Julien Fournié, www.julienfournie.com the eponymous founder of his own Parisian haute couture label, originally studied biology. In 2009, he channeled that scientific edge into precisely cut fashion creations when he launched his brand. Previously the Creative Director at Torrente, and having worked for some of the biggest names in fashion such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Givenchy and Christian Dior, it is no surprise that he, and his anatomic designs quickly rose to the top.
In recent years, Fournié has been looking towards the future and bridging the gap between fashion and technology. As an ambassador for Fashion Lab, an avant-garde technology incubator created by Dassault Systèmes, he is able to use 3D engineering for his clothing designs. Not only is he leveraging technology, Fournié is also broadening his horizons from the Parisian fashion scene, and making his mark in the Asian market after showing two collections in Singapore and one in Saigon (Vietnam). Trend Privé sits down with the couturier in an exclusive interview to discuss the past, present and future of haute couture.
As a designer on the Paris scène, how has Paris Fashion week changed in the past 10 years?
Actually, there are (3) Paris Fashion Weeks for every season: men’s wear, women’s wear and Haute Couture. Paris is the only fashion world capital to organize (6) fashion weeks a year. This is also probably a sign that Paris is still leading. The Haute Couture Fashion Week scene hasn’t changed much: in January 2004, I was presenting my first Haute Couture show as the Creative Director, of Torrente. The internet was here and it has vastly developed since. There have been good and bad changes: more real fashion writers and critics (as in every fashion week), Fashion editors had more freedom to choose designers who were not investing in campaigns in their magazines. I remember Isabelle Blow, was at my first Haute Couture show for Torrente, and made a special editorial in English Tatler Magazine. That doesn’t happen much anymore. On the other hand, the fashion bloggers phenomenon had not even started then. It has, since that time, made Haute Couture more popular via the web 2.0. I would say that the essence of Haute Couture, the direct relationship between a couturier and its customers has been knowing and will still be knowing further developments. This is one of the aspects we are working on with the FashionLab…
Each couture week loses more designers. How do you think that should change to showcase more couture?
Really, do you think that this is true? In the last 10 years, several Haute Couture houses have ceased to exist, like Christian Lacroix for instance. However, I am not the only designer to have chosen Paris Haute Couture to showcase genuine creativity, a whole new set of designers has done the same, be they from France, other European countries or other continents. Paris Fashion Week has been, forever I think, the fashion capital where more international designers have come to compete together. It is still welcoming nowadays the most important number of designers from various parts of the planet on the global scene of fashion weeks.
This is true both for Haute Couture and for womenswear. It could be argued that menswear is still led by Milan and Florence, in Italy, and in this field of menswear, New York and London are also evolving now and are changing the game. But for creative womenswear, Paris is the leader.
As far as Haute Couture is concerned, let me make it clear that it represents a French label, protected worldwide. Although many people ignore this and many designers pretend they are doing Haute Couture worldwide -although they are not entitled to do so- I don’t think many know what Haute Couture really is about. Basically Haute Couture means this very delicate balance between tradition and innovation, when fashion can be assimilated to art, this is Haute Couture, and this can only be showcased in Paris. It has been so since the second half of the 19th century. This still applies today, when many fashion weeks around the planet like to call themselves Couture. When I am hearing this and seeing what I am seeing coming from these runways, excuse me but they could also be calling themselves « tacky » instead of « Couture ». Often, it means that they want to showcase brands which are pretending to create luxury garments without the right hand, knowhow and creative skills indispensable to Haute Couture. If many so-called Couture fashion weeks around the planet are losing designers, if is because they are fake Couture. The Haute Couture fashion week is happening in Paris only. Period.
You have created the “FashionLab”. Can you explain the reason why and what is it purpose for you?
First of all, let me tell you that the FashionLab was created by our company together and in complete partnership with Dassault Systèmes, a major French company involved in 3D design for many years and with many industries. Fashion, unlike other industries (like the car or the aircraft industries), was not very prone to including new technologies in its design, product life cycle management or retailing aspects…I believe that when new technologies are at hand, they invariably become used. We have created the FashionLab to become a hub for research and development of the next generation tools for the fashion industry. Now, everybody wants to include these tools in their creative process, but back in 2011, when we founded the FashionLab, everybody was very cautious. We are not only thinking of 3D printing or about visible gadgets and gimmicks when we are talking about tools, but about invisible processes which will change the face of designing and retailing fashion.
You create all your own fabrics. How long is that process and where do you have them made?
Here again it is all about collaborating with fabrics manufacturers. Each season, I am creating a new print. I sketch it by hand as well as on a computer and then we have it printed in a very classic manner.
Some other exclusive fabrics come from a partnership with fabric makers. I have been collaborating for the past two years with the very prestigious house of Sophie Hallette, a French lace maker, specialized in the field of embroidered lace. The patterns I am using exclusively are either my choice among their collections and then become exclusive simply because they do not propose the same designs to other couturiers and designers, or because I chose a pattern of lace in which we will decide together which embroideries will be made, in which color, with which elements etc.… It is a combination of skills. This is what Haute Couture is about: showcasing not only the talent of a fashion designer, but also of a whole set of craftsmanship which is present in France particularly, where we have an incredible heritage of creativity.
Very often, I am also transforming a pattern of jacquard fabric created by the house of Sfate & Combier placing into their original proposal new motifs I have designed myself. The exclusive and original aspect thus comes from the combination of a house’s know how and creative skills together with the couturier’s ideas.
For embroideries, apart from the Sophie Hallette embroidered lace, I also have, in our house, an atelier of embroidery. I am very happy to continue this tradition of embroidering for Haute Couture inside my fashion house with the incredible know how and lightness of French hands.
Where do you draw your influence from when creating each season? Who is your target audience in terms of age and country?
I am sorry, but I have to make one point clear before I will answer your question. A couturier should not have a « target ». I mean this in the sense that if you design garments with some « target » in mind, you are very likely to be less creative than if you are just following the story you want to tell through a particular collection. I have been lucky enough to see women like the « stories » on my runway. In Haute Couture what we do for them remains in the secret of our salons. I would not call this « targeting » by the way, but more a kind of special collaboration with an exceptional lady who wants an exceptional outfit for an exceptional moment. They either chose one from the runway and we make it again to their exact measurements, or we create one only for them with their requirements filtered and augmented with my ideas and this is called a special order.
The « influence » -as you are calling it- which I am following, is never based on a « target ». Where does my inspiration come from? It is a difficult question to answer. To be frank, I don’t know. It is every time different: it can come from an old movie I suddenly remember and which seems pertinent for today, it can come from a piece of music which I suddenly want to share, it can come from a silhouette I have come across randomly on the street, it can come from a painting, from the reading of a novel, from a documentary movie… or, more likely, from a mix of all these. Then, all of a sudden, I start by sketching, trying to include in this vision the codes, the design obsessions I have for my style. I am also constantly questioning these and making them evolve in terms of volume, color, fabrics, and embellishments. Sketching in 3D with the FashionLab tools on my IPad Pro has helped me a lot recently to « preview » the results from all angles in a faster and stronger manner. However, I am realizing also now that my collections all have something in common: enhancing the strength of women with their vulnerable touch. I could say that, although I am not a believer, a sentence from the Bible is key to me: « It is when I am weak that I am strong ». All of my designs tend to reconcile women with this vulnerable aspect, which is, in my eyes, their master weapon of seduction. Something that men are seldom using. So I am going against this idea of having women mimicking men to feel stronger. This is something that the younger generation understands very well, and I believe that this is the reason why the major part of my Haute Couture customers are under 25. But this does not mean that I am designing with them in mind only …
Your couture show has pieces that are sold in stores. How do you make couture for a market and does that take away the meaning of couture?
I know that I have many creative ideas in many fields and that, so far, I can only make some of my many dreams come true. One of them is to be able to propose my designs to more women in the world. The average price tag for an Haute Couture piece is around 20,000 euros. Back in the 1950s, at what was called the « Golden Age of Haute Couture » more women than now could afford each season to buy a Haute Couture piece. Say, for instance a famous physician’s wife could order at least one every season… The price of work has increased and we cannot provide any more this made-to-measure one of a kind fashion item for this type of fashion budget. Today, where is the « famous physician’s wife » going to constitute her wardrobe? To the luxury ready-to-wear. She knows that everyone does not have access to it, but that she can afford it. She knows that it will make a difference for her as she will have to choose from items which, just like Haute Couture, are not following the trends but setting the future trends. She knows that she will have quality and not a piece ready to be thrown away after it has been worn a couple of times.
This is the reason why today, couturiers have to think it in a different manner. Proposing capsule collections («capsule» meaning a small set of pieces) at a more affordable price tag than Haute Couture (average tag price for a full luxury ready-to-wear look starts around euros 2,000) could reasonably be considered in our investments and the Spring Summer 2016 collection is already the fourth season we have been producing under my own label in this field. We have been concentrating for it on cocktail dresses and evening wear. And we have one very particular feature for it. Associated on our runway during Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week, the pieces in this category can be mixed with our Couture pieces and be found in a selected network of stores on the very day of the runway show. This means that buyers from various stores (including department stores) can see this small collection in our showroom at the time when they buy luxury ready-to-wear in Paris, and also that we are delivering them to the stores just before the runway show is happening. This is a new approach and I believe it takes time for retailers to understand it.
This has no impact on our Haute Couture customers as they know which pieces are Haute Couture on the runway, just because, as they have already worn Haute Couture pieces, they recognize them at once. Haute Couture customers also buy ready-to-wear pieces for their daily life. So, today a luxury fashion designer, especially Haute Couture designers, could and should be expressing their art in both fields.
What stores sell your clothing? And, why did you feel that was a good way to proceed with your design house?
Next time you are in Paris, please go to the Printemps dept. store and you will find on the racks of the « Maria Luisa – le Soir » corner many of the items you saw on the runway in january. This is also refraining other brands from copying our designs. I hate it when designs can be copied and made available at very accessible shops even before they will reach the original designer’s fashion window. This is also an evolution which seems to me to be dictated from the impact of the Internet. Nowadays, the collections are available online through photos and videos just after -and even during- the runway show. What sense does it have to make customers wait for four to six months until they can purchase these items?
What fashion weeks besides Paris do you feel are a good fit for your brand?
I have shown in Singapore twice, and I must say that this was a good fit. We have sold Haute Couture pieces to ladies from Singapore or Hong Kong who were discovering Haute Couture. I also went to Vietnam last year. It might take some more time for the Vietnamese market to appreciate genuine Haute Couture, but I believe that these countries who are discovering creative fashion and who require education in this field will become important in tomorrow’s world. Middle-Eastern countries are also an existing market where we are already having many customers. I am considering to participate in a fashion week in Dubai as a guest of honor at the moment. I would love to find an event in the United States to showcase our collections to a selected target of potential customers. We haven’t found it yet. Do you have any suggestion?
What is the future for the design house of Julien Fournié in terms of accessories and Ready to Wear?
In terms of development, I would like to go beyond fashion and accessories. I am already designing jewelry and footwear. I guess handbags will be on the way soon… However, I do intend not to limit myself to fashion. Someday, we will also embrace fragrance of course, but I would love also to design tableware for instance, or decorate a hotel, create interior design for a private jet or special yachts…
What is the importance of celebrities in attendance to your shows and wearing your clothing?
We do welcome them, but we are not very prone to including celebrities into our marketing strategies. We want to stay away from all this « buzz » around celebrities who are expecting money in return for the endorsement they are doing attending the show or walking the red carpet. If they come to our runway show, it means that they are interested in viewing our collection. We believe this to be a healthier manner of working with them. Simply considering them like other potential customers.
You have worked with a lot of celebrities including Madonna? Did that excel your brand in the direction you wanted to go?
When I have worked with Madonna, I was an assistant designer at Jean Paul Gaultier’s. It was for the stage costumes of her « World Tour » in 2000. I have learnt something very precious then. Working with stars and celebrities when you are doing Couture is best done when they pay for it. However, I understand what you mean and working with Beyoncé, for instance (for an album cover photo) or with other celebrities has come since that time also for the house bearing my own name.
Of course, celebrities like these do put the spotlight on a fashion designer’s work and do help your fame grow, particularly when there is a common creative project. But, I could also say the same about Kate Moss, photographed by Mert & Markus under the direction of Emmanuelle Alt for French Vogue. They have a big impact for your fame. However, this does not have an immediate effect on sales. Celebrities are good for mass communication. I believe that they are very important when you launch a fragrance, for instance. Then, they might have an impact on your sales. For Haute Couture, it is an entirely different thing. The customer of Haute Couture is very often a real princess and, in any case, a woman who has both money and power. These ladies tend to discard the dresses worn by celebrities. They want to use their money to support an artist in the field of fashion, to invest in the incredible craftsmanship of Haute Couture through the dress which is being made for them, not to sponsor what they can view sometimes as cheap marketing. Depending on the celebrity, they might even consider this as « vulgar ». I do not blame them. Many houses do pay celebrities to wear their products on the red carpet for instance. Since 2009, the global financial crisis has been asking for more earnestness, a more genuine approach, less big logos, more exclusive items in the field of luxury. I believe that this movement will grow and last. It represents an expression of sustainability in the field of real luxury. So, as far as we are concerned, unless there is a real artistic collaboration or unless they like so much my designs that they will become our customers, the « no celebrities » approach will be ruling.
What would you tell yourself 10 years ago in advice that you think would change the course of your destiny in fashion?
What I have always thought: don’t look at your competitors. Go your own way. The important thing is to last. I am happy to say that I have founded my own fashion house in 2009 and that, so far, we haven’t compromised with anything.
In order to show on the Paris stage as a designer, what do you think is needed for a design house starting out? Please be specific.
Make sure you are designing something new. Fashion has appeared in the history of garment making when people prefer what is new to what has « forever » been considered beautiful. In Paris, this has ruled for more than 150 years. The rest of the apparel industry is making garments which cannot truly be called fashion.
How important is social media in the development of your Brand? Is your marketing audience on Social Media?
Facebook, Twitter, and later Instagram and Pinterest have been developing a lot in these last years. I have been using all of these, gradually, since 2009. I am not sure online social media will continue to grow for a long time. First of all because now, everybody is aware that « followers » can be bought out through online marketing. This aspect is making the social media phenomenon less genuine, isn’t it? On top of it all, the online social media can never replace the real relationship you have with someone you meet. This is particularly true for a couturier, as long as women will be wearing real clothes (as opposed to virtual apparel), as long as Couture will require fittings….
How do you respond to the critics that feel couture week is either too safe in terms of the same dress over and over or not wearable and only there to get attention?
The « same dress over and over » is just the opposite respect to the principles of Haute Couture. This is very true, sadly, for the fake Couture labels which only allow themselves to copy other designers’ and couturiers’ ideas. They might have the flavor of luxury, but they don’t have the best of it. This is also true for many foreign designers (for instance from Lebanon) who are showing in the « off » calendar at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week.
« Not wearable » is a more interesting debate. What might be « not wearable » for yourself is a question of where do you put the limit? This question requires a very personal answer. How free are we to wear what we want? Would fashion exist if you could only wear uniforms? Or follow dress codes to the letter? If couturiers are considered as artists who express themselves through their textile creations, then there can be no such limit, and this remark is just irrelevant. I would like also to make one point very clear: the people who think in terms of « wearability » often ignore the very specific requirements of Haute Couture customers. They are at the opposite end of everybody’s requirements. They demand a visionary person and this is what the couturier is here for.
What type of roles do investors play in the development of a brand?
A key role in many industries. They have the power to detect, promote, encourage and develop a brand. However, in the field of luxury fashion, they have to be conscious that they are never going to cash back on their investments unless they are willing to let the designer decide on the brand’s priorities. A designer’s brand is alive as long as the designer is active in it. The future of the brand can easily become questionable after the designer has become less active. Couturiers and luxury fashion designers should be aware of business goals and guided on by business partners of course. But they should also take the final decisions themselves. Otherwise, there is a risk that they will simply « pull out » of the brand development, which could prove fatal for the brand. I believe that investors in the field of luxury fashion are as important today as the patrons were for painters in the Renaissance era. This absolutely does not mean that « making money » is a bad word. Meeting the right financier is like a marriage. I haven’t met one yet good enough to think that we could be building together a relationship which could last long enough to create an empire.
Julien continues to forge ahead in new directions, and is at the forefront of High-Tech Haute Couture designs. He has expanded his brand into prêt-à-porter, the Asian Market and was even a mentor on Vietnam’s Next Top Model. We can’t wait to see what he will mastermind for his next AW16 Couture collection that will be shown in Paris this July.
See the full Julien Fournié Gallery