On September 18th we attended A Discussion on French and American Fashion, Regards Croisés, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
The speakers were an elite mix of fashion professionals from different sectors of the industry. The first panelist, Mary E. Davis, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology, is also a published writer who connects fashion with culture and music.
Also from The Fashion Institute of Technology was Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who has written over 20 books about the industry and is the mastermind behind more than 25 exhibitions in the museum.
From the retail sector there was Laurie Heriard Dubreuil, President and Founder of The Webster, which has locations in Miami, Texas, LA and soon NYC.
Anne Fontaine also brought retail knowledge and an added bonus with her design background. The Brazilian born designer has French heritage and a label carrying her name with 60 standalone stores and over 20 years of experience.
Florence Muller, Fashion Historian and Denver Museum’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion, brought insightful facts that showcased her extensive knowledge of the industry. She is also the co-curator of the “Christian Dior, couturier du reve” exhibition in Paris.
The panel had a clever way of swaying back and forth between the influence of France and US in each other’s fashion. The conversation of this mutual influence started in the 17th century with the copying of Parisian fashion illustrations by American publications.
Once Le Bon Marche opened in 1838, “it became a cultural center for women,” Florence Muller said. It was an ideal place for women to spend their entire day at. It was even one of the firsts if not the first place to ensure a return policy which is still in place today.
The panelists discussed that in a way Le Bon Marche is still a badge of honor for everyone who collaborates with them. It was also the first insight to a department store of such scale, but it was the Americans who truly took the department store idea to a whole different level.
Besides the famous contribution Americans gave to French fashion, the introduction of ready to wear, the panelists went one step above and discussed the influence of American editors in the success of French designers as well as the influence of key culturally vivid American communities in French designs such as Harlem and the Midwest.
In more recent history, both countries saw a shift in having American talent lead iconic French houses, and a mutual adoration for each other. The Parisians aim to accomplish the New Yorker cool-ness into their designs like Alexander Wang and Calvin Klein, while the New Yorkers still aim to achieve the Parisian effortless signature attitude like Celine and Sonia Rykiel.
Indirectly, the panel concluded that France will continue to offer creativity and stylistically freedom while the US will continue to innovate through practical designs and cultural phenomenons like the “working girl.”