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture until September.

“Operating a business was instrumental in understanding what services or initiatives the federation should provide,” he said. “I would say it’s a good company.”

Toledano said he carried out his ambitions for the federation, which has around 100 members, with the zeal and ingenuity of an entrepreneur.

“The federation has completely changed scale. It has long been considered the place you go to get a good spot on the show schedule. Now the federation is present in all aspects of fashion,” he said.

Its promotion and defense of the industry, expressed in Paris and Brussels, has now earned it to be taken seriously by the various levels of government. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has hosted two gala evenings at the Élysée Palace for the fashion industry in recent years, inviting all of the city’s top designers for a meal, a photo op and a networking.

In 2014, Toledano and his then-executive committee – Francesca Bellettini of Saint Laurent, Bruno Pavlovsky of Chanel, Guillaume de Seynes of Hermès and Sidney Toledano of LVMH Fashion Group, who are unrelated – identified six priorities, with the strengthening of the pre-eminent position of Paris. at the top of the to-do list.

Another was to create a fashion school in Paris to rival Central Saint Martins in London, which came closer to reality in 2019 with the merger of the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and the school French management company IFM to create the Institut Français. of Fashion, combining business studies, design and know-how.

The French Fashion Institute in Paris.
Sacha Heron/Courtesy of IFM

“Early indicators are extremely promising, and we are now even more determined to make it the number one fashion school in the world,” Toledano said, recounting how Chanel, Hermès, Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, as well as Compagnie Financière Richemont and Lanvin, invested millions to make the new IFM a reality.

He is also particularly proud to communicate effectively on the achievements of the federation; strengthen the feminization of the Chambre Syndicales du Prêt-à-Porter; put in place strict and transparent governance, and strengthen support systems for emerging brands.

“Personally, I was determined to open the doors of the federation, seeing it as the home of fashion, a home of and for fashion people,” he said. “With Pascal Morand, executive president of the federation, and the dream team he built, we set up our program.

The federation has set up a wide range of services for emerging brands, financial aid through its support fund and a showroom called Sphere, organized four times a year with the support of the professional body DEFI.

“Going forward, there will be a fixed budget for designers,” Toledano said. While the amount is confidential, the services made available to up-and-coming brands include digital showrooms, help with filming lookbooks, access to logistics planning and training.

“They have to learn how to create a business plan,” Toledano said. “It’s the first thing potential investors ask them.”

He also described Serge Carreira, who arrived in 2019 at the head of the federation’s emerging brands initiatives, as “a permanent mentor” for a host of young designers.

One of Paris Fashion Week’s differentiators has been its curated and selective approach to deciding who gets on the official calendar. Toledano said the federation is now inviting a range of experts — including retailers, showrooms and publishers — to offer their views on who should make the cut.

“We have continued Didier Grumbach’s efforts to raise and assess the PFW criteria: creativity, know-how, innovation, openness to foreign designers, inclusiveness,” he said, referring to his predecessor at the federation.

Toledano said he had agreed to seek a third term as non-executive chairman to complete the IFM’s transition.

“We had already officially announced the merger of the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale and the IFM, but we then had to define the operation of the fashion and crafts school, build the bachelor’s program and finance it. In the end, it was a real entrepreneur initiative, but we did it,” he said.

The second reason to stay was unplanned: To help lead the governing body through the coronavirus pandemic.

“French industry has reacted remarkably to the pandemic,” he marveled. “In its early days, when the country was seriously short of masks and disinfectant gel, the industry converted its factories and workshops to produce them freely, a gesture extremely well received by caregivers.”

Toledano noted that major French luxury groups have refused furlough protection offered by the government, and “brands have shown impressive resilience and immediate responsiveness, digitizing their operations at an incredible pace.

“Elsewhere in the world, a large number of jobs have been lost, while the French fashion industry has avoided this and rebounded with excellent results,” he added. “Looking back, there are always things that could have been improved, but I don’t see any major issues that weren’t addressed.

“Very fortunately, we were able to show in February and March in 2020, but when the situation worsened, the executive committee decided to cancel the men’s and haute couture shows scheduled for June and July,” he said. recalled. “When we wrote the press release with the announcement, we decided to stay positive and mentioned that we were exploring alternative options.”

Once this was put in writing, the federation had to deliver. Everyone got down to developing a digital storefront and six weeks later, the first online fashion week in Paris was launched.

In Toledano’s view, Paris has retained its stature as the quintessential international fashion week by staying true to its DNA of “creativity, hard work and innovation.”

Another welcomes designers from more than 20 different nationalities, including Japanese, British, American, Belgian, Italian, Spanish, German, Northern European, Middle Eastern and more recently China and Africa.

Women’s Fashion Week in Paris now spans nine days, with between 90 and 100 attendees.

“We must remain extremely demanding in the selection of fashion week participants,” he said, also citing the need to put in place “the best possible infrastructure and services for all visitors coming to Paris for fashion weeks. “.

Toledano balked at a question about competition posed by other capitals like Milan, New York or Shanghai. “We don’t think in terms of competition: we’re just driven by the idea of ​​making Paris Fashion Week stronger season after season,” he said.

Toledano pointed to a “fascinating rebound” in couture week from 15 years ago, when the federation had to flesh out couture week with ready-to-wear shows to make it viable.

“Now we have a lot of requests from young designers, very young designers, who want to start their career in haute couture,” he enthused. “Why? Haute couture means more autonomy in creativity. When you work for big companies, marketing is also important, so you have to design in this form, it must be in this material – it must correspond to a plan of collection.

“It makes a lot of young people want to do it,” he said of the couture, enthused that “because they’re young, they bring new technologies, new approaches.”

Asked about the shifts in fashion history he’s seen during his eight-year tenure, he cited several: “The fluidity of genres, openness to new cultures, endless collaborations, the art director movement, digitalization across all sectors of the industry, the imperatives of sustainability and inclusivity.

The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode is holding its general assembly on Friday and must elect a new president. The candidate at the top of the list is Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS. He already sits on the executive committee of the governing body of French fashion.

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