How Will MADE Impact Paris Fashion Week?

This week, New York’s MADE platform for emerging designers arrives in Paris. But will its off-beat format and off-piste location translate within the highly-structured, traditional Paris fashion schedule?

Hôtel Salomon de Rothshild | Source: Wikimedia Commons / Mu

PARIS, France — Walking into Manhattan’s Milk Studios during New York Fashion Week, one is bombarded with a frenzy of publicists, uptown editors and their assistants, hangers-on and the odd celebrity rushing in and out of the scores of fashion shows and presentations held there each season as part of MADE, an eight-season-old initiative to support the city’s emerging fashion talent. Indeed, the eight-story building in the Meatpacking district has come to epitomise the youthful dynamism of New York, even if the quality of shows and presentations is sometimes uneven.

Still, with its open floor-plans, generous exposure to sunlight and decidedly downtown sensibility, the space provides a welcome counterpoint to the bland trade-show ambiance of the uptown Lincoln Center location, and critically, one that is far more suited to young fashion designers. The unique mix at MADE has brought a new energy to the New York Fashion Week calendar, and shifted its centre of gravity away from the traditional IMG-­organised venue and closer towards MADE’s downtown base.

Now, the team behind MADE is hoping to replicate this success in Paris, where it launches today after a brief trial run last season. For four days this week, MADE is taking over the grand Hôtel Salomon de Rothshild in the 8th arrondissement to test its unconventional format within Paris’ highly-structured, traditional fashion schedule.

In Paris, as in New York, MADE’s mission remains the same. Namely, to assist young designers who don’t have the financial and operational resources to put on a show. To this end, MADE provides the designers with a venue, teams of hair stylists and make-up artists along with other logistical assistance, most of which is facilitated by sponsors.

“We created this efficient system: exposing editors and buyers to a new breed of talent that they may have not otherwise taken the time to go see; exposing young designers to the upper echelon of editors and buyers that they may have not have access to prior,” says the initiative’s co-founder and executive director Jenné Lombardo, who spoke to BoF about MADE’s motivations for going to Paris.

Whether the formula that has worked so well in New York — a unique combination of location, attendance, participants and je ne sais quoi — can be recreated in Paris, remains to be seen. What is clear is that Paris could benefit from a support platform specifically for young designers.

Indeed, according to Lombardo, the incentive to go to Paris sprung directly from this perceived lack of support for young designers there.

“We realised there was such an amazing young breed of talent that was being overshadowed by the big fashion houses and didn’t have room to live on the calendar,” says Lombardo, “because, unlike New York, in Paris you have to be invited to be on the calendar. We also know how difficult it is to get around in Paris. So it was the same thought process. [Helping the] younger generation of talent who weren’t able to expose themselves because it was too difficult to squeeze into the schedule.”

To avoid being perceived as a competing intruder in Paris’ hermetic fashion hegemony, MADE cleverly secured the support of the Fédération Française de la Couture, the official government body that oversees Paris Fashion Week and decides who is listed on the calendar.

“We wouldn’t have done anything without the support of Didier Grumbach,” says Lombardo, referring to the organisation’s president. For his part, Monsieur Grumbach explained his decision to support the upstart from New York with measured approval, telling BoF that “as long as MADE supports the designers we list in the official calendar and encourages the same companies we do, they reinforce the Paris session and there is no reason why we should not welcome them with pleasure.”

Despite the support of the governing establishment, the move to Paris did not come without hurdles for MADE, whose success back home relies heavily on strategically forged relationships. Foremost among the obstacles faced by Ms. Lombardo and her partners has been a reluctant sponsoring culture that is vastly different from American practices.

“It has been a long, difficult process to get to know the French market and our biggest challenge taking this to Paris has been raising funding,” she observes. “I think in Europe, and France particularly, it is not something that brands have a habit of doing to the same extent that is the case in the US.”

As for the designers selected to participate, the eclectic roster ranges from well known designers like AF Vandevorst and Gareth Pugh to relatively unknown fashion and jewelry designers, like Dusan and Heaven Tanudiredja. “It’s people we think have the talent but also enough traction for people to want to pay attention,” says Lombardo.

One point that has been raised among sceptics is that some of the designers MADE works with in Paris hardly need the support, as they have been in business for a while or are involved with well-established (and lucrative) parallel projects. Such is the case of Sharon Wauchob, who is also the creative director of Ali Hewson’s brand Edun, and Anthony Vaccarello, who won the prestigious ANDAM prize in 2011.

But the response of the designers themselves has been more enthusiastic. BoF Spotlight alumnus Yang Li has been on the cusp of success for some time and is using the MADE platform to gain experience and advice. Li, who has never had a presentation or show, choosing instead to build his business through individual showroom appointments with buyers and press, told BoF he welcomed MADE’s support with open arms as it comes at a critical moment in his career.

“I think too many designers show too early. But, for someone like me who is ready to start showing regularly, this is a great opportunity. To have someone not only give you financial support but also hold your hand, to mentor you in a way, is very important,” reflects Li. “It is one thing to have money to spend or to have things sponsored, but it’s another thing to know how to spend that money and know where value comes in.”

“Another great thing about MADE which I find really important is that they don’t get in the way,” adds Li. “With some sponsorship deals you have to do certain things. Or, they try to dictate your creative output. MADE has given me a lot of freedom. It’s almost a carte blanche and I think that as a big organisation that is the best attitude you can take toward young designers like me, to guide but not push.”

Lombardo and her partners are cautious about not expecting too much from their first attempt at cracking the Paris Fashion Week schedule.“I am both excited and scared to find out if we get enough of an audience. Showing multiple designers at the same time is new for Paris, so we are curious how that is received there,” she says.

For his part, Monsieur Grumbach points out that not only is it unusual for Paris designers to show at the same time, but it is also uncommon to show in the same venues. Indeed Paris hasn’t had a centralised fashion show venue since the Carrousel du Louvre, the subterranean location abandoned several years ago for a more dispersed array of venues throughout the city. Whether MADE’s residency at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothshild can provide such a hub will depend on the willingness of the fashion flock to show up in sufficient numbers and on whether MADE’s chosen venue and line-up of designers prove to have the right mix.

“Ultimately, we hope that we make an impact on the designers’ businesses — that by us offsetting the cost, [it] will allow them to focus on their craft and relieve them of the stresses of having to pay for a show,” says Ms. Lombardo.

Her reserve is matched by Monsieur Grumbach, who, when asked about the impact he anticipates MADE to have on Paris Fashion Week on the whole, told BoF: “Call us again next year and we’ll see.”