When it comes to the current state of fashion — "see now, buy now," the demanding calendar — it's almost inevitable for designers to voice their opinions at a public appearance or interview. (See: Public School, Rag & Bone, Balmain, Diane Von Furstenberg and Mary Katrantzou, to name a few.) But what about everyone else involved in the fashion cycle like buyers, retailers and even the consumer? Luckily, we were able to get a different perspective on these hot topics on Wednesday night, when the FIAF in New York City kicked off its Creative Leaders series with Laure Heriard Dubreuil, the founder and CEO of The Webster. Moderated by journalist Melissa Ceria, Dubreuil's conversation covered everything from how she's making it in fashion to where she sees her boutique brand in five years.
With more than a decade of experience (her earlier stints include Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière and Saint Laurent under Stefano Pilati), Dubreuil didn't anticipate the changes that social media brought upon the fashion industry. Her observations, however, include an eye-opening example from a previous customer at The Webster who brought in an image from Instagram looking to buy the outfit. The photo was of a street style star at fashion week already wearing samples straight from a runway show. She says that she has to explain to customers that the pieces seen online are going to arrive in stores six months later. In between that, pre-season collections are offered as well. "Right now it's a little bit crazy even for the clients to understand. They see so much of what's going on on the runways," said Dubreuil.
And while Dubreuil recognizes how fashion houses are adapting by offering "see now, buy now" options during runway shows, she feels the strategy can only be deemed successful if those brands have their own retail stores. "When you have a lot of wholesale [clients,] it's very difficult," she said. "When you're a younger brand, it's not easy either."
The fashion calendar isn't helping either, as Dubreuil has noticed the effects on designers and the challenges and pressures that come with it. (See: Creative burnout.) "It would be amazing if we suddenly decide to reduce the amount of collections," admitted Dubreuil. "But at the same time, it creates newness in the stores and it's refreshing." She suggested that designers find a good team to work with, which will allow for more time to seek inspiration (and take breaks). The calendar is demanding for Dubreuil, too. She travels almost every month to see new collections — except for three months out of the year — and is usually given 10 days after each fashion week to make decisions on new orders with designers.
For now, Dubreuil is keeping a close eye on how everything is evolving, in addition to handling a few new launches with The Webster right now. She recently opened a flagship in Houston and is currently focusing on e-commerce, which she hopes will be as personal and memorable of an experience for customers as stepping into one of their stores. She's already revealed plans to start a fashion line of her own in the future, but an audience member was able to get a few more details on what she would bring to the market.
"I'm not a designer per se, I'm a merchandiser. So it would be done from a merchandiser point of view," admits Dubreuil. "It would really be in connection with my clients and The Webster. I have an understanding, having seen all of the different markets and brands. It will speak directly to the [Webster] woman and to my client and maybe after, men's one day."
As for where we'll be seeing The Webster opening up next? Dubreuil has her sights on the west coast, New York "for sure," and, perhaps, China for her roots of learning Mandarin for eight years. "Everything needs to have a reason. Nothing is done on a business level," she said. "That's what makes it very genuine and organic." But the idea of opening a store in an unfamiliar city is certainly appealing (and easy) for Dubreuil. After all, this is a woman who arrived in Miami from France with only a suitcase and a plan to open a high-end boutique at the height of the Recession. And look where she is today.
Homepage image: Laure Heriard Dubreuil. Photo: Sasha Arutyunova/FIAF