As haute couture week begins, the French fashion trade group selects a new leader.
In the fashion industry, the Paris couture shows, which begin on Sunday, still reign supreme.
And no single person may wield more power over those shows than the president of the French trade group that determines which designers’ collections are shown, and when.
That is why a changing of the guard announced this week has created a stir not only in Paris but also throughout the fashion world.
After 16 years, Didier Grumbach has stepped down as president of that influential trade group, the Federation Francaise de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, and of its couture division, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
Grumbach, 77, will preside over next week’s Paris shows, and then Ralph Toledano will succeed him as federation president.
Toledano is president of the fashion division at Puig, a fashion and beauty house based in Barcelona, whose brands include Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci, Paco Rabanne and Carolina Herrera.
Toledano will retain his position while taking on the new responsibilities at the federation. Assisting him will be Stephane Wargnier, who was named to the new role of executive president of the federation.
Wargnier, a fashion consultant and former executive at Hermes, will be responsible for the federation’s day-to-day operations, while Toledano will focus on strategy and vision.
Grumbach will hold the honorary title of president of the federation. When asked if he had any advice for his successor, he replied, “It is very important not to be weak.”
Although most consumers probably would not know Grumbach’s name, he was a major behind-the-scenes power player for almost two decades. The Federation Francaise controls the designer choices and schedules for the Paris shows, which are twice-a-year events for both ready-to-wear and couture.
The federation also acts as an industry lobby and runs a professional training school for designers and artisans, the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.
Toledano expressed his ambitions for the federation in an email exchange.
“We aim to keep Paris as the unrivalled capital of fashion, to contributing to the emergence of all the talented young designers based in France and to making of the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale — already a unique school in the world as it produces both designers and couture technicians — the No. 1 fashion school,” Toledano said.
“Paris has historically been the place where the biggest international talents gather spontaneously,” he wrote, “and we intend to continue welcoming them.”
During his tenure, Grumbach oversaw the internationalisation of French fashion. There are now 25 nationalities represented on the Paris fashion show calendar.
He helped to revitalise couture at a time when brands such as Balmain and Christian Lacroix chose to discontinue their couture operations and focus on ready-to-wear. He also worked with the French government to create a so-called fashion bank to guarantee loans to new designers.
Working in harmony
In 2012, he created the federation’s executive board, composed of representatives from what were then the five largest French fashion powers — Hermes, Chanel, Puig, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and PPR, which is now called Kering. The board helped the brands work together in harmony during the Paris shows.
That harmony, though, has not always extended to other cities’ fashion weeks during the women’s ready-to-wear seasons in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Those seasons are the longer, more modern sibling of the couture weeks.
The schedules for the ready-to-wear shows have grown crowded and unwieldy in the last few years, with feuds breaking out among the various cities over dates and durations.
Such squabbling might seem irrelevant to the outside world. But where on the calendar the designer shows take place has a direct bearing on when stores order clothes. That, in turn, affects the brand’s production time and deliveries, which determine when consumers can buy the end result.
In other words, it matters.
In 2011, the tussling over dates for the following year’s spring shows became particularly heated. Fashion houses that show in New York and London were pushing for a later start to the season so that they would not have to produce their runway samples in August, when most factories are closed.
Paris, the last and the longest of the ready-to-wear conclaves — about nine days, compared with New York’s seven — announced it would not push back its shows, arguing that the effect on deliveries would be punitive.
At the time, Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, was quoted in Women’s Wear Daily as saying: “I don’t understand why Paris completely and totally just ignored what all of us have worked so hard on. I am speechless.”
But the news of the transfer of power in the governing body of French fashion has been welcomed in other fashion capitals, whose leaders were quick to acknowledge Grumbach’s contributions while looking toward the next stage.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said: “It will be interesting to see what the new regime brings. Any opportunity to work more closely together is welcome.”
Reactions to change
Steven Kolb, chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who said he had no issues with Grumbach, also noted that “whenever new people come in, they bring new ideas and it creates new opportunities.”
“We have seen it in Milan, with the new president of the Camera della Moda, Jane Reeve, whom I have been talking with quite a lot,” Kolb said, referring to Italy’s fashion industry association.
As it happens, Kolb said he had emailed a colleague at the Federation Francaise a few weeks ago to suggest a friendly meeting of representatives from all four fashion-week cities, though he was quick to note there was “no agenda” behind the idea.
Toledano will take up his new post on September 1. New York Fashion Week, which begins the women’s ready-to-wear spring 2015 collections, starts three days later.