Paris has just wrapped up a busy menswear week with more than 80 attendees over six days, and is gearing up for a haute couture week with around 30 houses on the schedule from July 4th to 7th.
For Ralph Toledano, who steps down as president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode after an eventful eight-year term, it is confirmation of his convictions that Paris is the “undisputed capital of fashion”, and that the shows , framed by an organized and curated fashion week, remain “indispensable” for creative brands and designers.
“Fashion weeks create competition between brands while motivating designers to do their best,” he explained in an interview. “The show is a catalyst for this that the closer it gets, the more creative the design teams become.”
And that energy reverberates throughout the fashion house. “It’s a unique moment of intensity and emotion, when everyone comes together to support the design team and make the show a success,” said Toledano, who over the years has led brands such as Karl Lagerfeld, Guy Laroche and Chloé.
Furthermore, fashion week “is a unique moment of emotion at a specific time – bringing together fashion experts to see, feel, touch, the results of several months of creative work in terms of clothing, bags, shows, jewelry, beauty. “, he said. “Everyone enjoys the work. The reality is that the fashion world is thrilled to meet again in Paris for physical fashion weeks.”
One of the most talented and revered executives in the industry, Toledano has completed three terms on the French fashion governing body, making him ineligible for re-election.
He comes out on a high and with only one piece of advice for the federation for years to come: “Raise the bar!”
Toledano was president of Puig’s fashion division, overseeing houses such as Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier, when he was elected president of the federation in 2014. He currently serves as a senior partner at Neo Investment, which has stakes in Victoria Beckham, Vuarnet , Valextra, Miller Harris, Alain Mikli and luxury brands in the food and design categories. Toledano is also president of Victoria Beckham; he sits on the boards of the Institut Français de la Mode and the Association Villa Noailles, which organizes the Festival de Hyères, and remains president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture until September.
“Operating a business has been key to understanding the services or initiatives that the federation must provide,” he said. “I would say it is a good company.”
Toledano said he managed his ambitions for the federation, which has about 100 members, with the zeal and ingenuity of a businessman.
“The federation has totally changed its scale. It was long seen as the place you went to get a good spot on the concert calendar. Now the federation is present in all aspects of fashion,” she said.
Its promotion and defense of the industry, expressed in Paris and Brussels, means that it is now taken seriously by various levels of government. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has hosted two gala evenings at the Élysée Palace for the fashion industry in recent years, inviting all of the city’s top designers for a meal, photo shoot and networking.
In 2014, Toledano and his executive committee at the time – Francesca Bellettini of Saint Laurent, Bruno Pavlovsky of Chanel, Guillaume de Seynes of Hermès and Sidney Toledano of LVMH Fashion Group, who is not related – identified six priorities, with the prominent position reinforced Paris at the top of the to-do list.
Another was the creation of a fashion school in Paris to rival Central Saint Martins in London, which came closer to reality in 2019 with the merger of École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and France’s IFM management school to create the Institut Français de la Mode, uniting business, design and savoir-faire studies.
“The first indicators are extremely promising and now we are even more committed to making it the most prominent fashion school in the world,” said Toledano, counting on Chanel, Hermès, Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, along with Compagnie Financiere Richemont and Lanvin, spent millions to make the new IFM a reality.
He is also particularly proud of effectively communicating about the federation’s accomplishments; increase female representation in the Chambres Syndicales du Prêt-à-Porter; establish strict and transparent governance and strengthen support systems for emerging brands.
“Personally, I was determined to open the doors of the federation, imagining it as the home of fashion, a home of and for people of fashion,” he said. “With Pascal Morand, executive president of the federation, and the dream team he built, we implemented our program.”
The federation has introduced a wide range of services for emerging brands, financial aid through its support fund and a showroom known as Sphere, held four times a year with support from industry body DEFI.
“In the future, there will be a fixed budget for designers,” said Toledano. While the value is confidential, services available to up-and-coming brands include digital showrooms, help with filming look books, access to logistical planning and training courses.
“They need to learn how to create a business plan,” Toledano said. “It’s the first thing potential investors ask them.”
He also described Serge Carreira, who joined in 2019 to lead the federation’s emerging brand initiatives, as “a permanent mentor” to a number of young designers.
One of the hallmarks of Paris Fashion Week has been its curated and selective approach to deciding who enters the official calendar. Toledano said the federation now invites a range of experts – including retailers, showrooms and publishers – to offer their perspectives on who should make the cut.
“We have enhanced Didier Grumbach’s efforts in elevating and evaluating the PFW criteria: creativity, skill, innovation, openness to foreign designers, inclusion,” he said, referring to his predecessor at the federation.
Toledano said he agreed to run for a third term as non-executive chairman to see the IFM transition.
“We had already officially announced the merger of the École de la Chambre Syndicale and the IFM, but then we needed to define how the fashion and craft school would work, build the baccalaureate program and finance it. At the end of the day, it was a true entrepreneurial initiative, but we did it,” he said.
The second reason to stay was unplanned: to help guide the governing body during the coronavirus pandemic.
“French industry has reacted remarkably to the pandemic”, he marveled. “When it started, as the country was significantly short of masks and disinfectant gel, the industry converted its factories and workshops to produce them for free, a gesture that was extremely well received by caregivers.”
Toledano noted that France’s leading luxury groups refused the protection offered by the government and “brands showed impressive resilience and immediate reactivity, digitizing their operations at an incredible pace.
“In other parts of the world, a large number of jobs were eliminated, while the French fashion industry avoided this and recovered with excellent results,” he added. “In hindsight, there are always things that could have been improved, but I don’t see any major issues that haven’t been addressed.
“Fortunately, we were able to show in February and March 2020, but when the situation worsened, the executive committee decided to cancel the men’s and haute couture shows scheduled for June and July,” he recalled. “When we wrote the press release with the announcement, we decided to remain positive and mentioned that we were exploring alternative options.”
Once this was put in writing, the federation had to deliver. Everyone scrambled to develop a digital showcase and six weeks later, the first online fashion week in Paris was underway.
In Toledano’s view, Paris has maintained its stature as the preeminent international fashion week while staying true to its DNA, namely “creativity, finish and innovation”.
Another is to welcome designers from more than 20 different nationalities, including from Japan, UK, USA, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Northern Europe, Middle East and, more recently, China and Africa.
The women’s fashion week in Paris now spans nine days, with between 90 and 100 participants.
“We must remain extremely judicious in the selection of fashion week participants,” he said, also citing the need to establish “the best possible infrastructure and services for all visitors who come to Paris for fashion weeks.”
Toledano declined a question about competition from other capitals, such as Milan, New York or Shanghai. “We don’t think in terms of competition: we are simply driven by the idea of making Paris Fashion Week stronger season after season,” he said.
Toledano highlighted a “fascinating recovery” in haute couture week from 15 years ago, when the federation had to fill haute fashion week with ready-to-wear shows to make it viable.
“Now we have a lot of demand from young designers, very young designers, who want to start their careers in haute couture,” he enthused. “Why? Haute couture means more autonomy in creativity. When you work for big companies, marketing is also important, so you have to design it that way, it has to be in this material – it has to fit into a collection plan.
“It makes a lot of young people want to do this,” he said of haute couture, enthusing that “because they are young, they bring new technologies, new approaches.”
Asked what developments in the history of fashion he has observed over the course of his eight-year tenure, he cited many: “Gender fluidity, openness to new cultures, endless collaborations, artistic director movement, digitization across all industry sectors, imperatives of sustainability and inclusion”.
The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode holds its general meeting on Friday and is expected to elect a new president. The main candidate is Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Fashion and President of Chanel SAS. He is already part of the executive committee of the French fashion governing body.
Ralph Toledano: Why Paris is Blooming
How Ralph Toledano Discovered Alber Elbaz
Ralph Toledano joins Neo Investment as a partner