Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - Page 14 News List

The economy is on the outs, but fashion is always in

Didier Grumbach, head of the most important organization in the French fashion industry, talks about how the global economic crisis is affecting the world of style

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Looking relaxed despite several busy days of speeches and media interviews in Taipei, Didier Grumbach, the head of the organization that organizes Paris Fashion Week, patiently received another round of reporters in Shiatzy Chen’s flagship store on Zhongshan North Road early Saturday morning.

Grumbach is the president of the Federation Francaise de la Couture, du Pret-a-Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode, the most important organization in the French fashion industry. The Federation promotes new designers and represents the interests of fashion brands by protecting intellectual property rights and assisting in marketing and publicity.

It is best known, however, for selecting the designers that show in Paris Fashion Week and determining which design houses can bear the highly esteemed haute couture label.

Born in 1937, Grumbach has fashion in his blood — his family founded C. Mendes, which held manufacturing licenses from top haute couture houses. Grumbach’s career has included stints as chief executive officer of C. Mendes, president of Yves St Laurent Inc and president of Thierry Mugler. He is also the author of Histoires de la Mode, an influential reference work on the history of French fashion.

Grumbach gave a talk on Jan. 9 at the Xue Xue Institute (學學文創志業) to industry insiders (and Vice President Vincent Siew, 蕭萬長) about how Taiwan could make an impact on the world fashion scene. On the topic sheet, however, was also a more pressing issue: the effects of the current global economic crisis on high fashion.

Sluggish consumer spending has made it difficult for some designers to justify the expense of a runway show, which can cost up to US$100,000. In New York City, designers who have dropped out of that city’s upcoming fall 2009 fashion shows include Vera Wang and Betsey Johnson. And in Paris, Viktor & Rolf recently eschewed the runway in favor of debuting their spring 2009 line on a Web site as “a take on what a fashion show might be in the future,” the designers said. There have also been reports that representatives from high-end department stores Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman will not be attending the spring/summer 2009 haute couture shows in Paris later this month.

Even before the economic crisis hit, the fashion world was undergoing several major paradigm shifts. The advent of “fast fashion,” in which looks from the runway hit mass-market retail stores with a speed impossible before the advent of the Internet, has put pressure on designers to churn out new styles at a ramped-up pace. Fashion houses, including Burberry and Escada, have started introducing mid-season collections in order to put fresh looks in their stores, bringing into the question the relevance of the semiannual fashion weeks in Paris, New York City and Milan.

While he says that it will have to adapt to keep up with the new marketing cycle, Grumbach still firmly believes in Paris Fashion Week. He also defends the importance of haute couture, saying that it gives new designers a chance to present their point of view without the pressure of competing for attention from retailers during the ready-to-wear shows (the Paris haute couture shows for each season are presented several months after Fashion Week).

“Many of the important brands now have to take orders before their ready-to-wear fashion show are even presented,” says Grumbach. “That is why we encourage new designers to show in the couture calendar when they are invited, so first they can take their orders and then they can put on the runway what they need to put on the runway, which is the new ideas that they have thought of.”

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