Paris Fashion Week Returns at Full Throttle

PARIS — With Paris Fashion Week back at full throttle, officials at the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode are grappling with the logistical challenges that come with organizing a nine-day schedule featuring 106 brands.

These range from short-term concerns, such as improving security at show venues amid an influx of uninvited guests, to longer-term considerations like reducing the environmental impact of the 64 shows and 42 presentations on the official calendar for spring 2023.

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Compounding the city’s chronic traffic jams and shortage of taxis, a national strike has been called for Thursday and could disrupt public transport.

Bruno Pavlovsky, newly elected president of the federation, and Pascal Morand, executive president of French fashion’s governing body, are working hand-in-hand to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic era as brands contend with a new set of problems that threaten to derail their recovery, including rising inflation, energy shortages and ongoing supply chain disruptions.

“We’re seeing a very energetic comeback in all the fashion weeks,” Pavlovsky told WWD in a joint interview with Morand. “That’s a good sign. Fashion is back to playing its key role in the world, so Paris will be a unique moment, as always.”

Both executives noted that Chinese industry representatives were starting to travel again for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19. “It’s a timid and controlled opening, but it’s happening,” said Pavlovsky, who is president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS. “I’ve had more business meetings with Chinese executives in the last two months than I have in the last two years.”

Asian brands are back in force too, with labels like Mame Kurogouchi and Noir Kei Ninomiya staging their first runway displays in Paris since 2020.

To make sure that smaller domestic and international brands have the necessary resources to show in the French capital, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode recently decided to extend a support fund for emerging designers that was put in place during the pandemic.

Together with financing provided by the DEFI, a body that promotes the development of the French fashion industry, the federation allocates a total budget of around one million euros per year, typically in the form of grants ranging from 7,500 euros to 15,000 euros, Morand said.

“These are catalysts that allow brands to show in Paris,” he said, noting that designers also have access to a reduced-rate show space and the Sphere showroom, both hosted at the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum.

“There will always be a good reason to support [emerging brands] because the world is evolving so much. One moment, it’s COVID-19, now it’s prices. What’s important today is that Paris remains attractive,” Pavlovsky added. “In this economic context, staging a presentation and just producing a collection is becoming more expensive and more complicated. These obstacles must not prevent brands from showing here.”

Pascal Morand and Bruno Pavlovsky
Pascal Morand and Bruno Pavlovsky.

Morand noted that Paris continues to draw designers from across the world, with 56 percent of international brands taking part in the spring 2023 women’s shows, ranging from the young guard of Chinese design to high-profile newcomers like U.K.-based Victoria Beckham and Australian label Zimmermann. “We are objectively, by far, the most international fashion week,” he said.

One phenomenon gathering momentum is that shows are attracting more and more outside spectators, to the point of generating security concerns. “We saw a tipping point in March, with huge crowds of young people,” Morand said.

Given that the phenomenon is partly fuelled by the brands themselves, who have increasingly opened their shows to members of the public, the federation is liaising with the city authorities and Paris police to make sure everyone’s plans run smoothly. “We urge all houses that are less accustomed to dealing with security issues to put in place adequate safety measures,” Morand said.

Pavlovsky suggested that the democratization of fashion shows in the aftermath of the pandemic may have gone too far.

“I think we’ll have to make a few adjustments in Paris. In July, we saw a lot of people trying to get into shows without invitations or with fake invitations,” he said. “We still have to work with the police and security firms, so it’s not compatible with completely opening the shows to everyone.”

Behind the scenes, the fashion organization is also helping brands to reduce the environmental footprint of their events and collections, thanks to measurement systems developed with professional services firm PwC.

The events tool calculates some 120 key performance indicators covering all stages of an event, from signing up with a production house to castings and fittings, and including digital communications. Informally launched last September, it was used by 57 percent of participating brands during the fall 2022 shows.

“The objective is to have 80 percent of participation for September,” Morand said. The collections tool, aimed at brands with annual revenues of 20 million to 30 million euros, will be launched before the end of the year.

Pavlovsky estimated that operating significant change will probably take five years, but he underlined that sustainability was a top priority for the federation, which is committed to raising awareness, as well as educating and supporting participating brands.

“I hope that one day we’ll be able to publish a carbon and CSR footprint for Paris Fashion Week. Today, we’re in the construction phase, and that is achieved by everyone taking part,” he said, noting that ecological design requires a total change of mind-set. “It’s more expensive and it shouldn’t come at the expense of creativity, so for all of this to change, it takes a bit of time.”

The federation is also active at the European level, as a voting member of the technical secretariat for the global apparel and footwear sector working on the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint method. In that role, it is lobbying to obtain recognition of the special nature of luxury goods, arguing that they should not receive the same environmental labeling as fast fashion.

One solution to curb the carbon footprint of Paris Fashion Week might be to shorten the event by several days, which would also respond to criticism from some attendees who say the budget for attending is too high. However, Pavlovsky rejected the suggestion, saying it’s impossible to further compress the schedule without harming some participants.

“It’s important to give everyone a chance. It’s also what makes Paris attractive,” he said. “If you group all the large houses over two days, people will never stay. Already today, it’s hard. Fashion week is an opportunity for all these designers, all these brands to express themselves, and it’s the federation’s job to give them a slot to do that. It’s our job also to convince as many journalists as possible to stay as long as possible.”

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