Discussing any country’s fashion industry and fashion education is difficult enough but talking about French fashion, about the industry and fashion schools of Paris is truly humbling. Alongside Milan, New York and London, Paris is one of the four major world fashion centres. Its status however rises above the rest: for over three centuries, Paris has been considered the fashion capital of the world.
Paris, the birth place of Fashion
Paris – and nearby Versailles, the main residence of Louis XIV King of France (1638 – 1715) – is the birth place of Fashion. To control the French nobility who was too eager to spend money on weapons and use them, Louis XIV introduced a sumptuous, expensive and ever changing dress code to his court. This simple act tamed the most tempestuous of his Princes; instead of competing on the battlefield they fought for the King’s attention spending a fortune in wigs, brocades and outfits. The Mercure gallant, a gazette created by Jean Donneau de Visé in 1672, kept people away from Versailles informed of the latest development at court. Like French nobility the rest of Europe was quickly addicted and French Style adopted across the continent.
The government of Louis XIV insured that Luxury became an export industry, creating jobs and wealth for the French population. Some also argue that the huge amount of money spent by the French court on fashion and luxury goods led to increased fiscal pressure on the impoverished country folk and eventually to the French Revolution.
With such a long tradition, France has developed a solid fashion industry. Many of fashion’s practices and infrastructures, the ways in which fashion business is carried out internationally have been developed in France and are still controlled from Paris.
In 1858, Englishman Charles Frederick Worth created in Paris the first ever Fashion Label, Worth and Bobergh, that later became the House of Worth. Worth is considered not only the Father of Haute couture, but he was also the first fashion designer, as it is understood today.
Before World War I, perfectly tuned to her times, Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s wear and created the world’s first lifestyle brand. Following the example of Paul Poiret, Chanel started to sell perfume in 1921; today cosmetics represent a significant source of income for global fashion brands.
In the1960s, with unequalled style, Yves Saint Laurent introduced the notion of Pret-a-Porter, making the glamorous world of Haute Couture accessible to a much broader section of the population.
Fashion and Luxury Industry in France
Today casual visitors of Paris cannot avoid being struck by the elegance of its inhabitants; French culture however is a little ambivalent about Fashion and Luxury. French people are not risk takers as far as their own apparel is concerned and dress conservatively. Outer signs of wealth and too much originality in one’s attire are frowned upon. When we think about French fashion however we often think about the high end of the market, about luxury.
At the start of the 21st century, the fashion and luxury industry remains significant for the French economy. The Comité Colbert that represents the French luxury industry has a membership of 75 companies and 13 cultural institutions. Their cumulated turnover in 2010 represented 25% of the world luxury market. French group LVMH formed in 1987 by Bernard Arnault has become the model for international luxury conglomerates. Worldwide two of the three largest luxury groups are French: LVMH and Kering (previously PPR), the third, Richmond, is Swiss.
LVMH had sales in 2012 of 28.1 billion euros. The group controls around 60 subsidiaries, each managing a number of prestigious brands including: Dior, Fendi, Donna Karan, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Kenzo, Berluti, Moynat, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Loewe, Céline, Edun, Thomas Pink, Acqua di Parma, Guerlain and Bulgari. Kering founded by François Pinault and now run by his son François-Henri Pinault had 2011 sales of 12.2 billion euros. Kering luxury brands include: Gucci, Saint Laurent Paris, Sergio Rossi, Boucheron, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Brioni, Queelin and Christopher Kane. Kering also own 75% of Puma.
This list does not include French labels Hermes, with revenue of 2.4 billion euros in 2010 nor Chanel owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, with 2010 sales of 1.8 billion euros. As a comparison, Levi’s sales in 2010 were 4.4 billion dollars or about 2.9 billion euros.
The French Fashion Education System
Since 2004, French universities qualifications are organised within an LMD or Licence, Master, Doctorat structure. Designed to facilitate students mobility within the EU this system allows for easy transfer of credits and establish degree equivalence. Licence is the Anglo-Saxon Bachelor; Master is for Master and Doctorat for PHD. The French education system however is strictly separated between subjects regarded as highbrow taught at university and creative or vocational studies taught elsewhere. The LMD system covers cultural studies such as fashion history and fashion business courses but does not extend to training in fashion design.
Students who consider a French fashion education or who want to follow fashion courses in France need to pay attention to the degree they will be awarded and should check our explanation of French fashion degrees. Finding equivalence between fashion qualifications can be difficult!
Fashion Schools in Paris
Being outside the university system, French fashion education has evolved organically resulting in varied structures. Schools have different administrative status, specialities and areas of excellence. Often comparatively small in size they offer focused teaching delivered by a passionate educative team. To the casual observer, the French certification system maybe seem a little confusing but it enables educators to innovate and offer individual and unique approaches. A further strength of Parisian fashion schools is their proximity to the studios of prestigious fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Chanel or Vuitton.
Modeconnect has looked at two Parisian schools which offer DSAA and BTS level degrees with a focus on fashion creativity: the state run ENSAA Duperre and the private school Ateliers Chardon-Savard which also has a campus in Nantes.
Other Parisian schools include the excellent Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale that offers a teaching oriented towards technical skills. Studio Bercot has an excellent network of alumni. L’Insitut Superieur des Arts Appliques or LISAA has satellites in four French cities offering a range of applied arts courses including fashion. Esmod offers an extensive network of campus in France and abroad. Last but not least, after abandoning its Parisian campus as few years ago, Parsons has now opened a new one.
Other schools offer qualification at a ‘postgrad’ level such as the previously mentioned ENSAD or Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliques and the IFM or Institut Francais de la Mode. For anyone who would like to investigate further schools in Paris or in the rest of France we cannot recommend enough the excellent Dossier from L’Etudiant.