Proenza Schouler and Rodarte are making headlines in connection with their respective decisions to cease showing their seasonal collections on the New York Fashion Week calendar and move to showing in Paris, instead. According to WWD, New York-based Proenza Schouler’s relocation to Paris is in line with its strategy to have a “more pronounced international presence.” Rodarte, on the other hand, is making the trek because the label’s design duo, sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy are “huge fans of the city and huge fans of what fashion means in Paris.” On top of that, the schedule allows for them to have earlier deliveries, they told BoF.
Neither brand appears to be completely uprooting their businesses; Proenza Schouler’s headquarters will – as of now – remain in New York, Rodarte’s in Los Angeles. And to be frank, opting to show in Paris, the most celebrated and sophisticated of the four main fashion weeks, is not at all surprising, particularly because so many have done it already.
Those That Came Before
New York-based designer Phillip Lim – who shows his womenswear collection in New York – chose to begin showing his menswear collection in Paris in 2011. Of his initial move, Lim said, “We wanted the men’s wear to be shown in line with other men’s collections. Showing in New York [in February] meant we were selling the collection before it was presented officially to press and buyers, so the main reason was to realign with the calendar.”
Despite New York launching a menswear week of its own, Lim – who currently boasts a truly international brand with 450 locations and 50 countries and annual revenues of roughly $100 million – has kept his menswear shows in Paris. The city “is where menswear and fashion in general is really, truly celebrated. It's more open to different ideas and styles and there's no pigeon-holing,” he has since said.
American designer Thom Browne, who is based in New York, also shows his menswear collection in Paris. He told BoF in 2014, "I used to show in New York, as I am based there, but the move to Paris for my men's collection was prompted both from a creative point of view as well as a business decision.” He further noted: "It allows me to show the collection earlier to get a head start on production and I also feel that Paris fashion week embraces true conceptual design."
Still yet, consider Rick Owens, the California-born designer, who completely relocated his business to Paris in 2003, just under ten years after he launched it. “I moved to Paris, even though I could have commuted between Los Angeles and Europe, but that was not what I had in mind,” he says. “Fashion in Paris was even at that time all about romanticism, whereas in New York it was about efficiency, about status. Had I stayed in the U.S., I would have gotten respect, but I would have worked in the margin. Which I didn’t want, eventually.”
This phenomenon is certainly not limited to Americans in Paris. Korean-born designer Juun. J, who is based in Seoul, shows in Paris each season. His reasoning? "Paris is the most creative city for art and it's especially the best one for fashion.” British brand, Alexander McQueen, shows its womenswear in Paris, where the house made its move in 2001 shortly after it joined Kering (then still called the Gucci Group). The move came with “the perception that, to build an internationally-recognized business, a designer had to leave London for New York, Milan or Paris. Those were well-worn paths,” according to journalist Alexander Fury.
Also consider Miu Miu, Prada’s sister label, which has shown in Paris since 2006 despite being largely based in Italy (the brand announced in 2013 that it would move "a number of" its departments to Paris in order to "solidify Miu Miu's ties within the city”). According to Prada's CEO Patrizio Bertelli, the decision to show in Paris is purely practical. “It is materially impossible to create two shows a couple of days apart,” Bertelli told WWD in 2013. Prada added, “It’s the way we work, it’s impossible, nobody does it.”
Miuccia Prada, herself, on the other hand, admitted that in “looking for that attraction that is called glamour,” she chose Paris to show her Miu Miu line.
In making the move to Paris just over 10 years ago, Miu Miu joined the likes of fellow Italian brand, Valentino, which according to United Press International, “shocked the Italian fashion world by announcing plans to decamp to Paris” in the 1980’s. As UPI wrote in 1989, “Valentino has been feuding for years with the state-funded Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, which organizes the shows. And according to his business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, he is fed up with Italy's constant airline and railroad strikes and the dwindling number of reporters and clients turning up for the Rome collections.”
“Paris remains the capital of high fashion, although 90 percent of the French make their product in Italy,” Giammetti said at the time.
Outgrowing the New York Fashion Scene
But back to New York. It seems that practical/business-oriented concerns are uniform grounds for most of the designers that have decamped to New York’s French counterpart thus far. Practically speaking, for many designers, showing in Paris generates far greater visibility for their brands in terms of the international fashion press, as well as the world’s most sought-after buyers. And this is certainly part of the equation for New Yorkers that make the move.
It is also likely coupled with the fact that some have simply outgrown New York, the traditional home to more commercially-driven fashion, where sportswear and leisure-focused garments, have historically reigned supreme. That was the connotation for a very long time, at least, particularly considering that when couture collections – as we know them today – began coming out of Paris, the U.S. was still a very young nation.
Thereafter, while Paris was very much deemed to be the home of high fashion, New York was only beginning to assemble its fashion industry and for quite some time, that was built on manufacturing and selling low-cost licensed goods based on the original designs that came out of Paris. This is far from the case today, particularly with staple fashion icons like Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera showing in New York, and younger luxury brands like The Row, Altuzarra, and Proenza Schouler, operating their businesses in New York.
However, despite developments in the U.S. and London, as well as in Milan, the world’s other foremost fashion capitals, Paris still holds the title of the most esteemed center for fashion in the world and as such, Paris Fashion Week is simply the most celebrated of the big four. In being associated with this particular calendar, brands stand to benefit from that very high level of regard.
(Note: Increased sales are something that - if reports are true - both brands could particularly benefit from. Rodarte is, after all, perennially the topic of questioning as to its actual profitability. Proenza Schouler, on the other hand, has reportedly also hit a tough spot in recent years. According to a lawsuit filed by the brand's former CFO, Patrice Lataillade, Proenza's sales "were declining" as of July 2014, thereby putting the potential acquisition deal with luxury conglomerate LVMH, which never came into fruition, "in jeopardy.").
With this in mind, it should not be all that surprising that Rodarte – best known for its couture-like runway creations – and Proenza Schouler – the brand that most industry insiders are betting is the next true luxury brand in the making – have decided that Paris is the place for them. That it can afford their brands greater opportunities in terms of visibility and in terms of sales. The question is: What brands will be next and where does that leave New York?