PARIS — Luxury association Comité Colbert brought brands and big names together to promote careers in craftsmanship to students.
Sidney Toledano, LVMH Fashion Group chair and newly elected president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, joined French Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak on stage, along with Minister for Education and Vocational Training Carole Grandjean and Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises, Trade, Crafts and Tourism Olivia Gregoire.
The afternoon panel closed the three-day educational fair “Les de(ux)mains du luxe,” Comité Colbert’s clever play on words referencing the future of handicrafts.
Despite business booming for the luxury sector, companies across the board have expressed difficulty in recruiting young artisans to carry forward traditional methods.
Toledano reminded the crowd that Louis Vuitton, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis-François Cartier were all artisans before they were “designers.”
“They were artisans, they were entrepreneurs, they were storytellers,” he said. “Their business power rested on their savoir faire.”
Toledano was careful to note that the day’s event was to continue the ongoing quest for education and elevation of craft. He said that in his youth he grew up surrounded by artisans, but young people today are more separated from craft.
“It’s a problem that exists for our industry,” he said. “How we transmit to the next generation is a real question — is it stronger word of mouth, marketing, storytelling? — to transmit the opportunities of these careers.”
Toledano said it’s the responsibility of government programs and the private sector luxury companies to raise the status of craftsmanship careers.
“The métiers de la main need to be reinvented and young people need to discover the métiers d’art — they are in constant evolution, innovation and we need to transmit the idea of savoir faire,” said Minister Malak.
Malak said the French government is committed to five pillars of promotion for craftsmanship: spreading knowledge of the professions; education and internships alongside experienced craftspeople; investing in innovation and new technology to transmit age-old techniques before the disappear; ensuring crafts are not just centered in Paris but dispersed throughout France, and finally, that they grow internationally as well.
She cited cross-cultural programs to promote French craftsmanship in the U.S. and Japan and said the government is establishing residency programs in Africa and China to train artisans abroad.
“There’s a great potential of not just exporting our French savoir faire, but also learning from other countries and creating exchanges and cooperating with them, because it’s also this cooperation that will help reaching new markets, new citizens that are interested in it, and also pushing the boundaries of sustainability in this field and innovation in this field,” said Malak.
Other guests included LVMH director of craftsmanship development Alexandre Boquel, Van Cleef & Arpels president Nicolas Bos, Christofle president Emilie Metge and Hermès director of human resources Vincent Vaillant.
“Luxury is one of the things France is most known for — along with maybe football and cooking,” joked Christofle’s Metge. “We know how to celebrate luxury and savoir faire, but the most important thing we have to keep in mind is that luxury, without the next generation, can die out.”
Panelists agreed that government investment in manufacturing is important, but that educating and recruiting the next generation is key to keeping luxury alive. While business has been booming and luxury companies have been recording record profits, recruitment remains a weak link.
All of the panelists agreed that while craftsmanship is at the core, communication is the key.
“We have to be able to transmit to the next gen to be sure that we can stay at the top level of manufacturing and the way to design products and luxury goods,” said Metge, adding that luxury cannot continue to gate keep.
“We need to transmit to the new generation, but be sure that you don’t ‘own’ the savoir faire and that you are here to pass it on to the next generation. Be more democratic — able to talk to any generation and not only in one luxury, very high and elitist category, but we need to talk to teenagers. This is the most important message that we want to have today,” she added.
Students tend to focus on the ideas of being a designer or stylist, but students interested in the art of fashion often don’t know about the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“These types of professions, in the past, have been hidden,” said LVMH’s Boquel. “There’s been an opposition between the abstract professions versus the manual professions. The best way to change this is to communicate about the image we have. We want to showcase the beauty of the professions and to explain that there is expansion of development for talent. It’s a huge opportunity for you to create your professional path within luxury.”
Following the panel, Toledano toured the room at Paris’ innovation hub Station F, visiting various stations from some of the 23 luxury brands on show. LVMH presented the programs of its Institut des Métiers d’Excellence, Van Cleef & Arpels offered a workshop to promote its L’Ecole des Arts Joailliers, while Cartier presented its Haute École de Joaillerie.
Léonard demonstrated pattern making, Chanel showed the creation of a bag, and Christofle demonstrated gilding techniques.
Toledano even stopped by the Dior display to speak with a seamstress who was working on a tulle couture gown.
The event wrapped up a three-day educational fair that brought more than 4,000 students to learn about métiers d’art at the hands of the luxury fashion houses.