France’s new fashion incubator La Caserne opens in Paris
On the same day as one malcontent was slapping Emmanuel Macron in rural France, the French president’s start up nation was showing another face – the opening Tuesday night of La Caserne, a dynamic new fashion incubator inside what was once Paris' largest fire station.
Backed up by the likes of LVMH, Kering and Woolmark, La Caserne is bankrolled by French industrialist billionaire Jacques Veyrat. The handsome cut-stone space will host some 40 young designers, granting them individual ateliers for three years; and welcome over a dozen accessories brands.
Its goal: to be part of a radical transformation in how French fashion works, encouraging a new generation of creators to work with sustainable materials; recycling and upcycling fabrics in their collections. Case in point, Benjamin Benmoyal, the dynamic Franco-Israeli designer whose creations blend video cassette tapes with luxurious yarns like cashmere, much of it supplied by Nona Source, the LVMH company that supplies deadstock to young designers.
Located in the top of the 10th arrondissement, behind the Gare de l’Est, La Caserne is certainly a cool place to work. Boasting a large, cobbled courtyard, and an extended first-floor exterior catwalk, installed in its five-million-euro-plus renovation to link all the studios. When fully operational in September, the space will also boast an airy third floor rooftop vegan restaurant with terrace views of the famed nearby railway bridges much loved and painted by the Impressionist, and a 400-square-meter basement jazz club.
So, we caught up with Maeva Bessis, the CEO of La Caserne. Previously the director of l’Exception, the online concept store with over 400 brands, Bessis is a digital person who loves traffic acquisition and marketing. Time spent in Canada means she is fluent in English, the language in which we discuss her vision of La Caserne.
FashionNetwork.com: What is the concept behind La Caserne?
Maeva Bessis: It is an ecological transition accelerator for the fashion industry. You probably know that the fashion industry is a very pollutive sector, and creators now want to produce in a more responsible way, but they need to be accompanied. What we do here is incubate brands for three years, and we give them access to formation, materials and connections, so that they can model committed brands.
FNW: Who will benefit from all your services?
MB: its principally young designers because the spaces are smaller, we have about 40 brands; 25 of which are ready-to-wear brands; and 15 leather goods brands. For example, we have Benjamin Benmoyal, who participates in the Paris Fashion Week. And our leather goods program is as important, collaborating with APF France Handicap, which aims to train people with disabilities to work with quality leathers. Lots of studies show when you lose a sense, the others compensate. So, we believe we can help form some very good artisans, sensitive to materials.
FNW: What role does LVMH play?
MB: They have a startup called Nona Source, for reusing deadstock fabrics. Fabrics are a big problem, since most fashion pollution comes from developing fabrics. So, we have a Nona Source space dedicated to the sourcing of raw materials. It was a shame our big fashion houses had so much materials that were not used. Now our young designers and start-ups are so happy to have these materials.
And we have Kering as a funding partner. Since the beginning, Kering helped me to understand a lot of things about the industry and how we can try to develop better ways of working.
FNW: The building is city-owned, right?
MB: Yes. The mayor of Paris wanted this place for innovative professionals. We presented our project competitively and they loved it. Paris has the responsibility to prove that fashion can be responsible and profitable at the same time.
FNW: But who is “We”?
MB: Me and my boss, who is Jacques Veyrat, a French entrepreneur in telecoms and sustainable energies who loves fashion. Fashion is a heartfelt project for him; he is the only investor in the company. We have a long lease in a beautiful building. Jacques gave me three objectives with this place: to make an impact; to make a cool place and not to lose him too much money!
This is the oldest fire station of Paris; it was really important to respect the legacy of this building and to keep the charm and the spirit. We worked with Chaix and Morel (who handled the new Saint Laurent headquarters on the Left Bank), a Paris architectural firm who added this passerelle. It is really useful to link the buildings, as our project has an important collective mindset.
FNW: So, what sort of capital investment are we talking about?
MB: Around several million. I don't have every number for the renovation, but I can tell you that it's over €5 million.
FNW: What role does LVMH play?
MB: We have a relationship with Nona Source, which is within LVMH. We only take start-ups that we think are very useful and necessary for the transition of our industry. There is a great shame that in our big fashion houses we have a lot of materials that are not used, especially before Nona was born. Now Nona can help these fashion startups in the market. Young designers are just so happy to have these materials.
FNW: You specifically target designers who are into recycling, sustainability, upside down, all those ideas. That's the talent you're looking for?
MB: I'm looking for people who are leading the new world and I think designers of tomorrow are designers that can handle these constraints. You know from constraints creativity is born and the designers of tomorrow are the designers who knows that.
FNW: If in five years’ time we come back here, what would you need to happen for you to think it was a success?
MB: Right now we have the young designers on our side. What we need now is to conduct a movement that brings bigger brands with us because if we want to have an impact at a larger scale we need to have the people who have real impact. So the key success factor for me is to make people inside the corporate world understand what is important and what is not and how to bring this change, while keeping profit in mind. Because we are talking about companies; we're talking about markets. It's always a question of learning that if you want to do right thing you need to know how to measure your impact and which materials you choose. So, my dream is to know a lot of people inside big brands and bring them into La Caserne for the party or for the learning. It can be both!
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