The fashion designer takes the reins at the storied fashion house, as Patou approaches its 100th anniversary. Guillaume Henry shares his ambitions for the French heritage brand, which has been dormant since the 1980s. With an out-of-the-ordinary vision, Henry hopes to awaken this sleeping beauty from a decades-long slumber.
This afternoon, Patou will present its first ready-to-wear collection designed by Guillaume Henry. The last time this French maison, founded in 1914 by Jean Patou, hit the runway, it was precisely in July 1986 during the Haute Couture presentations. The maison's stylist at that time was Christian Lacroix and, the day after the show, Lacroix resigned and established his own label with the financial support of Bernard Arnault. From then on, the brand has merely been able to survive through its cosmetics and fragrance businesses – its fragrance "Joy" being particularly successful. A success which ultimately convinced the LVMH Group to acquire all of Patou's activities in 2018 and repurpose the fragrance's name within Christian Dior perfumes.
Having said that, this is not the first time that a reputed Parisian fashion house has attempted a comeback. Ever since the 1980s, when major financial groups and luxury conglomerates began to acquire heritage brands, many of them – namely Azzaro, Grès, Guy Laroche, Poiret, Rochas, Schiaparelli, Vionnet... – have been relaunched. Regrettably, only two real commercial successes have been recorded: Balenciaga, then under the creative helm of Nicolas Ghesquière from 1997 to 2012 and, more recently, from 2009 to 2014, Carven through the efforts of a young, then unknown fashion designer named... Guillaume Henry. Ten years later, Henry's masterful move seems light-years away, as today's fashion industry is no longer what it was at that time. Carven did not survive his departure. In fact, the brand was forced to shut down last fall. However, Carven is not the only heritage brand to be forced out of business: Sonia Rykiel was also the subject of a judicial liquidation last summer, even though its founder's death was a mere 3 years ago. So, picture this: which industry professional was not surprised when LVMH announced Patou's imminent comeback to the ready-to-wear market, although Jean Patou's death dates back to 1936?
One question remains: Will Guillaume Henry's vision prove to be successful? The designer understands the complexity of this challenge and is committed to defending his vision with dedication, in collaboration with Sophie Brocart, Patou's CEO. "No one is actually expecting Patou's comeback," he tells us in a one-on-one interview. "The only reason that can possibly justify the brand's comeback is the creation of a new idea. Over the past year, we have studied the brand's history and assimilated the design vocabulary of the maison. In our daily work, we respect Patou's heritage and name, but we don't aim to literally restore the brand's past: the new generations don't care about it. The Patou relaunch is based on a strategy, a true design concept that brings the garment back to the heart of the fashion scene." In other words: at a time in which the fashion industry is driven by the power of images, entertainment, and social media, Guillaume Henry is going back to basics, thus going against the flow.
In fact, this afternoon, Patou's Spring/Summer 2020 presentation will be held in the brand's new headquarters located on Île de la Cité. A presentation that will be set in the middle of the design studio and prototype workshop, filled with mannequins and sewing machines. "And you will be allowed to touch and even try on the clothes," enthuses Guillaume Henry. "Following my departure from my last role (editor's note: creative director of Nina Ricci from 2014 to 2018), I started to reflect on my profession as a fashion designer and creative director. I was looking for a meaningful way to evolve, and I wanted to re-establish a form of truth about clothing. Of course, the fashion industry must play on fantasy, stimulate desires, and convey dreams as well, but its primary function is to dress the wearer's body. I have the impression that we have somehow forgotten about this over the past years... I don't want to act like a know-it-all, but in the end, the idea with Patou is to restore the desire for the garment itself; to imagine beautiful and good products that one will enjoy wearing for many seasons, and to offer a take on fashion that encourages people to live."
Already, approximatively 60 department stores and multi-brands have ordered Patou's first pre-collection, which was secretly presented to buyers last June. In this context, it must be noted that the pricing of the collection is smart – coats are sold for less than 1000€, dresses can be bought at around 650€, sweaters around 500€... "Reasonable prices, which clients can afford from time to time, just like a good restaurant. Patou is made for a majority of women who do not have the means nor the desire to spend their entire budget on clothing," states Guillaume Henry, thus revealing a pragmatic and structured offering, based on a smart pricing and seasonal strategy that is in tune with our times. He also ensures that Patou's fabrics and manufacturing conditions are of premium quality – the actual sources will be shared on the brand's website –, while the collection's packaging and hangers were designed from recycled and recyclable materials. "In 2019, it would have been unthinkable to imagine a new brand without taking into account the concerns of the new generations," explains the inspired Guillaume Henry who, a little over a year ago, imagined the very first ideas of Patou's (re)launch on a blank page.
About the author:
Frédéric Martin-Bernard has been a fashion journalist since 1996. Frédéric has worked as a freelance editor for a variety of publications including Le Figaro Daily, L'Express Styles, Marie Claire, L'Officiel Hommes, Série Limitée Les Echos and WAD. In the early 2000s he joined the team at the Figaro Daily and became Head of Menswear in 2007, then Head of Fashion in 2017. He now works as a Paris-based freelance editor.