• Tinka Kemptner

Paris fashion consultant describes industry-wide soul-searching

Today our Europe reporter Tinka Kemptner brings us one of the most widely-quoted experts of the French fashion world. Vincent Grégoire is the Creative Director of the Paris-based fashion consulting agency Nelly Rodi, and is one of the most highly-quoted fashion consultants in the world. When new trends emerge, reporters rush to get his hot take.

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Tinka has interviewed Vincent many times, on topics ranging from haute couture to fast food and everything in between.

But in this interview, he got personal, opening up about how the pandemic has inspired a profound reckoning - pushing him to reevaluate the real meaning of his work.

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? As a trend hunter, I'm always obsessing over the latest trends, trying to detect early signs before anyone else. That can be stressful. At the beginning of the lock down, I was even more stressed out than usual. The first two weeks were especially tough. I was no longer concentrating on future trends, but instead scanning my own body for the slightest signs of an infection. When I realized that I was likely not going to get sick, I finally started to relax.

The new situation has pushed me out of my comfort zone and has forced me to adapt in numerous ways.

At the beginning, I was giving myself a hard time. I was telling myself, 'If we're in this situation right now it’s because of people like me who contribute to the ever-accelerating cycles of consumption.' Sure, I help brands decide what colors will be big two years from now - so that people go out and buy new clothes.

But then, I decided that that kind of reasoning wasn't helpful.

I started to de-clutter my mind, and to concentrate on what's really meaningful for me right now. I asked myself, 'What's the meaning of my work?' And I came to the following conclusion: it's about human relationships. It's about helping others. In my case, it’s about helping clients. This new situation helped me to go back to the basics.

My clients have noticed that I have changed. They, too, have changed. They really need to talk right now. Most of them are lost. Our relationships have become much friendlier, there's less of a dominant-dominated power dynamic going on.

The other day, my company presented a webinar to clients and at the end everyone applauded. That has never happened before! There was so much good energy in the air. Moments like that really give me joy.

Another thing that has changed is my relationship to my co-workers. I am 50-something, a boomer, not very tech-savvy, quite old school. I like taking photos, cutting out material, pasting, touching, painting. New technology is not my cup of tea.

My younger co-workers sometimes make fun of me. But now, they're really keen to hear my advice. At the beginning of the lock down, they were asking me for book recommendations, or how to create a color palette from scratch. They, in turn, have helped me to get a grip on webinars. It’s a real win-win situation.

REPORTER: What's the future of luxury brands, in a post-Covid world? We know that the luxury fashion industry has been hit hard and is predicted to lose up to $600 billion in sales this year.

Luxury brands will have to reinvent themselves if they want to survive. Those who continue targeting Chinese millennial millionaires will be in big trouble. They were already heading for disaster before the pandemic.

Customer expectations have changed. Thinking in terms of seasons doesn't make sense any more. 'Fast fashion' will soon be a thing of the past. It will be seen as crazy to constantly launch new collections.

Also, arrogant, show-off brands, which are all about vanity and bling-bling, are has-beens. If they don’t adapt to changing consumer concerns - sustainability, durability, animal welfare, labor conditions, being socially inclusive - they will disappear.

For example, a couture brand that markets itself as a patron of the arts, but doesn't pay its artisans accordingly, will be doomed.

I think Covid-19 will force fashion designers to be more creative than ever. Sourcing will become more and more important. A growing number of designers are interested in sustainable materials made from food waste like orange and banana peel, algae, or mushrooms. Also, local materials will be big. In France, the flax industry is going through a revival right now.

For now, most luxury brands are just scrambling to limit the damage. They're trying to save their stock by optimizing it. And they're trying to cut back their workforce. They're not yet taking time to reflect on THE big question: what is the point of luxury in a post Covid-19 society?

The brands that will survive are the ones which understand that the world has changed.

A brand that already gets this is Armani. The company decided to relocate some of its production and to prolong its current collection until September. The French shoe brand Weston and Alexander McQueen are also among the names that are adapting intelligently right now. There is also Prada, which has launched products including fishing rods made from material collected from the oceans.

If luxury brands don’t reinvent themselves, they will also have a hard time attracting new talent. Even before the global pandemic, working for a luxury brand was no longer a dream job for many business school graduates.

More and more sustainable start-ups are being created by people who used to work for luxury brands. They are horrified by issues like dormant stock, and the utter waste of textiles and other materials - issues that have always been a part of the luxury industry. These new companies focus on allocating resources in a more eco-friendly, responsible way. Two brands that I particularly like are Adapata and Leftlovers.

I hope luxury brands will start to embrace values like solidarity, fairness, and equality. If they want to survive, they'll have to set an example and be a beacon of hope. It’s time for a renaissance!

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