Our first guest is Executive President of the Fédération Française de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. The second is Managing Director of GL events Exhibitions and CEO of the Première Vision Group. Key players in the fashion universe, they sat down with us for a 360° assessment of the industry’s situation, and the various avenues it could envision to reinvent itself. Their expertise provides a starting point to our analysis and discussions, to imagine and build tomorrow’s fashion industry.
The solution lies in innovation
Fashion is going through some difficult times, largely as a result of the Covid crisis. How do both of you assess the situation?
Pascal Morand. We are living through an extremely complicated period, especially for SMEs and VSEs, even with assistance from the state. Yet this moment also represents a real opportunity because it forces us all to innovate. We need to get things moving again, something that many companies are working on, especially in the digital realm, where we’ve seen an extraordinary acceleration. As for the rest, the situation today varies greatly from one market to another. China and Korea are recovering, Europe and Japan are in an intermediate zone, the American market remains very sluggish, and the porosity between different areas makes everything difficult. The situation is unprecedented, especially given that there are particular psychological components to it. We go out less, so naturally we dress up less, which has a direct impact on our industry. So given this situation, we have to actively work on transforming the existing models.
Philippe Pasquet. I completely agree with the points made by Pascal. The entire industry is affected – all sectors and around the world. This crisis is unprecedented in its depth and scale, and business losses will not be recouped, even by digital. We are seeing a strong recovery in China, especially in the luxury goods sector, which is offsetting the difficulties stemming from a halt in tourism with strong local consumption. But the crisis is not over yet and we cannot rule out new upheavals in the future. Beijing went back into lockdown at the beginning of July. The situation remains volatile and a lack of visibility is part of the very nature of this health crisis.
The health situation has had a tangible impact this September, making it difficult to organize the fashion weeks. What solutions are you putting in place?
PM. Each fashion week has its own characteristics. The one in Milan remains quite specific because it brings together mostly Italian brands, which can hold shows without traveling very far. In Paris, on the other hand, half of the houses that show are foreign and will find it very difficult to travel. We think that only local brands will decide to show, or not, depending on how the health situation evolves and the results of their recent digital experiments. The online fashion week, which we set up last June, was extremely well received and represents a huge transformation. We are currently coming up with a calendar that brings together physical venues and a digital program, and boosting the features of our platform by joining forces again this year with partners such as Canal+ to increase our visibility.
Do you think the virtual presentations could become permanent?
PM. As I was mentioning, the feedback has been very favorable and everyone wants to be part of the platform again. It’s a new way of doing a show – quick, easy – however, it cannot replace a physical event. We are moving towards hybrid formats, meaning physical shows filmed with or without an audience, live-streams, video broadcasts, strictly physical events, etc. All this invites us to rethink the very concept of the fashion show. For a creative brand, it’s a way to both present both products and an imaginary vision. In video, you can’t exactly make out the color contrasts, the density of the materials – and viewing collections in the showroom is still a necessity. On the other hand, digital technology is perfect for communicating an imaginary vision. What’s more, it opens up an entirely new potential for creative expression. Lastly, on the media end, we’ve had good feedback regarding digital events, even though physical fashion shows, relayed on Instagram, have a stronger impact.
The crisis is also affecting the traditional organization of trade fairs, which are a key meeting place for suppliers and buyers. What solutions have you put in place?
Ph P. The issues are different from those of fashion weeks but the facts remain the same. The trade shows have all been at a standstill since the end of February. There has been resumption in China for about two months and we’ re now starting up again in Europe with Made in France Première Vision. Other events are planned for the fall in Europe, but nothing in the UnitedStates or Latin America. Of course nothing is absolutely fixed. We faced the situation by expanding our digital services, which we already offer via our Marketplace, with webinars for our editorial content, enriched product catalogs, and online match-making between buyers and suppliers. However, we know that digital will never replace the trade show itself; it can’t offer the same approach to the product nor the same relationship between buyers and sellers. Trade shows will resume, but this crisis has vastly speeded up the hybridization of our operations – fostering a richer dialog between our physical and virtual events. Digital technology helps create more effective in-person meetings at the shows, because the contacts are nurtured throughout the year. And digital helps us inform our community throughout the year. All this requires us to think about improving our overall offer, both digital and physical. The way we think about trade shows will change – the formats, the content, the interaction between international and local operations. Première Vision, fortunately, is very familiar with facing such challenges.
Covid 19 arrived amidst a prevailing economic crisis. The sector needs to reform itself, to move into a new era. What do you think are the most pressing changes that need to be made?
PM. Digitalization is, in my opinion, the main challenge. It’ s a new industrial revolution that will profoundly transform our lifestyles. The second challenge is that of sustainable development, where progress is difficult to measure. The Federation is obviously very involved in this issue. First of all, there is the critical issue of overproduction – even though the brands we represent are at levels 1,000 times lower than the fast-fashion companies. The future lies in more thoughtful production and fashion houses have to transform their management methods and reduce their stocks. But this raises a series of very hard questions. How, from an ethical standpoint, can we stop working with countries like Bangladesh, where we know the economy is heavily dependent on textiles? How can we objectively assess environmental performance? For example, the impact of a brand that decides to produce small-scale series in France? And how do we define the sustainability of a product? There are real methodological challenges and much remains to be done to define reference frameworks, and objective criteria.
Ph P. It’s important in this discussion to avoid taking an overly Western viewpoint. We talk about limiting production, but fashion is driven largely by Asia, with new generations with a new capacity for consumption and a real appetite for it. This doesn’t eradicate the major issues at stake regarding sustainable development, and the enormous challenges posed by sourcing and distribution issues. But I don’t really believe in the world of tomorrow – because that world was already in the pipeline yesterday. The crisis is primarily a catalyst for trends that were already emerging before Covid. Relocation is obviously a key issue. There is a lot of talk about rebuilding textile industries in France, which requires colossal investments and the need to make these production systems competitive. Is this realistic? It inevitably means higher prices, is the public ready for that?
Effectively, brands need to change quickly. What issues need to be addressed?
PM. E-commerce, and more globally, innovation. Which is not to be confused with creation. Let’s recall what constitutes innovation: a new use and a new business model.
New ways of producing, new demands…. How should suppliers – your exhibitors – respond to all the new ways of imagining fashion?
Ph P. The period is painful but interesting. We are in a very long and globalized industrial chain, with lots of small players. Upstream players have little visibility and, as a result, a natural desire to reduce risks. We need to find systems that don’t kill off the richness of the offer, but help the various players to anticipate better, which leads to more collaboration between sellers and buyers. Suppliers must develop the necessary reactivity, while finding an economic balance to solve the problems of inventory financing and risk management, problems common to all creative endeavors.
The fashion world of tomorrow broadly addresses the motto of “consume less but consume better”. Is the economy of fashion facing an inevitable slow down?
PM. What does “consume less” mean? In 2019, fashion consumption accounted for 3.5% of French GDP. Will that share decline? Will prices go up? And how will people who don’t have the means react? There is a quest for meaning in society, an aspiration for artisanal savoir-faire, but we must also deal with an economy of scale. All of this requires some moderation.
PhP. This aspiration means fewer pieces but higher quality. Première Vision is in line with this philosophy, as we have always been positioned in a market segment that focuses on quality. But be careful of the Western prism, which does not fully reflect the global market. According to the forecasts, in 2025, China will become the leading consumer market for fashion and it is this market that will set the tone. Nevertheless, the debate around slow fashion exists. It has been fueled by some designers and will perhaps give rise to a new organization, some thinking about the number of collections …
Faced with such radical changes, what role can the Fédération Française de la Haute Couture et de la Fashion and the Première Vision show play?
Ph P. Trade shows, like fashion weeks, are a crossroads of different businesses and an industry showcase. Our role transcends a strictly economic sphere. Première Vision plays a key role in the relationships that are forged between the upstream and downstream sides of fashion. We develop, via our digital and physical events, a better relationship between these two worlds, which is crucial for the industry’s effectiveness and its future.
PM. The Federation finds itself in a paradoxical situation. The leadership of our fashion week is connected to Paris, a physical and immensely symbolic place. Now our fashion week has to assert itself in the virtual realm. But even in that virtual world, the idea of place has to remain essential and we are working on that.
What do you think fashion will look like in ten years?
Ph P. These days, it seems risky to me to try to look ahead ten years when we still don’t know what next week will be!
PM. One thing is certain, fashion will always be there. The prevailing trends? The whole concept of the brand, the notion of an experience – both sensory and intangible. The aspiration for uniqueness, identity, personalization. There will also be a need to restore actual physical sensations, with places that convey identity and pleasure. Because fashion will always be about pleasure.
Read Première Vision‘s Cloud of Fashion newspaper special edition
Last June, Première Vision initiated a wide-ranging series of discussions, bringing together top experts to provide all industry players insightful analyses and strategies to navigate this new world. Discover today a special report edition of PV’s Cloud of Fashion newspaper: an exclusive laboratory of ideas and experiments to build, together, the futures of fashion…
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