Jean-Jacques Picart talks to Jérôme Puch

Text by Jérôme Puch

Photography by Jérôme Puch

Jean-Jacques Picart set up one of the first press offices in 1970, leading the way in publicising fashion designers. It was responsible for numerous French and international labels, among them Thierry Mugler, Cacharel, Shiseido, Emanuel Ungaro, Hermès, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Kenzo, La Redoute, Daniel Hechter, NewMan, Levi's, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Jean Patou, from where Christian Lacroix emerged.  From 1987 to 1999, Picart developed the Maison de Haute Couture Christian Lacroix with the designer and support from LVMH. Upon leaving the house, he has become the go-to figurehead for both established brands and promising young designers, consulting in design, communications, expansion and image development. Picart recently found time to discuss the industry's future, haute couture versus mass-produced, and which fashion weeks to attend with Tank's Paris editor, Jérôme Puch.

Jérôme Puch Which designers have influenced you the most, and who are you most proud of collaborating with?
Jean-Jacques Picart There are designers who have influenced me - not necessarily because I worked with them - but their work was defining. I didn't work with Yves Saint Laurent, Sonia Rykiel or Agnes B. For them, fashion was not about making clothes, but enabled women to live a certain lifestyle. If she was bourgeois and working, it meant she was a femme libérée, and she bought her clothes from Rive Gauche. If she wanted to feel fragile, feminine, or sensual, she bought a little black dress from Sonia Rykiel that gave her all these feelings and a body of a young woman. And if she was a girl for whom fashion was not that important but she still needed to look good and modern, she dressed in Agnès B. As for those designers with whom I worked, Mugler influenced me very strongly, as did Guy Paulin and Kenzo Takada. I would also name Jil Sander, although, when we worked together, she didn't have the success that came later. I have to mention Christian Lacroix, of course. And Hedi Slimane.

JP What are you working on now?
JJP I remain a consultant for Bernard Arnault [owner of LVMH group], to whom I haven't said anything really. I'm not being cute, but this type of man doesn't require advice. He just needs information, some clarity, honesty, details and perspective on what happens in the environment where he doesn't operate daily. So it's more the job of a reporter. I tell him what goes on in the maisons he owns, and also in the maisons he doesn't. I also show him the possible routes of how things can change tomorrow.

I also greatly enjoy working with Guillaume Henry at Carven. There's enormous pleasure to be had in working on a drawing of a dress that will cost €500 in a boutique and applying the same level of attention, care and creativity on a dress that costs €5,000. Being cheap doesn't mean being ugly. It was like this in the '60s. Today, if it's cheap it still deserves to be creative. You don't have to copy the runway. Until today, non-expensive clothes were inspired directly by the catwalk. Those times are over. I'm also working with Theory Group, the American group that is partnered with Fast Retailing. And I just signed a contract with Qatar. The queen of Qatar thinks that to be rich is not enough. It is also necessary to be educated. And it's not enough just to be rich and educated. You must also be sophisticated and this refinement makes a difference between real and fake quality. I love this challenge.

JP Choose one interesting menswear and womenswear designer for 2012.
JJP Established or new?

JP Let's start with established...
JJP Lucas Ossendrijver still has a lot to say at Lanvin Homme. He progresses fantastically well, and I believe that based on the logics of his destiny so far he has a lot of surprises coming soon. In terms of new, I was seduced by Julien David [ANDAM award winner, 2012]. He is beginning his journey and certainly has surprises coming. A special mention goes to Damir Doma, if he steps up.

JP Did you play a role in Raf Simons' appointment to Dior?
JJP A very, very small role, as a consultant. There were too many headhunters. Everyone had an opinion and a candidate. So there were all kinds of names given to Bernard Arnault and Sidney Toledano at Dior. Of course, the final decision belonged to them. I was a big supporter of Simons.

JP And the return of Hedi Slimane to YSL. Do you think it was premature or too late?
JJP No, it's ideal timing for both. PPR could've thought about it sooner, but maybe he wasn't ready to put himself back in fashion. We shouldn't underestimate Hedi's intelligence, and I think the current state of the market will allow him to come back well. He needs to be very aware and recognise the world has changed. But he is very up to speed in art, music and photography. Enough to know that fashion has had to change

JP During the last haute couture shows we saw new names on the official schedule. Is this couture adapting to the times or a sign of decline?
JJP I will answer without bitterness or sorrow. Soon, there will only be two, three, maybe four pure and strong maisons remaining. Or - and here I am an optimist - there might be a rise of new, young brands that will not envisage traditional haute couture values or symbols: a luxury salon at a prestigious address, using artisanal skills of thousands of workers. But they will have the couture spirit. There's a need for prêt-a-porter clothing with couture spirit. And this may be the alternative to the death of couture, because the maisons are very expensive to maintain.

JP What about the future of fashion weeks?
JJP I believe the next big fashion weeks will be focused on New York, which will compete with Paris. For a long time, there were mainly commercial collections there. Now there is Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, etc. That gives their fashion week a certain adrenaline. There are no young creators or brands in Milan. The big names remain interesting, but there are no surprises, no more excitement about new names being launched, no concern for the future of those young brands. Such emotions make a fashion week.

JP And a fashion week with irreverent headliners is more common to London than NY?
JJP Yes, in London everything creative seems to be taken for granted. When you go to London fashion week, there are interesting collections, plenty of new designers, and they are very well supported. But, ultimately, you ask, what's next? The clothes do not necessarily sell well, there aren't too many buyers in London, or journalists. So in the future, they will have to go to Milan, NY or Paris to really make a start and develop. I like Peter Pilotto and find their work interesting. Yet, if they had participated in Paris or NY fashion weeks, their impact would have been bigger and their success more pronounced.

JP The British Fashion Council is pushing for a longer London Fashion Week.
JJP Yes, but a full room for a runway show in London is 400 people. In Paris, it is 1,000. And in NY, probably 600. It's also very expensive for buyers and journalists to go to all the fashion weeks. It's very rare they can do all the cities. So they choose according to their field of interest, boutique sales, or the magazine's readership. They may choose Milan and Paris, or NY and Paris, but not London, unless they are invited and expenses are covered.

JP What changes do you see coming?
JJP The internet has changed our perceptions and how we run our business. There can be bad criticism in print media, but an explosion of positive reaction, applause and support on the internet. So who is right? A journalist with 30 years of history and knowledge, or this massive, young internet audience who happen to like this collection that the experienced journalist doesn't?

JP Not only do they like to go public with their opinions, they will also start buying one day…
JJP They have a legitimate voice as future consumers. e-commerce is another big change in business. I think that e-commerce will boost multi-brand boutiques, actually. We can purchase pyjamas at 3am, a regular T-shirt or a dream bag all in a few clicks. This can provide emotion. The internet increases desire for that bag, but there will also be a painful wish to go to a fancy boutique, where a salesperson will encourage you to get your credit card out. We are at the stage where the "Hello madame", "Au revoir, monsieur", "Can I show you anything else?" of sales staff is scarce. And if they don't engage as much as the website, then you don't need to go to a boutique. §

  • Jean-Jacques Picart