For the past 20 years Jean-Luc Uzan, together with his wife Nathalie, has been running a company dedicated to the best day of our lives. We met up with him in his hometown, Paris.
Rue d’Hauteville in the 10th arrondissement of Paris is one of those charming narrow streets that Paris is abundantly blessed with, the kind that’s often sorely lacking in other cities. Full of small boutiques and galleries with a nice restaurant on the corner. A pleasant and easy-going mix; not too swanky, not too shabby, the perfect kind of place to embark on a discovery tour. And the street is also home to the headquarters of Fashion New York. The eveningwear manufacturer, which has recently made a name for itself with its bridal collection, Nana couture, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. So what better opportunity to visit Jean-Luc Uzan, who manages the company together with his wife Nathalie, and to look back with him on the last two decades and learn about his plans for the future.
Jean-Luc, you are celebrating a big anniversary this year – 20 years of Fashion New York. How will you celebrate the occasion?
Jean-Luc Uzan: We are still asking ourselves that question. There are different ways we could celebrate, either with smaller events in all our showrooms – we present our collections at a total of 17 locations – or by hosting a big event in April, which we would invite lots of clients to, present our collections and then stage a big party with a prize draw. For our presentation at Red Carpet we hired an entire hall and organised a very special event with a fashion show and catering.
Nowadays, celebrities are very popular as testimonials, especially for eveningwear labels. Do you also give pieces to celebrities who wear your clothes?
No, we don’t. My wife is our best and only testimonial.
You have now been in business for over 20 years. What has changed since you first started?
The market has changed a great deal – and for the better if you ask us! Today, buyers no longer want to order items six or seven months in advance; they want to store fewer pieces and minimise the risk. They are meanwhile buying a lot more on demand. We have at least 30,000 dresses in stock, actually it’s closer to 35,000 – which are always available! So of course this means we have to take a different approach. We need ample storage space and have to finance the production in advance. And in healthy markets it’s not always a question of the lowest price or the best quality: you have to offer a comprehensive service, as well as excellent value for money. For example, we accommodate the design wishes of individual customers, e.g. by altering skirt lengths or changing colours.
And how does it work with bridal fashion?
The same. People no longer wish to place their orders for bridal dresses six months in advance. We have ten of our own stores at the moment so we are seeing for ourselves that our customers sometimes come to us to buy a dress just four weeks before their wedding. Things have become more fast-paced here as well. To meet the accelerating turnaround requirements we have just signed contracts with three Chinese companies who can guarantee a production time of just four to six weeks.
How long have you had this large storage facility for?
For about ten years. At the height of the season we store 50,000 dresses here.
Where is your clothing produced?
In China, America and Turkey, but mostly in China.
You are located in Paris, the city that is internationally regarded as the leader in fashion. How does your location influence your collection and the business?
It’s quite important for us to be here in the heart of Paris. Three years ago we wanted to move because we needed more space. But we would have had to move to the outskirts and our customers weren’t too thrilled by the idea. We are only a ten-minute walk from Sentier, a neighbourhood where a lot of wholesale goods are bought and sold. Our customers are often in the area and come by for a quick look around, or to pre-select items. They all really appreciate this so we decided to stay here.
After 20 years of successful business, also in times of economic difficulty, what would you say was your biggest triumph in the last two decades?
I can’t answer that exactly, but I can tell you what I am most proud of. Everything comes together here in Paris. We control and manage our entire business ourselves, without any agents or distributors. German, Italian, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish are spoken here. We have an office in Madrid, where two members of staff take care of the Spanish market. In order to maintain direct contact with our customers we’ve been pursuing this policy for over twelve years. That’s a major advantage in my opinion. Our company has grown steadily and organically, which, I think, is one of the greatest secrets to our success. And people know they can trust us.
In what way?
I’ll give you an example: last year we had to increase our prices slightly because the exchange rate with the dollar had changed. We raised them by 10 percent, but had more than 20 percent in losses due to the dollar exchange rate. Our competitors didn’t raise their prices when taking their orders and a price increase of 20 percent to the customer only came afterwards. Nevertheless, we got very good feedback from our clients – firstly for our honesty and timely communication about the new prices, and secondly because we had not passed the entire cost increase on to our customers. But to get back to your question about our biggest success: twelve years ago we started offering bridalwear, and that was certainly a big move. Our competitors weren’t always able to keep up with the demand for their products, which we saw as an opportunity for us. And it worked!
Do you have the impression that in recent years there has been a greater need for elegant clothes? Do people want to dress more stylishly these days?
When I compare the situation today with 20 years ago, I would say yes. It may not be true of all countries, but in Austria, Germany, the south of France and Spain, we have noticed this trend. The financial crisis caused a slump in 2008, particularly in Spain, but now customers are coming back, especially since we offer the end consumers the chance to buying evening gowns at affordable prices. Nowadays, you can buy an evening dress for 49 to 120 euros. That was different in the past, when eveningwear was usually expensive. People who would have never been able to afford an evening gown in the past are now able to look chic for special occasions. And in France there are a lot of student parties, balls and graduation celebrations. As a result, our clientele has become younger and, in the past five years, we have sold a lot of short dresses. That has become a lucrative supplementary business for us.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success for the future!