Jean-Jacques Picart - Fashion Insider #3

by Emmanuelle Christ

He has just announced he would stop working as a consultant by the end of the year. Jean-Jacques Picart, a famous Parisian press officer now turned luxury, fashion and haute couture consultant, revisits his experience and vision of fashion press relations. Read the “fashion whisperer”'s answers, free from stonewalling as he is, as always.

Could you define what a fashion press officer is?

A fashion press officer is not just the person in charge of the relations between a brand and the whole press. (S)He is also a a kind of “nanny” making sure the atmosphere is positive, internally speaking. (S)He is also like a nun at the convent gate, ensuring good communication from the inner to the outside world but also from the latter to the various inner teams.

How has the work evolved since you started?

When I began (in 1969), press officers were mainly in charge of society events and fashion shows as well as of the “passive” distribution of press releases. Then, in the 80s, we've had to “communicate” more and press officers were expected to be more creative, building up a real international communication strategy. More recently, submitting to the rules of the Internet and globalisation, fashion officers have mutated into multi-fonctional super Shivas, polyglots, constantly under pressure.

Whose photo stylist's work do you admire? And why?

The work of a photo-stylist is a very subtle kind of work: entailing both to correctly tell the designer's or selected brand's vision and to adapt this transcription according to the media in which the photo will be displayed. Quite too often does the photo-stylist “forget” both the designer's vision and the end-reader's profile to only display her own perception and her own creativity. I can't say I am a fan of a stylist in particular but I can remember for a very long time a fashion series shot justly and with creativity. And applaud its photo-stylist with enthusiasm.

As a press officer, what remains as your greatest victory?

My greatest victories as you call them are those I earned due to hard work: collections very few liked which became adopted as by magic after 3 or even 5 years (not seasons!!). I'm thinking about Christian Lacroix or Riccardo Tisci and even Thierry Mugler or Helmut Lang or even Jil Sander - all these names are huge successes but success was long to come for them. I am proud of my loyalty towards and my belief in these names and talents.

What is your worst professional blunder?

It is not so much a blunder as an act of meanness: around 1975 I lacked respect for and insight towards Janie Samet, a journalist. She used to write for a “popular” daily called L'Aurore. This journalist complains about not being sitting at the front row for a Thierry Mugler show I was working as press officer for. I reply that Mugler clients do not read L'Aurore but rather Le Figaro and that I'll give her a front row seat when she'll work for Le Figaro. Obviously Janie Samet does not take this response very well. This leads to a drastic cooling of our relations... until several months later, as Janie Samet was appointed chief editor at Le Figaro !!! Of course I really regretted having said what I had said and luckily for me Janie Samet was willing to “forget” what she has always considered as some youthful indiscretion. Since that day, I have made efforts to act attentively towards all young assistants, you never know what the future (and talent) holds in store for you!

A press officer is often torn between the brands' - sometimes unrealistic - ambition and the expectations of the press, how did you deal with that?

Oh, it is quite simple, I have always thought that as a press officer one should love one's brand and press with kindliness and lucidity. One can only anticipate potential tensions with eyes wide open. This is why I have never promised what I thought was unrealistic. And, I believe, I have managed to convince when I had to.

What is to be found in/on your workspace? What is indispensable to you?

Paper and pencils, pens and ink bottles, I keep writing a lot. A computer, of course (but I have to admit my assistant uses it much more than I do, and for me). Newspapers and magazines, many! Chocolate and sweets. Incence sticks against bad thoughts. And flowers for the sake of serenity.

You have the reputation of being a man free from stonewalling and boot licking, is this really possible in this world?

Yes, it is possible to say things as you see them, as long as you pay attention to how you say things, often it is the way we say it that hurts, not what we really say. Unfortunately, this is a thing I have only just begun to master and which has caused me some inconvenience (some I regret). As far as I am concerned, flattering means insulting. I never flatter. It is a rule. But I do sometimes try to be diplomatic.

Your 3 pieces of advice for someone hoping to become a fashion press officer ?

  • Stay open (no sectarianism)
  • Be precise
  • Smile

The rest is technique.

A new type of “online” press offices is now emerging. What do you think about that?

I think that the Internet is the new master of the world. You can't ignore it. But you need to know how to master it, how to adapt to it, how to innovate. I am not an expert in this kind of “online” press offices but I guess it might be efficient and used aside a non virtual human-based press service. A voice intonation, a handshake, a smile and a gaze can convey more messages than a screen, no matter how sophisticated.

“Being capable of filling with enthusiasm all along one's career”* when seasons, collections, and fashion series all seem successively pretty much like one another. What is the secret ?

I guess I get carried away because I like people in fashion more than I like fashion itself. I am always keen to see what designers feel like telling and showing. I am like a book lover who would start a new book while at the last page of the one he was previously reading.

You have been told that “your retirement period would be an illusion, that even when you'd be there, they would keep coming to you”* You have just announced you were to stop your activity, so, how do you see things?

I feel like someone who would have had too much to eat and leaves the table fully satisfied. I need a kind of detox, a diet, if I ever want to sit at the table again (if I ever feel like it).

What question (one you have never been asked) would you like to be asked?

I am never asked what I hate most about fashion. I would have said: trendiness! Which I consider to be a very dangerous double trap. A trop for who is considered trendy and one for who supports this trendiness, once you are trendy, you are necessarily going out of fashion when the trend shifts. Now, what is really vital, worthwhile, precious in fashion is to last. The only credible and objective guarantee of a talent is the continued existence of its success.

Who do you nominate for our next interview?

Logically after this interview, I would like the new person to be a young press officer to see how far my vision on this job is valid and where viewpoints differ. December 2015 * extracted from the published notebook Des Vies et des modes, filled with memories, interviews and testimonies of Jean-Jacques Picart, collected by Frédéric Martin-Bernard.

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“I like people in fashion more than I like fashion itself.”