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

TT: Many of the top design houses are now owned by luxury conglomerates like LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton [the parent company of Givenchy and Marc Jacobs, among other labels], which in addition to the demands of fashion must also listen to the demands of shareholders. Is there any concern that the creative independence of designers will be affected by that?

DG: There is no question that groups including LVMH or PPR [whose labels include Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen] are welcome because they permit brands to survive. After all, Chanel is now close to a hundred years old and Lanvin was founded in 1899. Companies like LVMH and PPR have always existed, even in the 1930s and then after the war, when [French entrepreneur] Marcel Boussac financed Christian Dior.

You always have financial groups funding new brands, which is valuable. It is very difficult for new brands to cohabit with venerable design houses. When Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain opened their couture houses in the 1940s, the House of Worth and the House of Paquin were still operating nearby. There is always competition between new brands with new blood and brands which are already in their third or fourth generation, it’s part of French fashion tradition.

TT: How can designers like Shiatzy Chen and Yufengshawn [the first two Taiwanese designers to show at Paris fashion week] market themselves to a worldwide audience?

DG: It depends on their business model and strategy. I don’t think that they have a set model they need to follow. You use your own past to build your future. But it’s important to create an international network to carry your collection. What [Shiatzy Chen] brings to Paris are also her strong points here, especially her quality and service, which are exceptional. She may have to adjust to fit the needs of the clientele over there, but I think that she has an advantage, which is that she had a store in Paris before anyone else [from this region] and it gives her an international flavor. She has an opportunity to use her service and her quality, which is really exceptional and a specific advantage, to address a clientele that is not the same as she has here, but one that is complementary.

TT: What kind of special qualities do designers from emerging marketplaces bring to the international fashion scene in their work?

DG: Actually, I think that, especially in light of the global economic crisis, we are all the same. There are no more frontiers. We are in one world. You cannot have nationalism in fashion. But what is a fact is that when a new country comes into the international community, it brings to the world its traditions, its repertory. That was obvious in Japan, where people like Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake changed international fashion and added something that can only have originated from Japan. I am wearing a jacket by Issey and though it’s not noticeably Japanese, it can only be Japanese. It is something that comes from each country’s culture. With designers in India, who are extraordinary, their work is very colorful and the detailing can only be Indian. It is the same with looks from China, they are influenced by Chinese culture but do not look Chinese. Right now everything is about bringing and melding cultures together.

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