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The commotion of Paris Fashion Week had just begun to settle when the Institut Français de la Mode hosted an international conference called “Fashion Colloquia.” Each of the four major fashion capitals was represented by industry professionals hailing from New York, Milan, London, and of course, Paris. The objective of the forum was to foster the discussion regarding professional research on key topics such as the role of the fashion capital in design, and the role of savoir-faire (know-how) in the fabrication of products.
The latter topic opened the first panel discussion introduced by Professor Olivier Assouly, the Head of Research at IFM. Historically, the notion of craftsmanship was considered a repetitive art, one that could be replicated easily by those who studied it. The 17th century craftsman’s work was not regarded as requiring intelligence, and thus, was typically overlooked and underappreciated. With the industrial revolution came machines that could manufacture the same work he produced at a faster rate and with a level of accuracy unattainable by the hand.
Ironically, present day luxury brands have returned to appreciate the skills of the hand-craftsman. The faults that naturally occur in products made by hand are now valued due to the element of uniqueness they add to the product. The mechanical perfection churned out by industrial producers is now seen as too commonplace for a luxury brand.
Marie Demaegdt, of the Confédération européenne du Lin et du Chanvre (CELC) noted that consumers are very attracted to finding beauty in imperfection. The human factor of the creation of a hand made product is comforting to the consumer, as the item is a result of a person’s fine craftsmanship, not a machine belonging to a corporation. Today, there is incredible value for brands in promoting the skills of each know-how and every stage of the process of creation, rather than merely selling a final product.
The focus shifted on day two, where David Zajtmann, of IFM led a discussion on the role of fashion capitals in the evolving process of design. Paris, a city with deeply rooted cultural history in the production of haute couture, has evolved to welcome international designers who seek a refuge to develop their unique brands. The city has positioned itself as a haven to break away from common trends, and as writer Rebecca Voight expressed, mingle with the “independent maverick thinkers” of the day.
“Haute couture combines audacity with tradition,” Zajtmann quoted Christian Dior, “continuity and surprise at the same time.” The traditions of Parisian design will continue to be celebrated of course, but the excitement and momentum a new designer brings to the city must not be lost. Voight cites Raf Simons as a prime example of a designer who arrived in Paris without a fashion background, yet reinvigorated the fashion brands he worked with and found his own path in the industry.
The sentiment was equally shared among the other speakers who noted the importance of upholding tradition, yet simultaneously placing equal importance on nurturing emerging designers’ work. “History is crushing Paris,” Simon Collins explained, stressing the importance of focusing on the future of design. Collins advocated the use of unique ways to showcase a collection, highlighting Philip Lim’s comic book Kill the Night with a coordinating iPhone application. “In New York you can do anything you want,” Collins said in relation to starting a fashion brand in the city. With companies like Milk Studios partnering with MAC Cosmetics in order to produce young designers fashion shows, the opportunities are endless. The people and organizations of New York are constantly searching for innovative ways to integrate the work of emerging talent with established brands. An ability to break from the trends, and create a nurturing environment for young designers, is what makes cities like New York and Paris great fashion capitals of the world.