Welcome to a new series where we bring the BoF community even closer together by getting to know some of our key members.
BoF: What do you wish more people understood about your job?
AD: I guess most people believe that being CEO is being in a nice place and telling everybody what to do, when I believe it’s more working together with a team and trying to lead them. It’s a bit different, it’s about rolling up your sleeves and trying to help people in doing their job more than asking for things to be done, so I think it requires a bit more involvement than what most people believe.
BoF: What were you doing before working as CEO?
AD: I was working in fashion; I was [general director of fashion] at Paco Rabanne and before that I was a collection director for Celine accessories.
Being a CEO in a fashion company is slightly different to most companies, because it only works if you work well with the creative director — and, in my case, the owner of the company too. I think it really changes the role because you’re more here to help her or him do their job well. So it’s really about providing everything that needs to be provided for that talent to really express themselves.
BoF: What is the number one lesson you’ve learned during your career?
AD: To listen and to try other things, because fashion is an industry that goes very fast so you don’t always have the time to prepare yourself. It’s a lot about experience and testing your feelings and intuition. It’s more experiential than conceptual, I think. Every season you can do better, which is quite exciting, because it comes back every three months. You have a lot of opportunities to improve all the time, so the learning curve is quite fast.
BoF: What is the number one challenge you are facing in your area of expertise?
AD: There are many difficulties. I think the first one is to keep the good talent. The challenge is to find, keep, and motivate them for a long period of time, especially when you are a start-up, or not a huge company but a more mid-size company like mine.
The other challenge comes from the size of the business, because you are competing directly — in the eyes of the customer — with bigger brands that have budgets way beyond ours. So, we really need to be creative and smart to try to stand out and be relevant when some megabrands can collaborate with the best people, work with the most talented celebrities and get great designers.
The last thing is that our jobs are becoming increasingly complex; before [there] was only wholesale, then retail and wholesale and now we need to add digital and e-commerce [channels]. It’s true for selling but it’s [also] true for communicating — it requires a lot of different skills. I think it’s getting more complex.
And also the new generation doesn’t really like the same thing as old clients, so you really need to be listening to everybody to find your way. At the same time it’s super exciting, a lot of new trends kicking in and fashion is evolving more and more quickly. [Customers] sense integrity and authenticity, and it’s very important to keep that, while evolving quickly.
BoF: What industry shifts are you most optimistic about?
AD: There are a lot of new, good things coming in. I think that sustainability is becoming increasingly important and in a few years we will really be able to increase the share of sustainability in our industry. Everybody in fashion knows that sustainability isn’t really established [yet] in terms of that. Everybody is really aware of that and willing to change things. We will really be able to take that movement and build it. All of us in the industry need to request that of our suppliers, so that they can get fabrics that are more sustainable and find ways of doing things that are not so problematic.
And the second thing is that fashion 40 years ago was something very snobbish and very elitist in a way. I think it’s becoming more and more democratic. The way that fashion has [become] really open to everybody and integrating a lot of different trends and spirits — I think it’s an industry that cares about embracing as many people as possible. I find that quite interesting in terms of community and gender and I think fashion plays a role in blurring the lines.
BoF: What topics should the fashion industry be debating more vigorously?
AD: I think everyone needs to be working on talent and craftsmanship. The big [luxury] houses manage to do that because they have their own factories or their own ateliers, [but] I think everyone should pay attention to craftsmanship whether they are in Italy or France or India, because as we know the cost of doing things will keep on increasing. We need to make sure that we keep some good embroiderers who can do beautiful things, because that’s really part of what we do. And if we lose those talents we will be in a bad place.
BoF: How do you hope the industry will evolve in 2019?
AD: We need to work more [on] sustainability and education, and keep on being multicultural and open-minded. I think it’s a good direction and it’s important to pay attention.
BoF: What are you doing differently in your role this year?
AD: I always paid a lot of attention to listening more, and I think we need to listen more and more. I think people are becoming less factual, they perceive more than they check back. We need to listen and pay attention to every little thing. It’s true in the industry but it’s true everywhere in the world: we are faced with a huge flow of information and it’s crazy. We need to filter and really listen more and more, because there are so many trends that are hidden. It’s [about] listening more to my team but it’s also listening more to the industry and competition — and the world in general. It goes very fast and we need to be more reactive.
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