Tag Archives: #luxury

Different Worlds: Exploring the Fashion Systems of France and Italy

By Pamela Ellsworth
Chair, Global Fashion Management

Didier Grumbach, Honorary President of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (center) on campus at Institut Français de la Mode after his lecture on “The Invention and Reinvention of Haute Couture.” Students hold copies of his book, “History of International Fashion.”


GFM Seminar: April, 2018

This year’s Paris seminar was devoted to an understanding of the professional organizations established to support France’s legendary fashion industry. In addition, the multicultural team assignment was created to provide a deeper analysis of the design inspiration of current couture members. Fascinated as we tend to be by the Paris collections for their creative beauty and extravagance, as well as for their excess and occasional insanity, it’s easy to forget that they thrive and contribute to France’s economy based on the strength of powerful state-run organizations.

Dr. David Zajtmann, Professor at Institut Français de la Mode presents his lecture on Haute Couture and Fashion in Paris to GFM during the Paris Seminar.

David Zajtmann, Creative Brands Strategist at Institut Français de la Mode, and author of Understanding the Role of Professional Organisations in Supporting the Creative Industries writes, “the presentations of collections in Paris remain important events for the global fashion industry thanks to a long-term strategy of strong professional representation, regulation and integration of national and international key industry players carried out by the Fédération over time.”  Mr. Zajtmann presented to GFM on the first day of the seminar, laying an essential foundation for the following several days of immersion into the structure of the organization and the creators that uphold its reputation.

By the end of the seminar, our knowledge of the Parisian fashion system – the introduction of the couturier in 1858; the creation of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 1911; the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s; and the establishment of the Fédération de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode in 1973 – helped us to understand the methodology and evolution of what is still the world’s most well-developed fashion system.  In his article, Mr. Zajtmann discusses the French government’s supporting role in establishing a list of authorized couturiers every year, and, until 1979, even financing the purchase of French fabrics to be used in the shows, in addition to making it possible for fashion companies to host fashion shows at the Louvre until 1986.

This historical insight and much more – as we heard from a broad range of speakers at the IFM’s YSL Amphitheatre as well as at site visits – provided essential background in making comparisons and contrasts to the company structures and organizations we would visit when we continued on to Florence and Prato, Italy at the close of the Paris seminar.

Our brief seminar in Florence and Prato was organized to introduce GFM graduate students to a textile and fashion system that was culturally, historically, and organizationally different from the Paris system of haute couture we had just experienced during our 10-day seminar at Institut Française de la Mode.

We organized our two-and-a-half-day Italy seminar with the guidance of Pascal Gautrand – a founder of Made in Town and a consultant for Première Vision – a French colleague who studied at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, and has worked closely with Italian companies in recent years. In his introduction to our students, he described the unique history of Tuscany as the inspiration for the region’s ability to manufacture luxury goods since the Middle Ages, and how Italian companies are reinventing their heritage to survive in today’s highly competitive business climate.

We began our seminar with a private meeting in the conference room of Pitti Immagine, with Raffaello Napoleone, the CEO. This organization is devoted to promoting the Italian fashion industry, and is perhaps the most important trade show for menswear in the world. Mr. Napoleone began with an overview of the American Marshall Plan’s impact on the Italian fashion industry following World War II, continuing with statistics on the large volume of Italian women’s fashion purchased by American department stores post war, and describing the struggle to compete in the 1970s based on the small size of individual companies and lack of organization, resulting in the industry’s move to Milan. Mr. Napoleone has reinvented Pitti Immagine from a conventional trade show to one that reaches beyond fashion to a cultural strategy, by offering a research division, art, architecture, food, wine, and fragrance. He commented that because fashion can change easily and be communicated quickly, the trade show must reinvent itself season after season.

As one of the most high-profile business executives in the Italian and European fashion industry, we knew that Mr. Napoleone didn’t have a great deal of time to spend with us, but none of that seemed to matter as he answered every question around the table (and there were many), even leaving time to make recommendations for the best spots for lunch in Florence. Happily, we could think of no place farther from New York City, and no one more generous or knowledgeable in relating the details of the Italian fashion industry.

The Global Fashion Management Florence Seminar began with a meeting with Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine (left), inside the headquarters of one of the most impactful menswear trade show events in the world.

Our next stop was Scuola del Cuoio, a leather school founded by Franciscan friars after World War II, located near the banks of the Arno River, which has been the location of the leather tanneries since the 13th century. The portion of the building that we visited was donated by the Medici family during the Renaissance, with the photo below showing one of the frescos from that time.

GFM students inside Scuola del Cuoio, watch an artisan make a woven leather briefcase. The school’s original mission from the 1930’s was to teach a practical trade to orphans of the war.  Today it’s open to everyone and offers workshops and short courses to study under a master leather craftsman or craftswoman.

From Scuola del Cuoio, we visited the Palazzo Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum, a shrine to some of the most extraordinary costumes and contemporary garments in the world. The Museo della Moda was founded in 1983, and contains haute couture Italian design, cinema, and opera costumes, and a rather astonishing display of the funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici and his wife, Eleonor of Toledo. (Their bodies were disinterred, and the bones and textiles were examined.)

GFM students on a site visit to Palazzo Pitti Museum of Costume in Florence.
The Palazzo Pitti  Fashion and Costume Museum hosts a collection of rare and precious garments from Italian designers from the renaissance through the 20th Century. Shown here, are couture designs by Gianfranco Ferré, circa 1989.

By bus, we headed out of Florence to Fiesole and the Stafano Ricci atelier. Mr. Ricci explained the brand heritage, and his staff toured us through the small custom shirt and belt factory. You won’t see any photos because we were sworn to secrecy, but the small-scale atelier of beautiful quality Italian cotton shirts was unlike any productions facility we would find most anywhere in the world.

Stefano Ricci Spring Summer 2018 campaign
An image from the Stefano Ricci Spring/Summer 2018 campaign.

We continued north to Il Borgo San Lorenzo to visit Il Borgo Cashmere, a family-owned company since 1949 where research and experimentation is based on ancient craft techniques. Here, the company knits luxury garments and home products for Loro Piana, Bergdorf Goodman, and other high-end retailers and major fashion houses. In this small town, the company’s artisans train local crafts people to hand knit some categories of product out of their homes, which means that the company devotes considerable resources to time management and quality control, while still encouraging a spirit of creativity. The European Union finances a good part of this training. We were struck by this community dynamic, but had to keep in mind that its origin lies in the guilds of the Middle Ages, a system common throughout Europe.

Inside the showroom of Il Borgo Cashmere, a Global Fashion Management student takes a closer look at the craftsmanship of a cashmere dress.

From Il Borgo, we moved on to Capalle and Lineapiu Italia, an extraordinary company that designs and produces specialty yarns for designer fabrics. The company also serves as a repository for the research and protection of Italian sartorial art, housing more than 33,000 archived products, and providing trend direction. They worked extensively with Armani, for example, to develop new ideas and technologies for knits. Hermes and Chanel are also customers. The company runs two mills where they spin mohair, alpaca, cotton, and wool, and they took great pride is walking us through the combing, carding, and sliver phases, preparing the yarn for the knit machines.

Inside a spinning mill, students see luxury yarn being created.
Inside the spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of luxury yarns. GFM students receive an overview of the process of creating yarn from fiber. Shown here in the foreground, is an alpaca/cashmere blend before the spinning process.

As we visited these small-scale, high-quality businesses, I was reminded of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s description of Italian companies in his book Trust, where he draws parallels between a culture’s characteristics and its prosperity. He argues that because of the nature of social capital in Italy, family bonds tend to be much stronger than those between the individual and the state, and where “private sector firms tend to be relatively small and family controlled, while large-scale enterprises need the support of the state to be viable.”  Fukuyama is careful to distinguish Italy’s highly productive “Terza Italia” (third Italy, which includes Tuscany) from the impoverished southern portion of the country. He suggests that the networks of small businesses – such as those we visited – represent “an entirely new paradigm of industrial production, one that can be exported to other countries. Social capital and culture give us considerable insight into the reasons for this miniature economic renaissance.”

The vulnerability of the small enterprises that we visited – their locations remote from a large, experienced work force, and dependent upon a rapidly-changing and quixotic luxury consumer – stood in sharp contrast to the depth of creative and manufacturing talent and commitment that we witnessed in every business. In describing the manufacture of the competitive products from the Terza Italia, including textiles and apparel, Fukuyama writes, “This confirms that there is no necessary connection between small-scale industry and technological backwardness. Italy is the world’s third-largest producer of industrial robots, and yet a third of that industry’s output is produced by enterprises with fewer than fifty employees.” Since this book was written, the point about robots is no longer a fact, but Fukuyama does make a strong case for the advantage of sophisticated, small-scale, highly skilled enterprises, based on their ability to adapt to changing consumer markets. Especially for those of us from the U.S. who have been made weary by the magnitude and monopolies of our retailers, we’re rallying to the side of Italy’s artisanal luxury designers and manufacturers to prosper.

Our final stop was a guided tour of the Prato Textile Museum, which occupies a building and location that had been the site of textile manufacture since the Middle Ages. Prato’s textile history has enjoyed enormous success and has more recently suffered great defeat under global competition, but as often as they’ve reinvented themselves, their identity remains closely tied to the textile industry.

GFM students on a docent led tour of the Prato Textile Museum.

Since the focus of our study in Italy was creativity, makers, and manufacturers, our dinner location was no exception. In Fabbrica – the name of the restaurant, which also means Factory – is a silver workshop dating back to 1902. Above the factory on the second floor, we enjoyed dinner by candelabra manufactured on site, where the wait staff worked as artisans just hours prior to our arrival. (The chef, fortunately, was a specialist in food rather than precious metals.)

At In Fabbrica, GFM students tour the silversmith workshop with owner Gianfranco Pampaloni
Gianfranco Pampaloni, owner of In Fabbrica (left), shares stories of his most notable creations with Global Fashion Management students inside his silversmith workshop and showroom.
GFM students enjoyed dinner by candelabra at In Fabbrica. The workshop turns into a restaurant by night, where the silversmiths trade in their overalls for white gloves to serve as the restaurant’s waiters.

On Saturday morning, our last day in Florence, we met at the Polimoda campus where Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the Ecole Superior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal, delivered a lecture to GFM and Polimoda students. Professor Marchetti, who is from Italy and where he also studied, spoke about the socio-historical roots of Italian culture, making comparisons to France along the way. He defined Italy as a country with a “chaotic urban context” and one without a major social revolution, based on what he referred to as unstable and ephemeral power, as compared to France’s more orderly and defined regimes.

On campus at Polimoda in Florence, GFM students ended the seminar with a lecture on “Made in Italy, Cultural Imaginary, History and Identity” by Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the École Supérior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

We felt that this brief visit to Tuscany could be the start of a much deeper exploration, comparing two of the world’s most important cultural centers. In Paris, we studied the structure and well-developed organization of haute couture and prêt-à-porter – a legacy with well-established roots in the luxury manufacturing and export of 17th century France under Louis XIV.  Italy’s small and widely scattered companies, on the other hand, reflecting its history of warring city-states until the 19th century, still struggle. But the dominance of China, Italy’s languishing export numbers, and the trend for ever faster fashion are not what we were thinking about as we witnessed the beauty, creativity, and superior quality of the products we had the privilege to see during our final two seminar days, as well as the humility and generosity of company hosts and artisans. We all agreed that the world would be a much poorer place without Italian and French fashion and the people that create it.

P​aris Seminar 2015: News from Luxury Industry Leader Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice President, Hermès International

Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice President, Hermès International.

During each New York, Paris, and Hong Kong seminar, Global Fashion Management students meet to work in intercultural teams to analyze a business with the goal of recommending strategy in finance, marketing, or retail, for large companies or entrepreneurs. This process would be challenging enough if you were familiar with your teammates, their expertise, and their negotiating techniques. But GFM students seldom have this advantage. In the first seminar, they work across cultures with those they’ve never met to come to consensus, relying on their colleagues’ skills in merchandising, product development, finance, retail, design, marketing, or any number of specialties required to operate successful companies.

Global Fashion Management students working in teams made out of professionals with diverse backgrounds offer complementary skills
Global Fashion Management students work in intercultural teams of professionals from diverse backgrounds to offer complementary skills as they create strategies for their case study recommendations.

These skills were tested at the Paris seminar in April, when Hermès came to Institut Français de la Mode to present the history of their extraordinary brand and the challenges they face. As demand increases for their products and the experience it offers around the world, the company came to GFM to seek advice on how they might deliver the highest standard of customer service on a level that’s consistent with the expertise required to develop the products themselves.

Hermès International executives offer feedback to students during their case study presentations. Corinne Feneon, Retail Activities Director (center); Florian Craen, Executive Vice President, Sales and Distribution (third from right); Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice President, Manufacturing and Equity Investments (with microphone); Bénédicte Revol, Client Marketing Director (Right).
Hermès International executives offer feedback to students during their case study presentations. Corinne Feneon, Retail Activities Director (center); Florian Craen, Executive Vice President, Sales and Distribution (third from right); Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice President, Manufacturing and Equity Investments (with microphone); Bénédicte Revol, Client Marketing Director (Right).

Lead by Guillaume de Seynes, Hermès International Executive Vice-President; Corinne Feneon, Hermès International Group Retail Activities Director; and Thibault Hesse, Hermès International Customer Experience Manager, students received a thorough history of the family and the brand, leading to questions such as, “what does luxury mean to a contemporary – and younger – consumer?” “How does a digital strategy fit into the future of an historic and revered luxury brand?” And, “how do you identify and create a profile for a new consumer, and deliver the highest standard of customer service?”

Prior to arriving in Paris, and in their respective countries, students conducted primary interviews, collected data from database and digital sources, and most importantly, experienced the Hermès store experience themselves in cities throughout the world, to better understand the brand values and culture. As students collected data, they communicated among themselves in advance of meeting at the beginning of April, comparing notes and setting expectations for their first meeting in Paris.

The seminar’s lectures added depth to several topics within the case study, and a final coaching session helped to sharpen the focus to the recommendations. In the final debriefing session at the close of presentations, Hermès executives praised the teams for their insights and perspectives that were sometimes surprising and sometimes verified their assumptions, but ultimately made a valuable connection between the retail experience and the expectations of a digitally-engaged and global consumer.

GFM Students presenting their strategy recommendations to for Hermès.
GFM Students presenting their strategy recommendations to Hermès.

From FIT students’ point of view, the following quotes:

“Working with one of the most iconic luxury brands such as Hermès provided an enriching perspective on French industry dynamics.”

“Fascinating study on luxury with an international group. Always interesting to observe the initiative to make changes, yet the blindness to acknowledge what truly exists.”

“It was a ‘one time in my life’ experience to give a presentation in front of executives from Hermès.”

“Overall, it was a great learning experience working with people who understand and value luxury and customer service in different ways.”

“Experience and practice are needed to understand and deal with these cultural differences.”

“Having access to the thoughts and strategies of top executives from Dior, Chanel and especially Hermes helped inform the concepts our group put forth to assist in moving the luxury customer experience into the digital world. It was impressive to hear how important the customers are to these brands, and they all approach their interactions with consumers in unique ways.”

Please see “Seminars” on the Global Fashion Management website for more information.


 

P​aris Seminar 2015: News from Luxury Industry Leader Sidney Toledano, Chief Executive, Christian Dior

Sidney Toledano, CEO of Christian Dior Couture, speaks to GFM students about his experience with turning a haute couture house into a global brand.

“True luxury is only meaningful when rooted in authentic tradition,” says Toledano, reflecting on his knowledge of the luxury industry at the Paris Seminar for Global Fashion Management students.

A recent New York Times article describes Dior’s management under Chief Executive Sidney Toledano as among the best training grounds for luxury executives. On April 8th, when Mr. Toledano addressed Global Fashion Management students from FIT, Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute, and Institut Français de la Mode on their Paris campus, his remarks were less about his management style than a reflection of his depth of knowledge of the luxury industry in general, and Dior in particular. Mr. Toledano channeled Christian Dior through his quote, “true luxury is only meaningful when rooted in authentic tradition,” before he went on to describe Dior’s evolution of designers and iconic garments and accessories, noting the importance of a thorough understanding of the brand DNA among creators.

Mr. Toledano began his presentation by describing the company’s licensing business after World War II and the effort to finally bring it under control. He commented on the early career of Bernard Arnault, and Yves Saint Laurent – Christian Dior’s assistant – all leading up to the extraordinary success of the company today. Commenting on the skill of the design and production teams, he said, “The Dior atelier is unique in Paris and at the height of complexity,” as Global Fashion Management students who have had the privilege to visit, will no doubt agree. Questions from students followed, asking about Dior’s digital commerce strategy, expanding into emerging markets, and the creative decisions behind the iconic brand.

“Even when there are no more secrets, fashion remains a mystery.“ – Christian Dior

Sydney Toledano, Chief Executive of Christian Dior, meeting with GFM students at the Paris Seminar
Sidney Toledano, Chief Executive of Christian Dior, meeting with GFM students at the Paris Seminar.
Véronique Schilling, Director, GFM Executive MBA at IFM Paris (Left), Sydney Toledano, Chief Executive of Christian Dior (Center), Emmanuelle Favre, International Human Resources Director, Christian Dior Couture (Right)
Véronique Schilling, Director, GFM Executive MBA at IFM Paris (Left), Sidney Toledano, Chief Executive, Christian Dior (Center), Emmanuelle Favre, International Human Resources Director, Christian Dior Couture (Right)

Please see “Seminars” on the Global Fashion Management website for more information.