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In Paris, Faith Connexion Challenges Fashion Gospel

Widely rumoured to be the latest project of Christophe Decarnin, who remains behind the scenes, the buzzy Paris brand is turning the accepted wisdom of star designers, monobrand boutiques and seasonal collections on its head.
Faith Connexion Spring/Summer 2016 | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Liroy Choufan

PARIS, France — Seemingly overnight, Faith Connexion has become one of the buzziest brands in Paris. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian have been documented on Instagram wearing the casual-luxury label's designs, while influential retailers like Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue have given the brand's destroyed parkas and biker jackets prominent placement in their stores.

A large portion of the interest surrounding Faith Connexion — which offers about 300 SKUs at a wide range of price points, stretching from 150 euros to 7,000 euros — stems from widespread rumours that the label is the latest project of Christophe Decarnin, Balmain’s former artistic director, who remains, intentionally, behind the scenes. (Faith Connexion belongs to Groupe Allard, whose president, Alexandre Allard, a French entrepreneur, is credited with spearheading the revitalisation of Balmain a decade ago.)

But the omnipresent question of “is he or isn’t he?” has so dominated the narrative about the brand that many have failed to spot the radical nature of Faith Connexion’s unconventional business model.

Despite what many may think, Faith Connexion is not a new brand. In fact, the company was officially founded at the start of the 2000s by Ilan Delouis and was gradually acquired by Groupe Allard. Since 2012, the company has held a 90 percent stake in the label. But as part of a strategic rebirth about a year and a half ago, the brand’s stores were closed; its creative team replaced. Indeed, the new Faith Connexion is, in many ways, a different label altogether, with a strategy that challenges three of the most important elements of longstanding fashion marketing gospel: star designers, monobrand stores and seasonal collections.

“I don’t come from fashion — and it’s very lucky that I don’t. When I was at Balmain, I didn’t understand why there was Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter in a world that is globalised,” says Alexandre Allard, chief executive officer of Faith Connexion, from his office in Brazil. “And I was amazed at this idea that a brand is a one-man show from a single creative person,” he continued. “Whoever asks about Christophe doesn’t accept the shift in the paradigm.”

For Allard, this shift means, first and foremost, replacing the idea of a star designer with a collective of creators. “I call it Facebook in 3D,” he says. And, indeed, a visit to Faith Connexion’s design studio in Paris reveals a studio manager from Balmain, along with a team of seven full-time designers, several freelance artists and a number of jewellery artisans, all working furiously to complete the brand's Spring/Summer 2016 collection, which will be shown to press and buyers during Paris Fashion Week. Front and centre are a number of graffiti artists, working on the adornment of garments including a very short, figure-hugging sequined dress, which looks, from a distance, like a disco ball that has fallen into the hands of a gang of rock ‘n’ roll anarchists. The creatives each add their own personal style to pieces — sometimes even signing their work — in a process that resembles a discussion thread on social media more than a traditional atelier system.

According to Allard, the “shift in the paradigm” also means eschewing monobrand stores and, instead, plugging into the existing infrastructure of multibrand boutiques. “Because of the new team and because of the success, which really started from the very first season [after the rebirth of the brand], we needed to rethink how we were going to sell the product. The first question was: are we to going to open any stores?” explains Laurent Amathieu, chief financial officer of Faith Connexion, which has a current turnover of about seven million euros a year and 200 points of sale. “We decided not to open new shops, but to create privileged partnerships with existing multibrand shops,” he continues. “Our goal is to create a win-win situation — for us and for the retailers.”

The result is an unusual retail concept that Faith Connexion calls the Circle of Faith. Alongside traditional wholesale relationships and direct-to-consumer sales via the brand’s e-commerce site — which has recently undergone a considerable facelift — select multibrand stores that join the Circle of Faith can use a mobile app to directly tap into Faith Connexion’s own inventory, becoming a virtual storefront for items that are pulled from the brand’s warehouse and shipped directly to customers (in the boutique’s packaging). In return for making the sale, the store gets 30 percent of the sale price. What’s more, when a customer who first discovered the brand through a multibrand store orders directly from Faith Connexion’s website, the store gets the same 30 percent commission on the sale (as long as the retailer remains an active customer). “You brought us the customer, so from now on you will get 30 percent,” Amathieu explains.

The luxury retailer L’Eclaireur, which has stores dotted around Paris, is the first retailer to take part in the scheme and has devoted the lion’s share of its Le Royal Eclaireur boutique on Avenue Hoche to Faith Connexion’s new Autumn/Winter collection. Next month, Korean-owned, Paris-based boutique Tom Greyhound is due to join the Circle of Faith, followed by Maxfield in Los Angeles and Le66 Champs Elysées in Beirut, says Allard.

"Alexandre Allard is proposing something totally new for retailers," says Armand Hadida, owner of L'Eclaireur, who has felt the pressure of brands shifting their business models away from wholesale distribution towards direct-to-consumer. "Retail needs recognition and new ideas. If we want to survive, multibrand stores like us, we need to adjust. Circle of Faith is a new chapter," continues Hadida. But he is cautious when asked about the wider impact of Faith Connexion's retail strategy. "This is a well-placed comma in the sentence of fashion commerce. But I love people who use punctuation."

Faith Connexion is also moving away from traditional seasons. The company plans to create new designs constantly — regardless of seasonal concepts — and sell these to buyers on a continuous basis, shortening the gap between wholesale tractions and when the garments hit the sales floor.

Despite the unconventional approach, there are early signs that the system is working. People are responding to the aesthetic, says Allard, and the company has forecast an 85 percent increase in turnover from 2015 to 2016. “300 multibrands, with 50 percent of them participating in the Circle of Faith,” adds Allard, of his key commercial targets for the coming years. The company also plans to expand into shoes and bags, double the size of its creative studio and scale up the number of freelance artists involved in the collections to about 100. “I want to create hives of creative people all around the world.”

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