Modern luxury industry insights - Issue 172 - Magazine | Monocle

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the expert
Alexandra Carl
Stylist and creative consultant


While auction houses have long valued the importance of paintings, cars and watches, they’ve only turned their eye to fashion in recent years. “Collecting fashion is a relatively recent phenomenon,” says the Danish, London-based stylist and creative consultant Alexandra Carl. “But that is changing. Now, when you look at catalogues from Christie’s and Sotheby’s, clothes are almost on the same level as art and antiques.”

Carl’s new book, Collecting Fashion: Nostalgia, Passion, Obsession, surveys the wardrobes of the people who pioneered this practice, from French fashion designer Michèle Lamy’s extensive Comme des Garçons archive to Berlin showroom Endyma’s Helmut Lang collection. Carl, who has worked with photographers such as Viviane Sassen and Juergen Teller, spent three years travelling around the world to go inside the archives of the most prolific fashion collectors, including the late Azzedine Alaïa, Chanel sound director Michel Gaubert and Carla Sozzani, founder of Milanese retailer 10 Corso Como. Each collection is filled with stories of “the liaison between past and present, history and the moment, affection and consumption,” according to Italian writer Angelo Flaccavento, who contributed to the book, alongside professor and art advisor Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a specialist in consumer psychology. Together with Carl, they sought to shed light on why and how people buy and keep clothes, as well as our relationship with consumption. 

Ahead of the publication of her book, Carl sits down with MONOCLE to talk about her own interest in collecting, her visit to Zaha Hadid’s shoe archive and the process of researching her book and discovering what drives people to fall in love with clothing. 

When did you first become interested in collecting and in people who collect?
I grew up with a mum who was a collector. Though she wasn’t collecting fashion per se, she had an interest in clothes and liked buying to invest and keep. As a child, I got to wear her clothes and her influence – along with that of my grandmother, who taught me how to make clothes – is probably where this all comes from.

You are a stylist and creative consultant. Has your job shaped your understanding of collecting?
I do meet amazing people who collect and have archives that I use for research when I work with fashion brands. It’s fascinating seeing their relationships with the items they own because it’s so contrary to the ways in which younger generations [treat clothing]. Nowadays, people buy things for exposure and wait 90 minutes for delivery. Everything is so readily available so you miss out on that element of desire – brands don’t really inspire that in you any more. The people I met [for the book] are interested in building relationships with brands; they are more interested in the hunt. They could wait two years, maybe three, for something. They don’t have this sense of immediate urgency.

Who in particular comes to mind?
Adrian Appiolaza, who is now the creative director of Moschino, was my first introduction to the phenomenon of owning many clothes and not necessarily needing to show them off. People like Appiolaza might only wear  the items they collect a few times but they’re happy to take a bank loan to acquire them or wait two years for a certain piece to be shipped in a special crate from Japan. I’m interested in individuals whose parents didn’t have access to collecting but who developed an emotional attachment to it. And it’s not about status – it’s not like they’re showing off items like Birkin bags. It’s more about dreaming of something [for a long time].

How did you go about researching the book? 
It was commissioned just before the pandemic so I spent most of lockdown researching, even though I was also pregnant at the time. It wasn’t exactly easy getting access to homes so I spent a lot of time reaching out to people. Then we spent eight months or so travelling around. It got easier at some point as we got to meet people who knew collectors and could help out.

Did any collections stick with you long after you finished researching the book?
Zaha Hadid’s shoe collection was probably the wildest. Apparently there were 5,000 pairs in there but because the archive has not yet been catalogued, that number could be higher. We couldn’t even figure out what brand some of them were: we sent them to Prada and they didn’t know either so I suspect that Miuccia [Prada] had designed some items especially for her. It was very emotional stepping into someone’s life and thinking about what people leave behind.

the modernisers
Joël Sraer and François-Cyrille de Rendinger
CEO and president, APC


Did the experience shed any light on the psychology of why people collect? 
Nowadays a lot of clothes don’t make people feel anything because they don’t have a history. When people have an emotional connection to a piece of clothing and they pass it down, you feel something because [the previous owner] lived a life in it.

When Jean Touitou founded French ready-to-wear label Atelier de Production et de Création (apc) in the late 1980s, the irony was that its pragmatic, understated aesthetic was considered somewhat rebellious. In an age of excess, apc was – and continues to be – a simple offering. At the heart of the label are everyday items, free from excess decoration: Japanese selvedge denim, workwear jackets and perfect cotton sweaters. For the past 37 years, apc has never veered too far from these design classics. 

The Paris-based brand was family-owned until 2018 when outside investor Vesper Investissement bought a minority share, helping the business to send its annual revenues above the €100m mark. Now, Touitou is aiming even higher. It’s why, last year, he sold a majority stake in his business to L Catterton, the private equity firm backed by lvmh (it also has investments in global labels such as Birkenstock and Tod’s), while he and his wife, art director Judith Touitou, are staying on. 

The ambition is to triple the brand’s revenues with more concerted marketing efforts and new category launches, ranging as far as limited-edition Cornishware, sunglasses and a much-anticipated beauty line called Self-Care, which consists of what Touitou calls “the best possible” cologne, bath and body-care products. “Still, this isn’t going to be a revolution – it’s an evolution,” says François-Cyrille de Rendinger, apc’s president. 

De Rendinger is among a number of seasoned apc executives who are staying to steer the brand in its next phase of growth, alongside ceo Joël Sraer. In a joint conversation from their Paris offices, Sraer and De Rendinger tell monocle about their ambitions to grow apc, which is currently sold in 70 countries, into a fully fledged lifestyle brand – and how they plan to do it all without compromising the brand’s distinctly Parisian dna

Now that APC has a new external partner, what changes have you implemented?
françois-cyrille de rendinger: People have been asking us, “What happened?” But it was a natural process after the pandemic. Jean [Touitou] is in his seventies and he wanted more time to himself. We started to meet private-equity funds and it was very important that whoever bought into apc would share the company’s values. L Catterton understood the three most important elements: the branding, the products and the team’s collective vision. It was quite an easy business plan because apc is a simple company – there’s no ego or politics. 

joël sraer: We plan to spearhead our expansion plans by cautiously finding the right balance between our wholesale and retail businesses. This year we will open four shops: one in London, one in Madrid and two in Stockholm. The company has tripled in size over the past 10 years but there’s still the spirit of the old days. 

APC’s public image has always been low-key. Have you had to rethink your communications?

js: In the past, the word “marketing” was forbidden at apc. But as the company grows, we understand that there’s a need to adapt so we launched our first marketing department last year. As we get bigger, there needs to be a stronger message about our products and what we stand for as a company. 

fdr: There has always been a mystery surrounding apc but we do recognise that it’s necessary for people to better understand what the brand represents. The social media landscape is very crowded and when it’s so noisy, we have to ask ourselves, “How can the customer discover apc?” That’s one of our challenges for the coming year: to communicate the brand’s identity without being too explicit. 

APC has a history of unexpected creative partnerships. How do you pick your collaborators?
js: We release four collections a year and maintain a permanent offering of items that are never discontinued, such as raw denim. On top of this, we generally have three or four “interactions” per year. They are the equivalent of a collaboration but with a more personal approach. They include partnerships with artists across the board, from musicians, designers, actors and photographers to stylists. It keeps things fresh. We’ve also been running a 14-year project with designer Jessica Ogden, who creates one-off patchwork quilts from excess fabric stock. Next, we’re collaborating with [former Chloé creative director] Natacha Ramsay-Levi.

Environmental and social impact has been a priority since the brand’s inception. What initiatives are you working on now?
fdr: The most challenging one is the reduction of carbon emissions. We’ve just concluded a partnership with Carbonfact, a French start-up that specialises in the fashion sector, which helped us hone our understanding of emissions at every stage of the production chain. Since 2020, apc has also provided financial sponsorship to a programme at Paris’s Sciences Po university that promotes the representation of students from underprivileged backgrounds. Members of the apc team, including myself, engage with students from the programme via a series of mentorships.

What is your approach to launching new categories?
js: Last year we designed a Cornishware teapot with Jonathan Anderson [creative director at Loewe and JW Anderson] and we launched apc Self-Care with six core products. Everything is made in France and developed in-house. Next, we’re releasing a collection of sunglasses. That’s the fun part: apc has the capacity to be in almost every field; it’s becoming a lifestyle brand. We’ll never get bored of the possibilities.

the brand reboot
Benjamin Comar
CEO, Piaget


Since becoming ceo of Piaget in 2021, all eyes have been on Benjamin Comar and his ambitious plans to restore the company to its former glory. Founded in the small Swiss village of La Côte-aux-Fées, the company was primarily a movement-maker until a turning point in 1957 when Piaget developed the ultra-thin 9P hand-wound mechanical movement. The 2mm-thick calibre revolutionised watchmaking and Piaget started setting its slim movements into daring watches and jewellery, becoming the go-to maison for the jet set of the Swinging Sixties: Miles Davis, Ursula Andress, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí were all fans.

In more recent times, however, Piaget has notably underperformed its fellow Richemont-owned watch brands, such as Vacheron Constantin and A Lange & Söhne. According to latest report by Morgan Stanley and consultancy LuxeConsult, Piaget’s turnover is 2023 was chf278m (€290m), which represented 3.8 per cent of sales at the group (and an implied market share of 0.7 per cent). 

A seasoned luxury executive, Comar is well-placed to revive the brand. The native Parisian started his career at Cartier Japan and Paris in the early 1990s, eventually rising to head of product marketing. After two years in London as deputy ceo of Dunhill, another Richemont-owned brand, he left the group for Chanel. A 12-year tenure as head of watches and jewellery saw Comar build the fashion brand’s presence in the watch and jewellery space, earning watchmaking legitimacy with successful new launches, such as the Monsieur, Chanel’s first timepiece for men. 

Following a stint as ceo of the LVMH-owned Repossi, Comar returned to Richemont. He has been galvanising Piaget with a specific focus on creativity – bold designs that bring together the brand’s expertise in both jewellery and watchmaking – and craftsmanship. “Creativity without craft doesn’t mean anything for me in luxury,” says Comar, who has already started attracting the attention of collectors. A new range of jewellery and cuff watches inspired by archival 1969 designs, as well as the brand’s latest high jewellery collection, sold out last year. The industry is equally seduced: in November, Piaget picked up two wins at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève watchmaking awards – the only house to take home two gongs – in the ladies and artistic craft categories. monocle caught up with Comar in Gstaad, where Piaget was launching the new Polo 79, a reissue of one of its most emblematic watches.

You’re no stranger to reviving heritage brands. How is Piaget different? 
I learnt a lot at Cartier and Chanel. When it came to Piaget, I was drawn to the brand’s trajectory. It started as a very traditional movement supplier, known for being very rigorous with craftsmanship. It [was expected] to focus on traditional watchmaking but went the other way – towards creativity. When I joined Piaget, I spoke to the family and asked, “What happened to you guys?” They said that they didn’t want to be another watch brand; they wanted to do things that had never been done before. Piaget had collaborations before [they became mainstream] with the likes of Salvador Dalí. I’m fascinated by how this family, from a small village, made something that was creative, bold and audacious. 

What does Piaget’s 150th anniversary represent?
It’s more of a kick-off, a starting point to show what Piaget is about. Not in a nostalgic way but in a forward-looking way. I always want to do more, go faster – but luxury is tradition, it takes time and we’re very happy about that. We’ve set the base for what we want to do and now we have to go and seduce our customers.

Why did you choose to launch the Polo 79 now?
Piaget is about paradoxes. The Polo 79 is a sports watch but very dressy at the same time; it’s a day watch but works well for evening; it’s a piece of jewellery but also a watch. It’s also a visible yet chic design – a result of our commitment to the traditions of watchmaking and the rigours of alpine culture. 

Rather than watchmaking’s technical features, there is a strong emphasis on image at Piaget. Why is image so important?
You invest a lot when you buy a luxury piece – both money but also spirit, whether that’s love, power or another emotion. It’s about an image you want to show the world or express to yourself. The product has to be exquisite but it is also about the spirit that it represents. You’re buying an experience, a dream, a reward. It’s an emotional purchase more than a technical one. The technique is at the service of the emotion.

The Polo 79 is an all-gold watch, reflecting Piaget’s broader focus on high-end, meticulously crafted designs. In a world of growing economic uncertainty, why do you think these pieces still resonate so profoundly?
Luxury is steeped in tradition and craftsmanship – it has long been about the same techniques, which is reassuring in a world that’s increasingly virtual. Luxury has its roots in tradition and can act as a go-between, balancing traditional craft and innovation. I recently saw the launch of the Apple Vision Pro glasses, which was great, but at the same time you still need a traditional watch. 

Do you see Piaget becoming a global brand?
We want to grow but we want to grow in our world. We are not a fashion brand and will never be. The values carried by Piaget are strong: this is a true connoisseur’s brand but there are more and more connoisseurs out there. People are getting more interested in luxury and what it represents: life, enjoyment, tradition. We can speak to all those needs.

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