Exclusive: Ralph Toledano talks about PFW

October 1, 2020

Ralph Toledano Président de la Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode talks PFW® and Fashion Industry in a renewed panorama open to innovation and digitalization.

By WWD Staff
PARIS — As Paris Fashion Week kicks into high gear, around half the brands on the official calendar are edging back toward normality by staging physical shows and presentations. But in a landscape revolutionized by the coronavirus pandemic, and with a large chunk of the front row missing, the most successful will be those who manage to also amplify their events digitally. Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, sat down with WWD to talk about a most unusual season, the new phy-gital world, and why runway shows will live on:

WWD: This fashion week is like no other before it. How have you and your teams worked to prepare for this unusual season?
RT: It is an unusual season indeed, and we keep on innovating. In a few weeks, we created the Menswear Paris Fashion Week online and the Haute Couture Week online. We have kept the same option for the coming fashion week and established a dedicated platform, which will open when the fashion week starts. We have set a coherent framework respecting the rhythm of the official calendar and the format selected by each participant. Like in the pre-COVID-19 period, the federation selection committee made a great job and we are glad to welcome very talented designers in the calendar. Altogether we will have 40 physical events and about the same number of digital events. We also have constantly worked with the health authorities, the Préfecture de Police and the Paris City Hall. This is an asset guaranteeing the houses to be well accompanied all along the setting up of their events. The same thing happened for the other fashion weeks as we just have seen with Milan. The fashion industry is a big family, we all had to cope with the same type of constraints.

WWD: What did you learn from the men’s and couture weeks?
RT: It has been a very strong and collective experience, for which we had a total support, a total engagement of menswear and couture brands. We have been fully satisfied with the various partnerships developed on this occasion. Setting up our platform in a very short time was a real challenge; we notably collaborated extremely well with Launchmetrics, which powered it. The amplification network that we have established with our broadcast platform has also been extremely beneficial: for instance, the deliberate access to videos that we gave to the public all over the world happened to be a huge success. Globally speaking we have developed our competence and expertise in the digital area and reinforced our relationships with brands. Paris stood up again as the world capital for fashion, creativity and diversity.

WWD: How have you improved the federation’s online platform as a result?
RT: Our July platforms have been perceived as functional and practical. We have stuck with the same principle and brought incremental innovations such as for digital design, the highlighting of the home page and a facilitated circulation between the different parts of the platform (official calendar, magazine, events, houses). We have developed a new way to present the content of the official calendar, since the formats will be diverse and explicit. The curation of the magazine is still done in partnership with Institut Français de la Mode. We have intensified our cooperation with medias and with cultural institutions in the magazine, and extended our worldwide amplification network.

WWD: Paris has more physical fashion shows than any other capital, even as reported cases of coronavirus are on the increase. How do you evaluate sanitary risks, and is there a plan B in case the health situation changes over the course of the week?
RT: As mentioned earlier, there are indeed 40 physical events in the calendar, and safety is our first priority.
On one side we stick to the recommendations of public authorities, including of course the Prefectural Order. But, in addition, to the government guidelines, the federation has established a detailed safety protocol for the Paris Fashion Week to be shared by all the participants. Of course, every house has prepared a plan B in case of necessity. But, anyway, the federation’s online platform is inclusive and can welcome any format.

WWD: Why is it important to return to some form of physical events, combined with a digital dimension?
RT: You know our position on this matter, concerning creative brands. Fashion shows are the testimony of our passion for fashion. They are unique, as they stimulate creativity, generate emotion, excitement and buzz. And this applies to designers and their teams, as well as to the brands and to all the stakeholders and experts of the industry. All the fashion community aspires to see, feel, touch and exchange IRL, and we do not see for the moment any digital formula even close to replace a physical event.

WWD: Do you think digital events will become a permanent feature of fashion weeks, even if a vaccine is found?
RT: We will not get back to the past when the COVID-19 is defeated. We live in a digital era and the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the digital transformation. Physical and digital features will be combined with each other. In the coming days, Paris Fashion Week shows will be live streamed or broadcast later, or pre-recorded, along with videos expressing another type of creativity. We can also expect innovations in the near future by the way of new visual experiences and augmented reality. Our world is becoming more and more phy-gital and it represents a great innovation and creativity potential. This is also why our platform will live on and develop. Like in any field of the economy and the society, we are building a new world.

WWD: How can fashion, one of the key creative industries in France, take a leading role and guide us through the crisis with innovation?
RT: Fashion has always expressed modernity. The challenges for the coming times are the unity between creativity and savoir-faire, the accomplishment of the digital transformation and of sustainable development, the enlargement of diversity and inclusiveness. Innovating also means new business models and practices. The federation is much involved in all these fields and works closely with the members, whatever is their size and age. It is also essential to stand by emerging brands to help them overcome these difficult times. As long as fashion appropriates these transformation factors, it will keep on being a guide at a broad level.

A number of brands have decided to pursue their own calendars this year. How does the federation interpret this move? Do you think we are moving durably towards a more fragmented calendar, or should collective action prevail?
The last six months have been very peculiar. Rhythms have been totally upset and the manufacturing and economic conditions have been very tough for our industry. All this created some entropy, which is understandable. Still, the great majority of the brands have taken part in the official calendars for womenswear, as well as for menswear and couture.
In the future, the digital revolution has no reason to harm collective action, whereas it can on the contrary stimulate collective innovations. Paris Fashion Week is and will remain a collective strength for French and international creative brands, all the more as Paris is absolutely unique by its aesthetic, cultural and international values.

Paris has always been a hub for international designers. How can the French capital cater to global markets during this period of transition for the fashion industry, when many key players are still unable to travel?
The digital transformation has hugely accelerated new ways of working, such as homeworking or virtual showrooms. So Paris keeps on being a worldwide hub through these means, which also require intense and permanent communication between physical and digital participants to the Fashion Week.
In the aftermath of the crisis, the digital tools will much more and naturally be used in addition to shows and physical presentations.

This season marks the reopening of the Palais Galliera. How important is it for Paris to have a permanent fashion exhibition on offer for visitors? What synergies do you see between the museum and Paris Fashion Week?
Creative fashion has to be considered not only as a creative industry but also as an applied art, in permanent link with patrimonial heritage as well as contemporary creative culture. Important cultural events linked to fashion are most often inaugurated on the occasion of the Fashion Week. The tribute which will be given to Gabrielle Chanel for the reopening of the Galliera Museum illustrates this proud tradition. The Federation works in close collaboration with cultural institutions, usually almost moves to Palais de Tokyo during Fashion Weeks, where Sphere, our showroom dedicated to emerging brands, will take place. And our platform benefits from synergies with Grand Palais, Louvre, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais Galliera, Musée d’Art Moderne, Musée du Luxembourg, Château de Versailles and also Mucem. Paris Fashion Week is and will remain inseparable from cultural life.

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