French fashion CEOs and designers praise Macron’s move to French lockdown, and call for solidarity
Mar 18, 2020
CEOs and designers in Paris fashion are praising Emmanuel Macron for taking decisive action this week in the struggle to control coronavirus, even as the industry braces for a disastrous second quarter.
Using a presidential decree Macron ordered France into lockdown, with almost the entire population restricted to their own homes, taking effect at noon on Tuesday.
“Nous sommes en guerre. We are at war,” Macron stated repeatedly in his 15-minute address to the nation from the Elysée Palace.
The country had already closed all bars, restaurants and non-essential shops from midnight on Saturday and crèches, schools and universities from Monday morning. On Monday, Paris closed all parks and gardens, while police and paramilitary CRS troops ranged around Paris quietly enforcing what is in effect a curfew.
“President Macron made an excellent speech. I loved the idea that it was made clear we will do whatever it takes. He was very human in his approach. I am proud we have such a president,” said Ralph Toledano, president of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French fashion’s governing body.
Looking ahead, Toledano , who is also the chairman of Victoria Beckham’s fashion house, cautioned that brands need to be ready for a dramatic rise in business whenever the current crisis ends.
Major groups like Kering and LVMH have been closing multiple stores in their chains of brands, even if online business has been on the increase.
“I’m not sure that online is even booming all that much. Because people are not exactly in the mood of buying a new handbag,” said Toledano, who has been working from home in the western Paris suburb of Neuilly.
However, he predicted that fashion and luxury could well have a very strong final quarter of 2020.
“If things rebound after the summer people will want to enjoy life. That’s a dilemma facing managers right now, as people are reducing orders for the winter which they might end up regretting. After a very sharp decrease in business, we may well have a very rapid increase in the fall,” he said.
Two major houses – Christian Dior and Chanel – both cancelled cruise runway shows scheduled for Italy in May, respectively in Puglia on the 7th and in Capri on the 9th.
LVMH, the owner of Dior, through its corporate spokesperson, declined to comment on “government’s decisions.”
However, the group – the largest in fashion on the planet – stressed, “our first goal is to protect our employees, their families and our clients.”
All LVMH boutiques in France have been closed until further notice, with the exception of La Grande Epicerie, the food emporium division of Bon Marché, the tony department store in St Germain. Both its Rive Droite and Rive Gauche food stores will remain open. All food stores and bakeries are allowed to remain open, as are pharmacies, banks post offices and newsagents.
LVMH underlined that new "rules concerning the access to partial activity/employment, remuneration, sick leave management will be adapted to this unprecedented situation, as well as to the specifics of each country, in accordance with the applicable regulations and exceptional measures that could be taken by national authorities.”
Already, work-from-home has become compulsory for LVMH offices in France, including its Avenue Montaigne headquarters, except for truly essential services.
Finally, the group’s chairman and controlling shareholder Bernard Arnault instructed the LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics division to alter its production sites to manufacture not perfumes but hydro-alcoholic gel to be provided to public authorities.
The first deliveries of hydro-alcoholic gel from Parfums Christian Dior, Guerlain and Parfums Givenchy began on Monday, delivered free of charge to the French health authorities and as a priority to the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris.
Across Paris, Kering’s headquarters on the Left Bank has also been essentially closed down.
“Kering and its Houses are adopting all the necessary measures to protect the health and safety of their employees, implementing forms of alternative and flexible work, including remote working, and strictly following the guidelines of the respective national authorities in each country in which they operate,” said Kering, which controls Saint Laurent and Balenciaga in Paris; Alexander McQueen in London and Gucci and Bottega Veneta in Milan, located in Italy, the most affected country by coronavirus outside of China. Gucci was another house that annulled its cruise collection, scheduled to be held in San Francisco this season.
Internationally, multiple fashion weeks – Sao Paulo, Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing and Sydney – have all been called off, as has the Festival d’Hyères in France.
“I think President Macron made the right decision. I don’t quite understand people complaining about this. These measures have been taken transparently and based on scientific judgment,” said Jean-Pierre Blanc, founder of the Festival d’Hyères.
Many younger fashion houses in Paris – such as Olivier Theyskens, Ami and Sézane – all expressed support for the tough measures and called for solidarity in this uniquely difficult moment for France and the world.
“I absolutely agree! In the fabric that makes our society we often forget some aspects that are important to keep in mind - our vulnerability towards nature’s laws when it comes to both small things like germs and viruses as well as our impact on larger scale issues such as climate change and pollution,” argued Theyskens, one of the French capital’s most admired creators.
Theyskens also cautioned that, “in our industry where the passing on of our savoir-faire is vital from senior specialists to younger generations, it is crucial to protect the workforce particularly within couture ateliers and our artisans. A large amount of precious people are vulnerable because of their age.”
The designer, whose atelier is located in the Marais district, personally guaranteed that his team could work from home.
“On a creative side I believe this is not going to affect me that much, and I will positively embrace the fact of having more time than usual at home for drawing, thinking and watching things I enjoy,” said Theyskens, who was recently named creative director of the house of Azzaro.
“At Azzaro we have switched to emails and phone conversations and I have been Skyping with my team and collaborators. We are keen to take this challenge and to maneuver through such a time where creativity has to be adaptive and positively constructive. We are young at heart and will adjust to how things evolve,” he concluded.
In the 2nd arrondissement, one of France’s most happening brands, Sézane, revealed that 10% of its new collection online sales will be donated to the emergency aid fund set up for the foundation of hospitals in France.
“In this unprecedented context, certain activities such as ours - certainly not vital - can be the subject of questions. Yet, doing everything to preserve the job, the morale and the future of our teammates and hundreds of employees of our partners is a priority and a duty,” wrote founder Morgane Sézalory in an email to all employees.
Other young brands were also quick to hail Macron’s discourse and decisions.
“We find the announcements of the President necessary for two reasons: to protect the health of the French; and to try not to flatten the French economy,” insisted Nicolas Santi-Weil, CEO of Ami.
“Given the gravity of the looming health crisis, it became urgent to create an electric shock so that everyone could take stock of the situation and be able to act while there was still time to stop it - or at least slow it down - the rise of the coronavirus epidemic. So we understand the announced containment measures,” Santi-Weil added.
The young CEO also applauded statements by Nicolas Dufourcq, the CEO of BPI France, the semi-state bank that supports young enterprises, that they will do everything to sustain fresh businesses in the crisis.
“The biggest risk for brands is to find themselves caught in a vice: seeing the tap of revenue close (closing of shops, corners and points of sale of all kinds) but that of spending always open (salaries, bills, rents, reimbursement of associates' loans and current accounts, payments of productions and other invoices). As such, it is vital for us and for many other businesses that our warehouse can continue to operate as e-commerce is the only source of income we can count on as it stands,” stressed Santi-Weil.
Ami closed all its French boutiques and has placed its sales staff on technical unemployment; and now have staff collaborating through telework far from the brand’s headquarters in the fourth arrondissement.
The house has also set up a Continuity Committee, which meets every morning at 9.30AM and has implemented a French video conferencing platform solution called Livestorm for smart working remotely.
Moreover, the house is still working out how to best facilitate the creative team of Alexandre Mattiussi. Both by using Livestorm and scrupulously respecting the health security instructions, rotating staff in occasionally in order to receive and adjust prototypes and samples.
For the sake of consistency, Ami has already closed its London flagship, on Duke Street in Mayfair, before the British government imposed any closings.
“I personally had a lot of discussions with the leaders of other brands or companies to share with them our ideas, decisions or crisis organization. I lived in New York for the four years following the September 11, 2001 attacks. I saw what mutual aid and solidarity meant. I try as much as possible to encourage the leaders of French brands to share their knowledge, to think about it with others. Together we are less stupid!” concluded Santi-Weil.
Three weeks ago, the French president effectively inaugurated the Paris runway season with a dinner to celebrate innovation inside the Elysée Palace, hosted by Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron. A celebration that happened just before Covid-19 suddenly began taking its vice-like grip on Europe, and when the numbers killed by coronavirus were still in single figures.
Now, with Europe the center of the pandemic, the European Union and the continents fashion federations have been closely working together, even as they are forced to radically tighten international borders.
“I think our President made an important speech. And he followed the right recommendations. I think few people dispute that. To me now, the key word today is 'solidarity.' Both with our fellow citizens and with our friends in Italy and elsewhere,” said Pascal Morand, executive president of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, whose headquarters are located across the street from the Elysée.
The Féderation work will continue using video conferencing, while it actively keeps member houses, especially newer members, informed about the juridical and fiscal effects of the changes Macron has introduced. The French government has announced that it will mobilise 45 billion euros (in addition to the State’s guarantee of up to 300 billion euros of bank loans) as the first immediate economic assistance to companies, many of whom saw their revenues collapse almost overnight.
“The government is providing huge resources that allow many companies to let staff go into partial employment, which is vital for thousands companies, especially in fashion. I wouldn’t want to even guess how long this moment lasts in terms of weeks or months,” added Morand.
Asked whether the Federation considered postponing or pushing back the next Paris menswear season, scheduled for June 21 to 26, he responded: “I believe it is far too premature to talk about that.”
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