Supporting and enhancing fashion designers across Europe
UF Voic­es — Syl­vette Boutin Lepers

Don’t do what the per­son next to you or in front of you is doing.”

In the frame­work of 48H Maisons de Mode Lille, Syl­vette Boutin Lep­ers, shared with us her expe­ri­ence on work­ing with young design­ers for the Design Col­lab­o­ra­tions of La Red­oute, where she is Head of Cre­ative Part­ner­ships and Brand Imaging. 

Can you tell us more about your role at La Redoute? 

Well, I’m Syl­vette Boutin Lep­ers. I’m Head of Design­er Col­lab­o­ra­tions at La Red­oute. I’ve been doing that for quite a few years. What does my job con­sist of? What inspires me on a dai­ly basis? Dis­cov­er­ing new tal­ent, decid­ing whether to col­lab­o­rate, and work­ing togeth­er on the col­lec­tions. Right up to sell­ing the clothes, in fact. The process starts with work on the col­lec­tion plan, which I over­see because La Red­oute is in charge of pro­duc­tion. We work togeth­er on the com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan and the shoot, and decide how we want to project it on social media and on our e‑shop. Obvi­ous­ly, I’m talk­ing about young tal­ent, but I’m also talk­ing about the bet­ter-known fash­ion houses. 

I’m on the jury of HEAD Genève (Gene­va School of Art and Design), a major fash­ion and design school. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing because I meet young peo­ple who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have much mon­ey but who are burst­ing with ideas, who think they’re going to change the world, who are full of ethics, who are very respon­si­ble and who want their prod­ucts to be worn by as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. They want to see women on the street wear­ing their clothes. 

That’s what keeps me busy at the moment, day in day out, week in week out.

Dur­ing the pan­el dis­cus­sion you took part in, you repeat­ed­ly high­light­ed the impor­tance of respect, inter­ac­tion and exchange. Why are you plain­ly high­light­ing these aspects? 

I think that, if we look at the design­ers’ per­son­al­i­ties, they are very sen­si­tive indi­vid­u­als who real­ly need to be giv­en a con­fi­dence boost. I’m con­vinced that doing that comes from respect and trans­paren­cy. When I say respect, I mean respect for the indi­vid­ual and respect for their world… When you’re keen to do some­thing togeth­er, it’s in order to have the DNA of the brand, the design­er, the young label. When we meet, we’ve nev­er seen each oth­er before. We need to gain their trust, which comes from respect. By the same token, I expect the same thing from them, i.e. I expect them to have a real respect for our com­pa­ny, which has been going for more than 180 years, era after era. Truth­ful­ly, that’s what makes for a suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion: respect­ing the per­son in front of us. That means them, their world and their brand.

How do you see the design­ers you have col­lab­o­rat­ed with evolv­ing? How do they con­tin­ue with their projects? 

We’ve been doing this for a very long time. We start­ed in 1969, when we intro­duced the con­cept of Design­er Col­lab­o­ra­tions. The start­ing point was to offer design­er pieces. In 1969, not every­one could afford ready-made clothes. So it was about offer­ing design­er pieces at acces­si­ble prices. That was real­ly the start­ing point. 

We have to have prices posi­tioned for our busi­ness. It’s extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for them – they don’t have the resources. La Red­oute steps in to alle­vi­ate things in terms of pro­duc­tion. The design­ers give us a sketch, a design, and we take care of every­thing as they don’t have the time to do what La Red­oute does too. The three of us – the mod­elist, the design­er and me – move for­ward together.

Some­thing that I’ve noticed, which is very dif­fer­ent from how it used to be, is that I now meet young peo­ple who want their pieces to be worn. They want to see this piece worn on the streets. They are less con­cerned with the con­cep­tu­al and unique art­work side of things. That’s changed a lot – I think it’s a form of pragmatism. 

Do you see cer­tain trends or changes in the fash­ion indus­try in Europe? Ones that you find per­ti­nent, com­pelling or par­tic­u­lary interesting? 

Actu­al­ly, what I find extreme­ly inter­est­ing are the ques­tions being asked about fash­ion – how can we con­sume fash­ion dif­fer­ent­ly. This is an issue of real impor­tance, which we are tack­ling because we are a respon­si­ble com­pa­ny. But obvi­ous­ly, with upcy­cling, cus­tomi­sa­tion, con­struct­ing, decon­struct­ing and recon­struct­ing… there’s a sense that this is an issue of real importance. 

As I was say­ing about the design­ers: I find them extreme­ly respon­si­ble, young but very mature, and con­cerned and wor­ried about the future of this plan­et. I think that has changed. It’s extreme­ly inter­est­ing to exchange views with them on this type of col­lab­o­ra­tion. The con­sumer is chang­ing in any case. Fash­ion is chang­ing because the con­sumer expects some­thing else, cer­tain­ly to con­sume fash­ion differently. 

Exact­ly, we’re almost talk­ing about sus­tain­able fash­ion. How do you see this sus­tain­able fash­ion evolv­ing in the future of the indus­try and with­in La Red­oute?

By con­sum­ing dif­fer­ent­ly, and by no longer pro­duc­ing in absolute­ly astro­nom­i­cal quan­ti­ties. At La Red­oute we advo­cate cap­sule col­lec­tions because this is a con­cept of lim­it­ed edi­tions, and by that I mean that they are avail­able for sev­er­al weeks or months. That allows for renew­al but also allows us to reduce pro­duc­tion. I think that pro­duc­ing in astro­nom­i­cal quan­ti­ties is a thing of the past. There are real ques­tions there, which every­one is ask­ing them­selves and which we need to get to grips with in this day and age. 

Do you have three advices that you would give to young designers? 

The first would be to tru­ly believe in your­self. Next, to go for it, and be unique. Don’t do what the per­son next to you or in front of you is doing. You need to write your own sto­ry, stay in your world. You need to do what you love, with­out cheating. 

Text by Unit­ed Fash­ion

Pic­tures 48H Maisons de Mode Lille by Seba­tien Gras