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.”
“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
GFM students took a break from lectures at the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan during the recent New York seminar to spend a day exploring the rapidly evolving and consistently inventive retail environments of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
These neighborhoods –transformed from their origin as industrial, manufacturing centers, and home to thousands of immigrants who moved to the area from Manhattan’s lower east side in the early 20th century – were rezoned for development along the East River in 2005. The zoning ordinance allowed for light manufacturing, making it possible to continue apparel production. The new “creative economy” has provided Williamsburg and Greenpoint with an energy that is beginning to attract mainstream Manhattan retailers. But the neighborhoods’ small retailers are keeping their edge as local customers have given them permission to indulge in “slow” fashion and reward them for their courage. Two of our favorites are In God We Trust andKai D. Utility.
Shana Tabor, In God We Trust: Shana’s Greenpoint store serves as her jewelry and garment production studio, as well as the retail store for In God We Trust; her other retail locations are in Williamsburg and Soho. Shana’s collections are reminiscent of her New England heritage, infused with attitude and style, sung to Veruca Salt and Joan Jett, and made in Brooklyn (and Manhattan). Trained as a jewelry designer, Shana believes in the importance of detail and the integrity of quality.
. . .
Kai D., Kai D. Utility: As a disciple of the less-is-more philosophy, Kai D.’s shop is a panorama of rich organic neutrals dyed into high-quality natural fibers; woven in historic Italian mills; sung to Bob Dylan, Brother Yusef, and Billie Holiday; and cut and constructed in Manhattan. A gifted designer, his ideology, “refined for the modern artisan and built to last,” is visible in every garment. Kai D’s working knowledge of tailoring and fit, and the construction details which set his garments apart from the accepted standard, are alone worth the trip. For Kai D., this is personal.
By Elka Gruenberg (Class of 2016), Northeast Account Executive, Simone Perele
If you were walking down East 55th Street one afternoon in early October, you may have happened across dozens of giddy adults pouring out onto the street; visibly elated, exhausted, chattering non-stop in half a dozen languages, and making a beeline for celebratory drinks. What you would have seen would have been students from FIT’s GFM Program – with their colleagues from IFM and HKPU – emerging from the New York Seminar after delivering case study presentations.
To be fair… we were warned…. multiple times…by all of our professors, advisors, and older students…“Be prepared not to sleep” and “You’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.”
Yet we eagerly dove into the seminar, enthusiastically meeting our new colleagues and forming our case study teams. What followed was ten days of unremitting learning. Nights were spent continuously working and re-working angles of the case study.
Our days, however, were spent being lectured by some of the retail industry’s most influential and accomplished players.
I won’t lie; it felt a bit like a commercial…
Metro Card. $2.50.
Morning double latte. $4.50…
Asking advice from Anna Bakst, who launched Michael Kors Footwear and Accessories and built it into a multi-billion dollar business…Priceless.
While I’m sure she could have easily picked twice as many speakers, Pamela Ellsworth, Chair of GFM, assembled a group of experts who covered the entire span of the retail horizon.
Kevin Ryan – founder of Gilt Groupe – walked us through how he launched the luxury flash sale site. He challenged us to ask, “Why will people use this product,” at every point in product development. He also reminded us that while ideas are great, “The idea is only moderately important. Execution is everything.”
We learned how securing private equity is like dating; how manufacturers are positioned to become direct conduits to retail; and in this day and age every company is a tech company.
All of the speakers pushed us to expand our understanding of the retail experience.
Today’s consumer is more global, more tech savvy, more environmentally conscious and more demanding than ever before. To keep up, we need to be constantly aware of what is happening around the world. Luckily, all I have to do to keep up is Skype with any of my case study teammates in Paris, Casablanca, Geneva, or Hong Kong.