In Paris, parallel to its fashion week from October 2 to 4, most of the fashion fairs took place–against all expectations and under increasing infection numbers of Covid-19–in Paris, which had recently been designated as a risk area.
While Tranoï showed digitally, the fairs Première Classe, Who's next, Impact (all WSN) joined forces with Man/Woman and Silmo Paris, with the slogan #strongertogether. In total, around 370 exhibitors (250 WSN / Man/Woman and 120 Silmo) took part in the joint event in the Jardin des Tuileries. Due to limited travel conditions, the French clearly predominated among buyers with 87%, but buyers from Spain, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland and Germany also found their way to Paris.
The merger of the two trade fairs, WSN and Man/Woman, came as a surprise in the run-up to the event, after Tranoï announced a few weeks earlier its cooperation with Première Vision.
Frédéric Maus, general director of WSN, and Antoine Floch, co-founder of Man/Woman, explain here in an interview how the combined fair came about, why the organizers stuck to the live event despite the crisis and what the two organizers are planning for the future.
Fréderic Maus: Antoine [Floch] and I esteem each other very much and we are in constant exchange. Our events are complementary. During the lockdown, many actors made joint plans, but most of them were not implemented. We, on the other hand, really wanted to make common cause. It's going to be a difficult time and if we want to make a trade fair, we can only do so if we bring our strengths together.
Antoine Floch: The joint fair was preceded by six months of intensive discussions. Many people thought that Man/Woman had been bought up. But that is wrong. We think that our old model is no longer viable in the current climate. Right on the first day of the fair it became clear that our joint approach is bearing fruit. So many visitors showed up.
What are the objectives of this common approach?
Maus: We all want the same thing: Paris should continue to shine as a trade fair location. We must be present, help trade and our industry. But we must also transform ourselves. Together we are stronger.
Floch: At Man/Woman, we have already moved our location to Place Vendôme in the past because Première Classe takes place within walking distance in the Tuileries, which makes life easier for buyers. But of course it doesn't make sense to position ourselves at Place Vendôme alone with 20 brands instead of the usual 300. In the week before the start of the fair, 15 of these 20 brands have canceled. I still wanted to take a position with the remaining five. We are here, our brands are present and they thank us for that. I am not at all ashamed that I am here now with only a handful of brands. Even if I return to Place Vendôme in January 2021 with around 170 brands, i.e. about half of the normal number of exhibitors, that doesn't change anything about our joint talks and plans. There is no going back to the time before the pandemic.
Is there any exchange with the other Paris fairs? Were you informed that Tranoi associated with Première Vision?
Floch: We started talks with Tranoï in mid-March and these were concluded at the end of March. We learned about the merger with Première Vision through the press.
Floch: We cannot completely transform the way we have been working over the last 15 years to digital platforms and to Zoom and Google Meetings. The trade fair business is done face-to-face. After all, we must not forget that the buyers, the press and the brands don't just come here for the fair, but also for the city, the museums, restaurants, flea markets and the whole ambience. Take the Japanese. I know exactly what they do here: They sit down in a café in the Marais and scan everything that happens on the street in front of them. On their return, they have done their shopping at the fair, but they also know that Parisians between the ages of 17 and 25 wear the brand X, and those between 25 and 40 all dress with the brands Y and Z. They take this knowledge back home. It is not just about business. The culture, society and the whole flair here are also important.
When did you decide to hold the fair?
Maus: About three weeks before. During lockdown our teams continued to work. We’ve never stopped. Working in the event business, we have to be able to adapt flexibly to new requirements and make the best of the situation.
Our motto was: As long as we can do it, the fair will take place. Our tent here in the Tuileries consists of individual modules. Normally it reaches to the end of the park, now it's shorter. We also wanted to do the Who's Next in summer, but unfortunately we received a government decree at the beginning of July saying that all events are banned until the end of October. Two weeks later, things were different again. The rules change all the time.
Is it even possible to organize the fair properly under such conditions?
Maus: It's all about the messages we want to send out. We have fought to get editorials up: We have succeeded in doing this with a partnership with the e-shop Toujours, a small exhibition about the Andam Prize and the inclusion of Man/Woman. People see that and are impressed. The atmosphere is much better than two or three seasons ago. For years everyone has been complaining that it has become so difficult. What has really impressed me: We have had the same person announcing the opening and closing of the fair for 30 years. Nobody else listens to it. But this time the exhibitors applauded. For this moment alone, it was worth the effort.
Maus: We were constantly on the phone with the authorities. We even clarified whether we could serve champagne to our exhibitors. Gel, masks, spacing rule–that was clear anyway. A week before the start, the government had reduced the rules from 5,000 to 1,000 visitors. On the very first day of the fair we were at that limit.
Who came? I heard that many retailers who had to fire their employees because of the crisis were now standing in the shop themselves and therefore couldn't come.
Floch: There were fewer Parisians, because here the trade suffered greatly from the lack of tourism. But in the countryside things were going well and they had to order new goods. Those who come also buy because they need it.
Maus: Over the last 15 days we have contacted all our VIP buyers by phone. And for one and a half years now we have had the “retail tours”: four to five employees from very different departments, such as sales, marketing, digital, technology etc. travel to the biggest cities in France and contact the retailers there. Per city, that's around 150 and 200 retailers. The response is ingenious. We organize it like small private seminars. Once the contacts are made, we call them and arrange when they come to the trade show. These are our visitors. Many come on Sundays when their shops are closed.
We talked a lot about digital formats. What is the status quo here?
Maus: People are only now beginning to understand how they can use the digital services. The best example is that we had arranged around 850 and 900 meetings in advance via Vimeet. We also want to digitalize the entire fair and make it available online. Digital can only work if everyone can use it and everyone has access. It must be as large and comprehensive as possible.
Floch: The digital discussion didn't just come up with Covid-19, it's been going on for a long time. But the pandemic has created an emergency situation. In March, we therefore hired someone who had worked 24/7 on a digital offer. In one and a half months, our platform was ready, 70% of the services are already active today. We built it up without any external funds or investors. Now we still have to do the final work so that buyers and exhibitors can buy and sell directly on the platform. This will take some time, but it is important because most of our international exhibitors are small independent brands. Just like us, by the way. We set up the fair 10 years ago with 5000 euros and in 2019 we had a turnover of 4 million. When we talk to the exhibitors and visitors, we understand how they feel, because they have similar structures and the same problems as we do.
Maus: Most small brands have neither the budget nor the expertise to have pictures taken in 3-D, to create QR code etc. This is a world of its own and the small companies do not understand these challenges and need to be accompanied. The current problem is to find solutions that suit these small suppliers.
There are trade fairs that rely on existing platforms, such as Joor or Le New Black. Was that not an alternative for you?
Floch: We talked to these platforms and found that they don't work at all like we do. From the beginning we had the feeling that these companies did not want a partnership, but wanted to integrate us into their structures. But I didn't invest the last 10 years of my life in this company to be transferred into a digital offer, who have absolutely no idea how a real fair works. They just don't have the same discussions: We don't just talk about business, we also talk to people, behind the brands and boutiques.
Floch: No, in fact the opposite. But that's because most of our exhibitors are so small that they have to do everything: the banking, the shop, the production, the Instagram, etc. They have working days of 15 hours or more. Their business and their business plan is based on their visit to the fair. These brands don't just want to sell their collections and meet new dealers, they also want the communication offered by and around the fair. They know: The retailers here are committed to develop further the image of the brands.
Maus: Digital native brands don't really need retailers to sell either. It is very rare to have them as exhibitors. Some book a visit to the fair for their image. Or if they are so big that they want to enter the trade. But then they are not interested in being represented in 200 boutiques in France. That is a completely different market.
Does Man/Woman also shows in New York and Tokyo?
Floch: No, we take a break. If I personally as a person cannot travel to New York to keep appointments there, it doesn't make sense to have a trade fair there.
What happens next season? The Pitti Uomo has already announced that it will take place in January. And in Paris?
Floch: The January session is near and must be decided in the next days and weeks. But the planning is difficult. At the moment I can't even say if I'll be able to sit in the café next Monday.
If I can't generate new funds in January, it will be difficult to continue the fair anyway. That also applies to the brands. They need us as much as we need them. If the same goverment rules apply in January as today, with 1,000 visitors, then I won't mind taking up twice the space here in the tent and putting up some clothes rails. Those exhibitors who cannot come could then send me the collections. I will present them here and sell them myself. I had already suggested this to a few brands last week. My claim is that the brands are represented here in Paris. That is all that counts. We have to stay positive. We have been fighting for this business for years and we will continue to do so.