FASHION ARMAND HADIDA
“Fashion should always be about discovery and creating an identity. The idea isn’t just adding to the visual overload of clothing out there,” says Hadida, who is still as passionate and visionary about fashion as he was when he first opened the doors of L’eclaireur in a Parisian basement in 1980. Of course the business of retail has become considerably more complex since then, with consumers demanding accessibility, information and parity pricing across a multitude of retail channels at a speed many are failing to maintain and even fewer successfully conquering.
Like a sea buoy—loyal and constant—hadida has always chosen to establish his own voice for L’eclaireur within a turbulent sea of homogeneity and reproduction. If simply selling clothes was Hadida’s mantra, he certainly wouldn’t have survived the fashion grinder 35 years on and with another global financial crisis under his belt.
In speaking to Hadida about the pressures of establishing a retail identity in the 1980’s one cannot help but recall the handful of individuals and stores, such as Marithé & François Girbaud and department store Barneys (New York), who stood apart in similarly weathered periods of financial instability and global recession. “Barneys hit a chord with me when I visited New York in 1981. At that time, they were mixing up vintage clothing with jewellery and homewares, and labels that weren’t particularly well known,” says Hadida, who had started looking for local designers to sell in his basement store.
When Vivienne Westwood showed her iconic Buffalo Girls (Nostalgia of Mud) collection (Autumn-winter 1982-1983), with its use of earthy tones and roughly cut sheepskin, Hadida was there with chequebook in hand. Westwood’s oversized rag-like clothing was a significant departure from what was being shown in Paris at that time. “There was Claude Montana and Azzedine Alaïa who were either showing strikingly intimidating silhouettes or sexy figure hugging profiles. No- one was looking at androgynous fashion that was coming from the streets,” says Hadida, who also bonded aesthetically with the Antwerp Six, particularly Ann Demeulemeester. So whether it was planned or simply chance and luck, L’eclaireur (meaning ‘to scout’) established its own identity in the world’s fashion capital. “I wasn’t interested in having the same retail expression as others. There’s more than enough ‘visual pollution’ in the high streets. Even then, I was taking the opposite direction of traditional retail marketing,” adds Hadida.
Each of Hadida’s Paris stores: Herold Malher, Royal Eclaireur, Sevigne, Boissy D’anglas, Champs and Saint Ouen, has its own unique voice and patina. L’eclaireur at rue Herold (opened in 2001) couldn’t be further from the traditional retail model. There are no window displays presenting goods for sale and access to the discrete store is simply granted via buzzer and steel door. Not surprisingly, most first-timers get lost on their initial pilgrimage, a characteristic most comparable to the ever elusive Martin Margiela, who kept well out of the spotlight. “When you don’t put everything in front of people’s noses, they will, like Margiela’s clothing, seek you out. There should be a sense of mystery behind a closed door. And after the first visit [to Herold Malher] you won’t need to ask for directions,” says Hadida.“if my stores were the same as the others, what reason would there be to visit?”
In addition to creating unique retail experiences, Hadida—like a conductor of sorts— carefully orchestrates how each fashion symphony is delivered to his audience. Often using the word ‘actors’, rather than sales staff, Hadida knows that patrons are paramount and their understanding of ‘narrative’ and ‘story’ more acute than ever. The Saint Ouen store is better described as an art installation, with the latest collections shown on film rather than displayed on clothing racks. “This place is like a hybrid store, somewhere between a retail store and an e-business. You get to see the shows and receive advice from our staff before ordering anything,” says Hadida, identifying the importance of building relationships with clients when the allure of online sales is ever present. These relationships are built on the notions of transparency and honesty with each client. “Something can be appropriate or not. We would never use words such as ‘fantastic’ or ‘marvellous’.”
This nomenclature of old and new is a cornerstone of the L’eclaireur ethos, yet Hadida has reservations surrounding a culture of instant access that consumers and manufacturers gain through the window of social media sighting that within hours of release, designs are copied, diluted and shipped to every major city and every major high street. “This practice is killing creativity. Designs are presented on Instagram under a democratising guise and without consideration,” says Hadida, who is increasingly concerned about the resulting effects on a far more curated and considered traditional retail model. “Everything is now moving so fast that you need to be continually reinventing and moving forward.”
With a pending L’eclaireur store (although not in the traditional meaning) to open in Los Angeles, Hadida reflects on the initiative as a ‘project’ or gallery where food, music and art come together with fashion like a performance piece. One of the key ‘performers’ in this new work is Austrian designer Carol Christian Poell. “He’s totally unique, a pure artist who is completely apart from the fashion system in thinking,” says Hadida. “To survive in this business, we can’t all use the same ‘weapon’. You need to have your own identity.”
With an acute aptitude for discovering new fashion talent, Hadida also thrives in working with extremely talented people across all design fields. “I can honestly say the people I work with are truly exceptional; for some you could even use the word ‘genius’.”
While those visiting a L’eclaireur store for the first time could be forgiven for using the words dark, moody or perhaps goth when first confronted with its aesthetic, Hadida is proud that each of his destinations are miles away (figuratively speaking) from the bright lights and neon windows lighting the Parisian streets. “You just need to read the news or switch on the television to see what’s happening out there. You could say the world is dark,” says Hadida, running his hands across the racks of black garments he has become synonymous with. Regardless of the palette or indeed the sentiment, it’s the creativity in Hadida’s blood that allows him to remain at the forefront of the fashion business. “Creativity, creativity, creativity is in my blood. If I see someone with talent, their ‘language’ needs to be expressed around staff as well as my clients and me. Sometimes, though, the words aren’t so clear or obvious to others.”