Material girl

Peclers Paris, part of Fitch, forecasts trends in the fashion and homewares markets.

The Rue de Mail is an unlikely address for Fitch’s Paris office, set as it is in the heart of the city’s haberdashery district. But the reason for its location becomes clear when you visit: it is also the home of Peclers Paris, the Fitch subsidiary that predicts trends in colour texture and basic form for the fashion and, to a lesser extent, home furnishings industries.

The reality is that Fitch’s small French team – and its chairman Jean-François Benz when he is in Paris – inhabit only a tiny corner of the 50-strong Peclers office. This is a world of fashion rather than design as we know it, but there are moves afoot to bring the expertise of Peclers, based on colour, texture and to a large degree psychology, more closely into Fitch’s repertoire for the consultancy’s burgeoning portfolio of non-fashion clients.

Two things are remarkable about Peclers: its premises; and more importantly its founder, the energetic Parisienne Dominique Peclers. The building is a turn of the 20th century block, arranged around a glass-covered courtyard. Peclers, who says some of the original Paris “lofts” are located in the area, explains that the glass roof is original, constructed to protect fabrics carted into the courtyard in years gone by.

Inside, Peclers’ offices are dominated by a central spiral staircase linking floors and a rabbit warren of rooms that lie beyond. As an outsider to the fashion business, the staircase evokes the Paris of the 1960s depicted in the Audrey Hepburn/ Fred Astaire movie Funny Face, with the grande dame running the show. A predominantly female staff – the “girls” as Peclers describes women ranging in age from 20s to 50s – scurry up and down the staircase carrying samples of fabric, mood boards and the like from department to department.

The building also says a lot about Peclers. She believes strongly in communication – it is the job of trend prediction to communicate informed opinions about what is coming up – and the staircase symbolises that. She also believes in the personal touch. “I hate voicemail,” she says. “There is always someone here to answer the phone.”

So what does Peclers do? The main thrust of the business is a series of 14 “books”, containing colour blocks, swatches and examples of shapes that are expected to dominate the fashion and homewares worlds in two years’ time. Each is produced twice a year, to cover autumn/ winter and spring/ summer seasons, with 2002 as the current forecast. The books attract the attention of some 5000 subscribers throughout the world.

The publications empire has evolved over the consultancy’s 30-year life and involves a network of international agents. But Peclers also runs a bespoke predictions service for largely retail clients such as La Redoute, Carrefour, Prenatal and Toppan in Japan – mass-market retailers which need to create cost-effective, simple clothing ranges for their customers.

Predictions, she explains, are based on “formalising” feelings and intuitions about colours and textures. They involve scavenging the globe via trade shows, shops and other venues, to collect samples of materials, textures and colours. This motley collection is stored in boxes throughout the building, which are eventually pulled out by “girls” building up mood boards for various seasons and specific clients.

Experience counts for a lot in this – and a couple of the senior “girls”, now associates, have been with Peclers from the start. But the teams comprise a mix of people of all ages, though often with a fashion background. While project managers and creatives working regularly on various client accounts tend to be fulltime, Peclers employs many people on a part-time basis and numbers swell into the 60s on occasions. This is partly because of the seasons in the fashion world, but also because many of her team, particularly the creatives, also want “to live and breathe”, she says.

Peclers is one of Paris’s pioneers of prediction – and also one of its great characters. But though she has forged an illustrious career for herself, it wasn’t what her family intended. Born of an architect father and artist mother, her future, they believed, lay in architecture. “I was brought up believing my career would be in the Beaux Arts,” she says. But after a year studying architecture, she switched to economics and politics and has aimed to merge creativity and business ever since.

Her first career move in the mid-1950s was into journalism, working part-time for business magazines, but she soon became involved in fashion. She explains that in the period after World War II, France was used to austerity, but suddenly the “consumer society” arrived in the country. In the US, fashion was being targeted at the mass market in order to boost the economy, but in France it was still the province of the upmarket boutique and haute couture. Peclers organised a fashion co-ordination committee in Paris to address this situation, “to try to make a bridge between, fashion, creation and industry”, she says.

After a couple of years, Peclers found herself working for US company Bancroft in Paris, promoting its new synthetic fibre Banlon. “I had to sort out the product to match the promise before promoting the yarn,” she says. She stayed for seven years.

Then, in the mid-1960s, came the move that set the course of her career – to become director of fashion trends and public relations at French department store Printemps. France already had colourists at that time, and the department stores had their own stylists, she explains. For her, the experience brought the © consumer into the mix, alongside both design and production.

In 1970, she left to set up her own fashion trends consultancy, just as the Printemps management was about to embark on a succession war. “I don’t like lobbying policies,” she explains, adding, more pertinently that she’d always believed she would one day have her own business.

Peclers’ clients ranged from fibre producers to retailers and she branched out from fashion into other areas such as cosmetics, furnishings and even cars. By the 1980s the books were born and the consultancy started to establish a network of international agents.

Then in 1988 she sold Peclers Paris to media group RSCG, now Euro RSCG, where she first met Benz. The aim of the sale was to broaden her international reach. Ten years later she threw in her lot with Fitch, of which Benz was by then a director, still running her own business from within, but becoming increasingly involved in its “futures” thinking for clients across the board of interests.

Peclers Paris is a healthy business, earning some £4m in fees a year – half from the books, half from consultancy work – on a turnover of about £6m. Current consultancy projects include finding “a new expression of luxury” for mink farmers. “We’re helping them to understand that luxury doesn’t have to be a huge mink coat. It could be minimal, it could be sporty,” says Peclers.

Her team is also working with French stores Monoprix and La Redoute – for the latter on its Soft Grey label – which is not high fashion, but simple, chic and affordable – on housewares, and with US company GE Plastics. But the longer term aim is to develop more projects with Fitch and foster the idea of cross-fertilisation between the two businesses.

While she is taking more of a back seat these days, delegating to three long-term associates (all women), Peclers is still very passionate about the business. She sees the consultancy as “more like a collective” and herself as “manager of a group of creatives”.

The expertise Peclers offers is very specific, but it will be interesting to see how it develops as a group within a group, as Fitch finds itself in a new stable following the acquisition in July of its parent Lighthouse Global Network by Cordiant Communications Group. On the face of it, the opportunities are enormous.

Dominique Peclers

1966 Dominique Peclers becomes director of fashion trends and public relations at Paris department store Printemps.

1970 She sets up Peclers.

1980 Peclers starts publishing seasonal trends books.

1988 Peclers sells the business to advertising and design group RSCG (now Euro RSCG) to expand its global reach.

1998 Peclers joins Fitch.

1999 Fitch becomes part of Lighthouse Global Network, as an independent profit centre within the group.

2000 Cordiant Communications Group acquires LGN, and with it Fitch and Peclers.

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