PARIS, France — For years, Paris, widely considered the world’s fashion capital, failed to produce many young designers with budding international businesses. It wasn’t for lack of talent. Rather, when compared to New York and London, Paris lacked adequate financing and support systems for emerging brands. What’s more, in Paris, young design talent was often vacuumed up by the city’s many established fashion houses.
In the last few years, however, the French capital has birthed a range of promising young labels, from Ami and Officine Générale to Jacquemus, Vetements and Etudes Studio, which have brought fresh energy and momentum to the city’s fashion scene.
What changed to make Paris a more powerful platform for young fashion talent?
First and foremost, Paris-based designers now have better access to funding. The French government has a long tradition of supporting fashion companies and, in recent years, has ramped up its activities in the sector. In 2012, the IFCIC (l'Institut pour le Financement du Cinéma et des Industries Culturelles), France’s lending institution for culture, launched the Young Fashion Designers initiative, backed by Chanel, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and the French ministries for culture and the economy. The IFCIC provides loans of up to 100,000 euros ($113,000) to brands between two and ten years old in order to provide the cash flow needed to produce a collection. The scheme has granted loans amounting to 2 million euros to young labels including Officine Générale and Olympia Le-Tan. And after positive feedback from designers, the programme has recently been renewed for five years. Starting in 2012, the IFCIC also began guaranteeing bank loans of up to 300,000 euros for emerging fashion labels. Thus far, it has guaranteed 3.4 million euros in loans.
“They’re great, they understand our issues, what we do. It’s not difficult to get them on the phone, which can sound silly, but is very revealing. They come to our shows. It’s a great feeling to see that they care,” said Jérémie Egry of Etudes Studio, which received a loan from the IFCIC last year. The brand, which launched three years ago and has studios in both Paris and New York, had a 2014 turnover of about 1 million euros and, last month, opened its first store in Paris.
The Banque Publique d'Investissement (or Bpifrance), France’s state-owned investment bank) also operates a fashion-focused fund called Mode et Finance. Founded in 1999 and previously managed by Natixis Private Equity, the scheme first gained traction in 2010 when it was taken over by Bpifrance and has since invested in Paris-based brands including Ami and menswear label Officine Générale. The terms of these deals were not disclosed, but the fund generally makes minority investments of between 400,000 euros and 5,000,000 euros. “The investment will be used to reinforce our staff with the recent arrival of our chief finance officer. It will allow us to seek stronger legal counsels and help open our second flagship store in New York City,” said Pierre Mahéo, who founded Officine Générale in 2012. The menswear brand currently has over one hundred points of sale and generated 1.9 million euros in revenue last year.
But perhaps the biggest growth in funding available to young Paris-based fashion brands has come from major corporate sponsors, which are backing a number of key fashion prizes with renewed vigour. In February, Chanel partnered with the longstanding ANDAM (Association Nationale pour le Développement des Arts de la Mode) prize to launch a Fashion Accessories Prize for designers under 40 who own a French company with a turnover of under 1,000,000 euros. The first prize winner, to be announced in September, will receive 30,000 euros as well as mentorship from Nadja Swarovski.
In recent years, ANDAM has grown significantly, reflecting an increased commitment to young brands from the institutions that back the award, which, alongside Chanel, include DEFI (a state-run organisation that promotes the textile industry), OTB Group, Saint Laurent and LVMH. The Grand Prize, launched in 2011 and offering a cash reward of 200,000 euros, has since grown to 250,000 euros, a two-year mentorship and a pop-up shop on The Corner, a full-priced fashion e-commerce site owned by the Yoox Group. In 2013, the award went to Alexandre Mattiussi’s label Ami, which is now carried in over 167 stores and doubled its production in 2014 to 100,000 garments. The cash reward for the ANDAM First Collection Prize — created in 2011 and awarded, last year, to the Paris-based label Coperni — also increased from 60,000 euros to 90,000 euros this year.
Last year, LVMH, the world’s largest luxury conglomerate, launched its own, much-talked-about prize: the LVMH Prize. The top award (300,000 euros and a year of mentoring from LVMH, with a Special Jury Prize offering €150,000 and mentoring) is not focused on French brands only. In fact, thus far its winners have been London-based labels Thomas Tait and Marques Almeida, but, this year, the 2015 Special Jury Prize was awarded to Paris-based label Jacquemus.
Part of the benefit of winning (and simply participating in) the LVMH Prize is media attention and industry exposure. “You get to meet people you’d never have met before. Anna Wintour stopped by my booth, which would have not happened in real life,” said Simon Porte Jacquemus, the designer behind the brand. Now in his thirteenth collection, Jacquemus has 80 points of sale worldwide and a 2014 turnover of between 1 million euros and 3 million euros, according to industry estimates. 2015 LVMH Prize finalist Vetements, a French label founded in 2014 by seven designers from Maison Martin Margiela, used its presentation at LVMH to promote its Paris Fashion Week show to influential editors — many of whom then attended.
Similarly, the Festival de Hyères, launched in 1985 and held in Southeastern France, has become a more powerful platform for young designers this year, thanks to new sponsorship from Chanel. Last year’s winner, Annelie Schubert, was awarded 15,000 euros and the opportunity to work with the ateliers that comprise Chanel’s Paraffection subsidiary, a prize valued at 15,000 euros.
And the tide of corporate sponsorship seems set to rise further. Back in 2013, New York’s Made Fashion Week aborted its plan to launch a programme in Paris due to a lack of corporate partnerships in the country. Now, Made is planning a return to the city of lights to relaunch the scheme. “Support in the country has traditionally come from the government and not corporate entities, but we see a recent shift in this from some of the luxury goods groups. The prominence of support and new design talents has grown tremendously,” said Keith Baptista, co-founder of New York’s Made Fashion Week.
Private funding, too, is flowing more freely to French designers. In December of last year, Etudes Studio raised 400,000 euros from investment fund Fashion Capital Partners. Also last year, Etudes was the first brand to benefit from Nelly Rodi MoneyBox, an investment fund for young fashion brands set up by Paris-based trend agency Nelly Rodi.
But money alone is not enough. Many in the new wave of young Paris designers have benefited from important mentorship opportunities. Simon Porte Jacquemus, for one, counts Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons, as a close friend and advisor. But for those without organic avenues for advice and mentorship, the growth of fashion prizes has gone some way towards filling the gap. This year, the ANDAM Prize winner will receive mentorship from Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion. And as part of the Nelly Rodi MoneyBox scheme, Nelly Rodi Paris’s president, Pierre François Le Louët, mentored the Etudes Studio team. “The most important thing they gave us was knowledge and expertise. Maybe more than cash, we need a neutral point of view, a fresh take, because we don’t have time to take a step back,” explains Jeremie Egry.
In 2011, the French fashion school IFM (Institut Français de la Mode) launched IFM Entrepreneurs. Created by Patricia Romatet, director of studies at the school, the year-long course offers classes in areas such as brand identity and communications, as well as one-on-one meetings with experts, paid for by the IFM. Simon Porte Jacquemus and Vetements are amongst the six brands enrolled this year.
“Once the programme is over, we stay in touch. We’re kind of a hotline — if they need us they call and if they don’t call, we do it ourselves to ask them how they’re doing,” explains Romatet. The course fee of 2,000 euros will rise to 2,500 euros next year, due, in part, to the Ministry of Industry’s withdrawal of funding. The ministry had previously covered the entire cost of the programme to the tune of 100,000 euros.
These days, the Federation du Prêt-à-Porter also offers free mentorship to companies under 10 years old and, in November, will launch Traffic, a three-day tradeshow that aims to connect designers with professionals in areas including marketing, shipping, production and legal counsel. “We have seen a shift in the past years in the state of minds these designers are in. They know what launching a brand means in terms of work outside of just creating a collection,” says Isabelle Ginestet of Mode et Finance.
But despite the uptick in support available to young Paris-base designers, some programmes remain under the radar and under-exploited. The Federation de la Couture and DEFI run a programme to help young designers set up and cover the production costs of a fashion show. But the organisers do not adequately promote the scheme and, therefore, many designers don’t know it exists. “A lot of designers who we help tell me that if it gets out that they’re financed, everything will start to become more expensive,” added Stéphane Wargnier, executive director of the Federation de la Couture.
What is more, in Paris, the allure of working for one of the big fashion houses — and the guaranteed paychecks they offer — persists. Last month, when historic fashion brand Courrèges appointed Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant its new artistic directors, the duo announced that they would stop their own brand, Coperni (one of the finalists for the LVMH Prize), to take on the role.
In May last year, Julien Dossena, a 2014 LVMH Prize finalist, also abandoned his own brand, Atto, to focus on his role as creative director of Paco Rabanne. Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who has been at Lacoste for several years now, ended his eponymous line in 2014. And in May, Kris Van Assche closed his eponymous label to focus on his role as artistic director of Dior Homme, claiming, "Times are tough for independent labels."