Didier may not be a household name, but in the international fashion industry, he’s a legend. It’s been GFM’s great fortune to hear him speak about the history of the industry and his unique place at the center of it, when he opens the Paris seminar every year.
Co-founder of Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, colleague to Givenchy, chairman of Thierry Mugler, and Chairman of the Fédération Français de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, and of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Corture, Didier has also served as Director of Studies and Dean of Professional Staff at Institut Français de la Mode since 1985.
His History of International Fashion – recently translated into English – is the ultimate authority on the history of haute couture, leading to the origin of ready-to-wear and manufacturing, and finally to the internationalization of the industry as we know it today. Didier hasn’t written a history of fashion, and his lecture to GFM students doesn’t follow that narrative. Instead, he discusses designers as instigators of society-changing concepts; for example, Chanel’s disruption of structured garments through the introduction of new fabrics and silhouettes; the Christian Dior business model and the start of licensing in the U.S.; and YSL’s brilliant creation of ready-to-wear collections inspired by couture. Didier has the remarkable ability to rise above the often-repeated stories of glamour and indulgence (although he’s familiar with those as well) to describe businesses devoted to beauty and high fashion but starved for cash, and opportunistic governments that use the apparel industry as economic protection. There are very few in the apparel industry – anywhere in the world – who have the comprehensive knowledge and experience of Didier, and even fewer who have the generosity to share it.
“This book . . . aspires to be the story of the creation, the evolution, and the implosion of the fashion trade and to offer perspectives on a profession that, like any other social body, defines itself by its origins as by its current economic context.” – Didier Grumbach
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.
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.
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.
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.”