Fashion tourism, a burgeoning business for emerging French designers

Parisian entrepreneurs Valeria Doustaly and Dione Occhipinti set themselves the challenge of organising five-day tours of Paris that bypassed the holy trinity of the Tour Eiffel, the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. For the last four years, they have done so by organising fashion-focused Paris trips. Called ‘Paris Style Week’, the tours cater to a Portuguese-speaking public and take place several times a year. 

“Since ‘Paris Style Week’ tours were introduced in 2014, more than 150 Brazilians took part, and the next session, scheduled for September, will be the 17th,” said Doustaly.
 

The D'Estrëe showroom in the Invalides district in Paris - Instagram @destree_paris

The tour costs on average €1,400 per person, and it is designed to enable a group of maximum 12 people discover “Parisian-style fashion.” The group begins with masterclasses on the life of Yves Saint Laurent or on French style, held at a venue in the Trocadéro area, followed by a day at trend studio Promostyle or in one of the many exhibitions dedicated to designers that are regularly hosted in Paris’s museums.
 
Among the highlights of the ‘Paris Style Week’, there are of course meetings with artisans and designers. Rather than the major fashion names in avenue Montaigne, Valeria Doustaly is keen for her clients to discover more idiosyncratic designers, young artisans who produce for example leather accessories in their own workshop. The latest ‘Paris Style Week’ tour visited the atelier of Géraldine Guyot, a milliner with her own label, D’Estrëe, as well as the Fauré Le Page leather accessories store and the store by ready-to-wear label Carven, all of these singled out as being typically Parisian designers.
 
“The designers have the opportunity of talking directly to a foreign audience keen on discovering French fashion and the history of their brands. They know that in doing so they can establish their reputation with Brazilian customers and connect with them,” Doustaly says. It is up to the designers to offer any discounts to the tourists brought to them by Doustaly, who has no business links with the brands and designers to whom she introduces her own clients.

According to figures published by the World Tourism Organisation, in 2016 France was the world's most visited country, welcoming nearly 82.6 million tourists. A survey carried out two years ago by the French Fashion Institute reported that the fashion industry is worth €150 billion in direct revenue for France, equivalent to 2.7% of the country’s GDP. As the world’s fashion capital, Paris relies on people like Valeria Doustaly and Dione Occhipinti to let its emerging designers benefit from the city’s huge inflow of tourists. And while the ‘Paris Style Week’ is currently aimed at a Portuguese-speaking clientèle, Doustaly is planning to offer fashion tours also in English and in Spanish - her mother tongue, as she hails from Argentina.

The two entrepreneurs behind the ‘Paris Style Week’ aren’t of course the only ones to have latched on to the tourist appeal of the Parisian fashion industry, and others are staging fashion-centred tours of Paris. For example, Context Travel has offered three-and-a-half-hour tours called ‘Shopping in Paris’ since 2011. The private tours costs €595 and enable tourists to choose as the focus of their visits, depending on their inclinations, eco-responsible designers, emerging local designers or artisan workshops.
 
“We cannot guarantee the stores our customers visit will offer them special discounts, but we work with boutiques which offer exclusive items or benefits to them,” said Context Travel. The company also features a more history-based tour called ‘Conceiving Couture’, concentrating for three hours on the bastions of Parisian fashion and Haute Couture in the last two centuries. Both the ‘Shopping in Paris’ and ‘Conceiving Couture’ tours are chiefly targeted to a North American public, hardly a surprise since the founders of Context Travel, Paul Bennett and Lani Bevacqua, are American, now based in Philadelphia.
 
More recently, another US corporation has begun to encourage tourists to travel out to meet artisans and emerging designers: online holiday accommodation giant Airbnb. In November 2016, the San Francisco-based group launched its ‘experiences’ travel concept.
 
“The idea is to enrich a trip by infusing it with all those elements that are most local and authentic, experiencing a city through the eyes of a home-grown expert,” said Célia Zaidi, in charge of Airbnb’s communication in France. Airbnb currently offers more than 1,000 ‘experiences’ in France alone, in domains as different as cuisine, art and history. Nearly 800 locations and workshops can be visited in Paris, 50 of them dedicated to fashion. Among the Parisian ‘experiences’ on offer, make-over sessions, styling tuition and themed neighbourhood visits, like for example ‘African fashion and history’.
 
Candy Miller’s Paperdolls multibrand store in Montmartre - Paperdolls

In 2011, Candy Miller set up the Paperdolls store in a Montmartre flat, turning it into a showcase for Parisian fashion designers and made-in-France labels. For €20 per person, Miller offers on Airbnb a one-and-a-half-hour experience, a combination of private shopping and discovery tour of the labels she distributes. For €90 per person, Najette, the Creative Director of local ethical label Ach Chajai Paris, offers tourists the opportunity of visiting her atelier and, working with her, of creating new outfits using clothes of their own, in order to raise awareness on the potential of upcycling and ethical fashion.

Likewise, Atelier Samedi Matin, a design studio specialised in footwear, set up by Foteini Pangos and Valentina Mazzetti, invites visitors to create their own pairs of shoes. A clever way for emerging labels or artisans looking for greater exposure of making a name for themselves.
 
The workshop organised by Atelier Samedi Matin - Atelier Samedi Matin

While initially it was Airbnb which reached out to countless artisans and brands in order to make its new ‘experiences’ concept known, the process is now more often than not the other way around. After a host suggests a project to Airbnb, the latter’s staff visits the host to define together the most relevant package.

“For this kind of product, quality is crucial,” said Célia Zaidi, explaining that Airbnb also gives some advice on how to create a remarkable experience, as well as on making it as welcoming and warm as possible.
 
Sarah Jessica Parker for Airbnb - Airbnb

For the time being, the brands, stores and designers who offer experiences through Airbnb in France are mostly known to a select few only, though the site doesn’t rule out the possibility of setting up experiences involving more mainstream labels in the future. In 2017, Airbnb introduced an initiative in the USA with actress and new Intimissimi brand ambassador Sarah Jessica Parker, for the launch of one of her footwear label’s collections. For €347, five lucky people had the chance to go shopping with the actress at Bloomingdale’s New York, before enjoying a frozen yogurt at Forty Carrots and watching a New York City Ballet performance. A tried-and-tested communication operation, making headlines in magazines the world over, benefiting both Airbnb and the SJP footwear label.

Some of the major French labels, like those owned by LVMH that are involved in the ‘Private Days’ initiative (next planned for October 2018), as well as others during France’s Heritage Days, offer the general public the opportunity of taking a peek behind the scenes, allowing access to their workshops and facilities, places usually only accessible to professionals. Opening their doors, more often than not for free, to the simply curious and to fashion aficionados, whether from the next town along or from the other side of the world, is undoubtedly a way of boosting their reputation. “When people familiarise with a brand’s heritage, having been exposed to it, we see the beginning of a connection between them and the brand,” says Doustaly. And, eventually, this will generate additional sales. 

Translated by Nicola Mira

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