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

If you have already been selling at Barneys New York for years, it means that your product is differentiated and you have brought something new to the market. In the end, fashion is an industry and the designer has to compromise, but during a certain period of the designer’s life, it is art, it must be art, if not, there is nothing and a brand cannot last.

TT: Can you tell me about the reaction of the French fashion industry to “fast fashion”? With the Internet and quicker production cycles for retailers, many designers now feel like they need to do mid-season collections in order to stay relevant. What kind of impact will fast fashion have on the ready-to-wear industry?

DG: Fast fashion means that the same lady can buy Chanel and Zara, but at the same time there is no reason why designers of the new generation cannot compete with Zara. That is why we encourage designers, and especially the new generation of designers, to manufacture in China, and most of them do in the same way that their predecessors gave assignments to Italian factories. The world is opening up today, especially with the Internet. You can sketch a design in Paris and produce [it] in Shanghai or in Taipei.

TT: Many consumers still associate fashion items made in China with lower quality, mass manufacturing and counterfeit goods. Since you think it is important for designers to take advantage of manufacturing resources in China, how do you think consumer perception of the “made in China” label will change?

DG: Consumers will change their minds as fashion designers from China become better known to an international audience. Japan had the worst image in the 1950s and they were supposed to be the worst manufacturers and the fiercest copiers on the planet. But, of course, because of Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, that image of Japan has changed today and become one of extremely good service and perfect manufacturing. The image of a country changes with the image of its own brands.

The “made in France” label is still extremely important on certain items. If you a buy a dress for a special occasion, you might think spending a thousand Euros is fine, because you need the product to be very well made. It is something that you want to spend money on, because it is important for your function, for your special day. But when [a consumer] buys a cotton shirt, the price cannot be what it would be if it were manufactured in France. Cotton shirts can be made in Asia, which also has the best cotton in the world because of the humidity and climate. If you as a designer want to produce a shirt, a cotton shirt, and you want the best cotton that exists, you will produce in China, because China manufacturers do knitwear well. With new technology and the Internet, you can communicate with the world on a screen. You can be in this room right now, for example, and manage a fitting in Sao Paulo. This allows you to conceive your collection in very different ways and to produce all over the world in the same way you would produce in your own country.

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