He’s been at the head of the agency that bears his name since 2006. Today, Lucien Pagès represents a roll call of fashion players including Jacquemus, JW Anderson, Lemaire, Paco Rabanne and works alongside Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent and Jonathan Anderson at Loewe… All of them were selected for their ability to bring forward a vision of fashion that embodies our times: radical enough to fire the imagination, yet realistic enough to be wearable. Fiercely committed to his clients, Lucien Pagès plays a central role in the many critical issues faced by fashion houses, from design and image to consumer relationships. This perspective makes him the ideal person to inaugurate our wide-ranging examination of the many futures of fashion, which Première Vision is kicking off today. Three full months of interviews providing a 360-degree overview will be found in our newsletters and via digital talks on our website, for the top analyses and strategies to think up – and build – the many futures of fashion.
The virus has shattered the fashion world and its organizing structures – the show weeks, the presentations to buyers, etc. What is your take on the situation?
This is a particularly unprecedented context for this industry. Fashion likes to control everything, and in this case, no planning was possible. Fashion is accustomed to anticipating, and here, it didn’t see anything coming. For the first time, fashion has to adapt, and finds itself fairly adrift given the vital issues it faces. After deserting the stores, will customers come back? Will they want to buy? How do you cope with significant losses in turnover after years of double-digit growth? Yet even while these questions remain unanswered, the industry is beginning to put in place some concrete solutions. This June and July there won’t be a men’s fashion week or couture shows, but there will be online platforms. The Federation has just drawn up a new calendar, a mix of presentations and fashion shows, and many fashion houses are participating, with online presentations scheduled at every hour of the day. This is a way to send an optimistic signal backed by a new creative expression and a strong message. Fashion knows how to react, and how to transform itself.
All of this happened just when fashion itself was being called into question.
There was a lot of thinking in the fashion world about the whole issue of “too much”. Too many clothes, too many fashion weeks, too many events, too many capsules, too many collection, and so forth. This is a very profitable industry and it has tended to take things as far as it can, more in response to a sales dynamic than a need to create more. The industry felt swept up in a headlong rush, with no chance to think and anticipate. When Raf Simons left Dior in 2015, he was already decrying this state of affairs.
Yes, and designers in particular seem very determined to slow things down.
We ask a lot from designers. To be creative and commercial, to stick to the same story and reinvent themselves. The young generation no longer wants to play this game and is laying the groundwork for change. Jacquemus and Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran for Lemaire for example, used to show their pre-collections only to their buyers and make them the focus of their fashion shows. When Jacquemus launched its men’s collection, it decided to show both menswear and womenswear in June and January, which removed a step. Designers want to create, they no longer want just to deliver. But it’s important to remember that this universe is very diversified and everyone has to find their own answer, their own unique way of creating and producing.
Will this lead to a different way of thinking about fashion, perhaps with less emphasis on seasonality?
Summer clothes are in stores as early as February, coats are rolled out as early as July – this is all very strange. Designers want to align more closely with the seasons, so things are less absurd than they are right now. The sales season also starts too early and that’s a key issue. Stores quickly force brands to offer markdowns, which weakens them, and contributes more generally to devaluing clothing and the creative process.
All this will change the way the fashion shows are organized. Will they still be there? Will they be held less frequently?
We tried changing things several times but it didn’t work; the system has its imperfections but we haven’t found a better solution yet, even though we probably need to reduce the number of shows. Some houses like Saint Laurent and Gucci have announced that they’re leaving the calendar to follow their own timeframes. That’s great but only the big houses are powerful enough to do that because they can impose their specific time schedule on their suppliers and on their audiences. Will they create a new precedent? That’s not certain. Showing collections is expensive and it makes sense to do it as a group.
What do you think of virtual runways and showrooms? Could they be a way forward?
Virtual platforms do provide an alternative and a number of very interesting experiments are emerging, but I think that the ultimate expression, that special something so important to fashion, remains the fashion show. A fashion show distils all the inspiration that goes into creating a collection, and is then broken down into ad campaigns, show windows and events. The runway show is where you capture the full dimension of each garment: its truth, the quality of its materials, how it moves. Fashion is an applied art, it is very real and as such must be seen in real life.
Another consideration is the time between the presentation of the collections and their arrival in stores, which is often thought to be too long, thus opening a considerable space for fast-fashion. How can this timeframe be changed?
The debate is not new and some houses don’t show their pre-collections on their websites, to avoid being copied. But I have the feeling that the question is not the central issue any more, because this is a time for refocusing on quality and sustainability. While fast-fashion can copy a cut, it creates no illusions about the excellence of a silk or cashmere. A lot of companies tried out the famous “see now, buy now” approach, but have since changed their minds. It might be time to accept the lengthiness of the creative process, to learn how to be patient again, to foster desire. This puts the focus on the quality of a garment, the expertise behind it. Which is the strength of luxury and the weakness of fast-fashion.
These changes would also involve a reorganization of production circuits. How difficult is that for a fashion house?
It’ s extremely complicated! Change can only occur over the medium term, meaning at least one year. To be ready in January instead of February, a company must change its fabric purchasing policy, establish a new calendar with its suppliers, evolve its communication strategy… This complexity tends to hinder change, although it is still possible.
All these changes primarily affect consumers. What do we really know about what they want?
I think their expectations are twofold. On the one hand, they would truly like to see a more sustainable and responsible fashion industry. On the other hand, they are pragmatic, and fashion is about desire. What do they want right now? To go to a store and find a swimsuit that they really like. The right garment, in the right season.