He was CEO of Karl Lagerfeld for over a decade; discovered Alber Elbaz and built him into superstar at Guy Laroche. And was the CEO of Chloé, when Phoebe Philo was in her pomp, as the most influential designer of her day. These days his day job is a chairman of Victoria Beckham, while in his evening position he is president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. Which is why we caught up with Toledano for a discussion about the unprecedented purely online seasons which begin on Monday in Paris; three days of couture followed by five days of menswear. This is Paris’ most avuncluar fashion executive explaining how the Fédération is confronting this unique situation.
FashionNetwork.com: On Monday morning, Paris begins its first ever fully online fashion week, starting with couture, before moving on to menswear. Why is this season so important for Paris?
Ralph Toledano: When the Fédération’s executive committee decided to cancel Fashion Week in its traditional form, which was actually quite early – around 27 March for menswear, we made the decision without hesitation, but inwardly we felt very frustrated.
And when the time came to write the press release, we added a sentence saying that we were going to work on “alternative projects.”
To be honest, at the time, we had no idea what we might be able to do.
But the phrase had a double meaning: As the global capital of fashion, Paris’ vocation and duty is to shine on, to refuse to let its light go out, even if only for one season, even in the face of a terrible pandemic. At the Fédération, we challenged ourselves to invent a new model which could live up to our primary mission: allowing design to be expressed at its best, no matter the circumstances.
On top of this, we’re convinced that digital technology is and will continue to be a major game changer in the fashion industry, and organising these digital fashion weeks has allowed us, or rather forced us, to explore the possibilities offered by this kind of technology so that we’ll be able to make even better use of it during our fashion weeks.
Ultimately though, we have the firm conviction that nothing will be able to replace a physical show, at least in the case of the creative brands that Paris represents.
FNW: What are the main actions and decisions that the Fédération de la Haute Couture et da la Mode has made in order to keep in step with this new era?
RT: We’ve stuck to the principles around which our strategy and all our actions are built. First of all, by putting design at the centre of everything. That’s why we asked each of the participating brands to make a video, giving them complete freedom, with the only restriction being that it couldn’t be longer than 20 minutes. We can’t transfer the physical world to the digital world. Another kind of creativity has to be expressed. Furthermore, it was natural for us to put all of the participants on our official calendar, like we always do. We included both brands participating with presentations and those participating with runway shows. As always, we’ve also welcomed some very talented emerging brands.
We’ve therefore developed two platforms – one for men’s ready-to-wear, the other for Haute Couture – with our main concern being to make sure that they are easy both to access and to use.
In order to do this, we’ve teamed up with Launchmetrics, a company renowned for its data management and IT expertise.
FNW: For menswear and Haute Couture?
RT: Yes. It might seem surprising for Haute Couture, but the project unfolded just as smoothly. Just as with the digital menswear fashion week, almost all of the brands answered our call. Of course, we’re expecting that brands will be looking to put particular emphasis on their savoir-faire in their online Haute Couture videos.
FNW: How has the pandemic changed the role of the Fédération?
RT: More than ever, we’ve stood by our members’ sides. We’ve given them all the support we can in order to keep them informed and help them implement the government measures that they can benefit from. We’ve given dedicated support to young brands and strengthened our partnership with the Institut Français de la Mode so that they can benefit from the best expertise possible. On a day-to-day basis, our involvement hasn’t stopped for a second.
The goals that we’d set ourselves have endured. In particular, I’m thinking of the ecodesign tools for runway shows developed in partnership with PWC, which will be available this summer, just as we announced. And we’d also committed to introducing online events. What’s changed in that respect is that we’re now addressing the general public on a global scale, which is something we’ve never done before, all while maintaining spaces reserved for professionals.
That’s why we’ve created partnerships with Youtube, Instagram and the largest Chinese social networks through the Hylink advertising and communications agency, as well as with the Canal group and The New York Times.
FNW: In your opinion, what is the most exciting aspect of the Fédération’s two new platforms?
RT: I don’t know if it’s the most exciting aspect, but our decision not to simply content ourselves with broadcasting the videos made by the brands on our calendar proved to be a really stimulating challenge.
Our platforms have different sections, including a magazine featuring all the event’s brands, even those which, for whatever reason, were not able to produce a video but have been able to contribute relevant content. The magazine also features content offered by cultural institutions and a newsroom which will provide a space for exchanges and synergies with the media.
In addition, there is a section dedicated to events, from round tables to concerts and other goings-on; Sphère, our virtual showroom dedicated to emerging brands, for which we have established a partnership with New Black; a more institutional section about the brands; and finally, a section presenting our partnerships.
FNW: What do you expect from this new online season?
RT: It’s a life-size digital experiment, with its challenges and uncertainties. We’ll learn from it, but we already know that we won’t turn back. However, a digital fashion week will never be able to replace a physical fashion week, which will always be at the heart of our seasonal presentations, both literally and figuratively. We know that in the future, this digital innovation will strengthen and amplify our physical events, all while bringing new potential for creativity.
FNW: Paris is rightly thought of as a primus inter pares in terms of the Big Four fashion weeks. How are you hoping to maintain that status with this season’s online event?
RT: We don’t think of the question in those terms. What’s important for us is continuing to uphold our values: design, savoir-faire, selectiveness, broad international appeal and welcoming new brands from around the world – diversity, Paris has always practised it. And making sure that our actions and innovations are, under all circumstances, based on these values.
The same applies to the digitalisation of fashion week and Haute Couture week. Digitalisation doesn’t erase tradition’s importance, it only transfers it into a new world. It’s a means to an end, never an end in itself. What we’ve undertaken is a first experiment for us. When all of this becomes habit, Paris will be stronger for it, and we’ll savour the emotions and sensations of fashion week and Haute Couture week in the real world all the more.
FNW: Which events are you looking forward to most?
RT: We don’t know what we’re going to see and hear. These two great events will be full of surprises, just like design itself.
Of course, we’ll be paying particular attention to the ways in which the biggest maisons and their war machines respond to this strange and difficult period that we’re going through, and we know that they’ll be up to the task.
But we’re also looking forward to seeing what young brands have come up with, the new ways that young designers – digital natives – will present their collections and their new inspirations, while also expressing their identities.
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