Pascal Morand and Séverine Merle on re-inventing Paris Menswear during and after the pandemic
Few fashion organizations have had a busier spring than the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French fashion’s governing body. It oversees six major runway seasons every year in Paris, balancing the demands of giant houses, ambitious new talent and some immense designer egos to create coherent calendars for Haute Couture, women’s ready-to-wear and menswear. As the world’s most influential, and most watched, fashion capital, dealing with coronavirus and the lockdown – which went into effect just after the February/March runway season ended – was a huge task, given that Paris stages over 400 live runway shows annually.
After delaying both the Haute Couture and menswear seasons, the Fédération took the brave step of staging two fully digital seasons this month. The three-day couture season ended Wednesday night, and the five-day menswear season kicks off Thursday morning. The move to digital involved a major acceleration by the Fédération and the creation – with Launchmetrics – of two new state-of-the-art platforms to host the two fashion weeks. They both bring Paris up to speed digitally after lagging behind their rivals online in London, Milan and New York; even if, when it comes to catwalk clout, the City of Light will always be primus inter pares – first among equals. Testifying to the magnetic pull of Paris, a total of 67 brands will participate in this menswear season.
Which is why we caught up with Pascal Morand, the executive president of the Fédération, and Séverine Merle, the CEO of Celine who is also the President of the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine, the Fédération’s menswear division, to hear their vision of diversity on the new menswear platform; the Fédération’s notoriously demanding process for selecting new members; hosting digital creativity and teaming up with Launchmetrics. They also discuss linking up with key cultural institutions and connecting with China via Hylink; even as they both caution that the digital universe will never be a substitute for the physical universe.
FashionNetwork.com: Why was it so important to create a new platform for the menswear season?
Pascal Morand: Just as with Haute Couture, it seemed very important to us to create a platform for menswear. The health crisis has created difficulties and upheaval that brands have had to overcome and continue to struggle with. We had to get involved and we all rallied together to do so. Menswear fashion week is an indispensable event. It has taken a new form with creative videos broadcast as part of the official calendar, as well as other content provided by brands and cultural institutions, or resulting from our collaboration with the media, etc. It includes a section dedicated to SPHERE, the Fédération’s showroom for emerging brands, which has also taken on a virtual format. The platform is full of films, photos, interviews, round tables and concerts. It has a cultural and creative vocation, just like Parisian fashion.
Séverine Merle: When we met with the members of the Chambre Syndicale via Zoom, in the middle of quarantine, there was great enthusiasm for participating in the project for this platform and a lot of members went on to contribute to its enrichment. Such a significant innovation implies a lot of exchange and collective thinking. And we did that by interacting with the participating brands. Their diversity enriched all of our considerations. The mission that we embarked upon was also a way of bearing witness to the vitality of Paris despite the crisis that we’re going through.
FNW: What is it about Paris that attracts so many great foreign designers to the menswear season?
PM: You’d have to ask them! In any case, it’s clear that menswear is becoming increasingly important. Paris Fashion Week Men’s has contributed to that trend and will continue to do so. Just as with womenswear, for menswear designers and their brands, Paris is where you come to be recognized and consecrated. It’s also because in Paris there is a real coming together of the arts, both performative and visual. This peculiarity is also present in PFW Online, whose list of participants includes the Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Palais Galliera, as well as artists from the contemporary music scene, who are taking part with concerts via Radio Nova.
SM: The strength of Paris Fashion Week Men’s is that, following a very rigorous selection process, it brings together both members and invited brands, including established and emerging labels, from across the world and from all kinds of different origins. The selection committee is as demanding as it is open to everyone. The houses and designers that apply understand this because they know it’s a stamp of quality.
Indeed, we opened applications this time round as well, despite the unusual circumstances, and we heard from some excellent candidates. We accepted six for our official calendar, having also paid close attention to their potential for digital creativity.
FNW: What are you most excited about seeing in the current season?
SM: This season is completely different to anything that we’ve experienced up until now. The transition to digital obviously demands an approach driven by renewed creative efforts. This season will be full of originality and surprises, in the positive sense of term. We’re going to show and broadcast new content of different kinds which has been created in a short time and in a very unusual context. This cocktail of energy, diversity and creativity is very exciting.
PM: The digital universe does not replace the physical universe. It’s another world, which seeks sensations and emotions that are often very different. In a way, that gives rise to a kind of augmented creativity, in the same way we talk about augmented reality. We’re expecting even more from the digital productions that have been put together.
FNW: Why have so many new houses come on to the schedule this season?
SM: There are two factors at play here. The first has to do with the fact that we’ve brought together runway shows and presentations: the two ways for a brand to be included on the official calendar. We had no reason to make this differentiation, seeing as we’re dealing with digital creations. The second factor is linked to the fact that the project had a much larger uptake than we could have imagined when we started out, bearing in mind all the difficulties related to the preparation of collections in the middle of quarantine. Counting runway shows and presentations, there were 82 participating brands at menswear fashion week in January. There are 67 at this online fashion week.
PM: Objectively, this figure is already a success in itself. What is more, most of the brands which could not be included in the official calendar feature, in one way or another, in the platform’s magazine, in a section dedicated to the houses. So the international community of menswear brands is very well represented, and brought together virtually, in Paris.
FNW: How do you hope to maintain Paris’ position as the leading fashion capital?
PM: We’re living through a very turbulent time. We’re going through a severe health crisis at the very moment that the digital revolution is moving into top gear and the necessity of sustainable development has become more evident than ever. And the same thing is happening in terms of respect for diversity. All of this is happening simultaneously. We’ve stepped into a new world and, in this sense, the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated everything. In this context, the strength and vitality of Paris’ place in fashion remain intact, as well as its draw. The important thing is to always be looking to the future and cultivating innovation, as well as design, in collaboration with PFW’s partners and especially with those who have joined us for online projects.
SM: Our position as leader shouldn’t encourage us to rest on our laurels, quite the opposite. Staying alert and keeping creative and innovative are still the golden rules. Even truer is the fact that we’re a global brand and that’s especially the case for Paris Fashion Week Men’s. This crisis has pushed us to innovate and develop our creativity more than ever before. The increase in our digital audience will benefit the members and houses on the official calendar, as well as the emerging French and international brands supported by the Fédération. We’ve established partnerships with the big social networks, as well as with Groupe Canal and The New York Times, so that the videos can be easily accessed by everyone around the world when they are broadcast at the time specified on the official calendar. This digitalization is completely compatible with Paris’ identity, albeit a virtual version of that identity.
FNW: What were the best elements that Launchmetrics was able bring to the project?
SM: To be successful, a platform has to be easy to use in order for it to be appropriated by its users, while also living up to the aesthetic codes of the house and being able to include a range of different content. That’s what we wanted to do with our platform and that’s what was done. That’s both an invaluable development for today and promising progress for the future. To this we have to add the platform’s interoperability with the principal industry players, like a hub that, above all, benefits the houses and the visibility of their own platforms.
PM: Rather than diving into the project by ourselves, we called in Launchmetrics as part of a partnership which became more of a collaboration than a subcontracting situation. Launchmetrics’ expertise in data processing and IT in the fashion and luxury industry is well known. Another thing that Launchmetrics brought was an open-mindedness and a proactivity which ensured that the collaboration between the two teams was very smooth. The Launchmetrics team was therefore able to create the two platforms (for Haute Couture and menswear) just as well as we could have hoped.
" Nothing can replace physical runway shows, and the traditional Paris Fashion Week Men’s will reclaim its place" - Séverine Merle
FNW: What can we expect from IFM and why did you decide to work with them?
PM: The Fédération and the Institut Français de la Mode maintain links that were further strengthened following its fusion with the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. That’s the case for the IFM’s programmes, as well as for its teaching faculty and, of course, its students. We are now working together on a range of essential issues, such as support for emerging brands and sustainable development. When we began working on the project for our platform, we requested a group from Benjamin Simmenauer, a brilliant IFM professor who is very knowledgeable about the synergy between creative industries, and asked him to be the curator of the magazine during the preparation and implementation of the project. The IFM accepted with pleasure, and Benjamin joined the team, which worked with an intense, start-up atmosphere. Different content provided by the IFM’s teaching staff was included as well. Students majoring in image in the Master of Arts in Fashion Design also offered their support by providing projects involving relevant creative content.
SM: The Institut Français de la Mode is very well known and renowned as a school that trains students for professions involving technical savoir-faire, management and design, offering programmes that range from professional training for high school students to doctorates. It’s also a place that is rich in exchanges, where economy and design are in constant contact, and where we can follow and understand the changes happening in fashion and different social movements very closely, both through the teaching staff and the students. This shines through in its programmes and in all of its activities. We wanted to insert our project in a very contemporary perspective in terms of its thinking and its actions. The relationship with the IFM was therefore very natural.
FNW: What innovations from this menswear season do you suspect will be incorporated when Paris can again stage a season of live catwalk shows?
SM: Nothing can replace physical runway shows, and the traditional Paris Fashion Week Men’s will reclaim its place. But that’s not to say that the digital fashion week will be completely removed. We’re going to discuss this with the members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine and all of the participants after 13 July. It would be fair to think that the platform and the mechanisms that we have implemented may well have many more days ahead of them, during which they will continue to augment the impact of our physical runway shows when they begin again. The opening up of the menswear fashion week to everyone, as allowed by the digital format, is very likely to remain, and that’s a good thing.
PM: Certainly, watching through a screen can’t replace watching in the “real world” and that’s the same for many other sensations. It’s also true that the empathy which characterizes the professional milieu during a physical fashion week cannot be reproduced in the digital world. We’ve noticed that designers and brands are hoping to return to real-world events, where they can be in the same space as each other. The world is moving towards hybrid events and fashion is no exception. When innovation teams up with design, there will always be a step forward. So physical fashion weeks will be enriched by its digital aspects, a shift that is already tangible. Design is at the centre of it all. On the one hand, it has no boundaries, just like the imagination of designers and creative directors. On the other, the heart of fashion design is clothes and collections, which achieve their greatest expressivity in presentations and physical runway shows.
FNW: What are you doing for China in particular?
PM: When we decided that we wanted a worldwide broadcast, we established partnerships with YouTube and Instagram. It was necessary to do the same with the most important networks in China. The Fédération was not very active in the country, at least in terms of social networks. That’s why we approached Hylink, the largest independent marketing and digital communication agency in China. Once we’d established the foundations of our cooperation, it was Hylink who tasked us with linking up with Tencent/Wechat and the other big social networks. The principle is the same as the one we adopted for our main platform: with Hylink’s support, we conceived a Chinese sister platform, hosted by Wechat and featuring a partnership with Tencent Video. The content of the platforms is also passed on to the other social networks. Two renowned industry commentators commentate the videos, as was the case during Haute Couture week.
SM: The visibility of the content created as part of Paris Fashion Week Men’s on all social networks was a key element in our considerations from the beginning. In this sense, we obviously wanted to establish the most relevant partnerships possible in China. It was important, not only for the big-name houses, who have their own media firepower, but also for emerging brands, as we are aware of the difficulties that they have to face. Millions of people will therefore be able to see and discover these menswear designers. That’s how we’re hoping to make sure that Paris, and the menswear linked to Paris, continue to shine.
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