Camaïeu, symbol of the impasse in which the middle class finds itself in France

On Saturday night, Camaïeu’s 514 French stores closed their doors, leaving 2,600 employees unemployed. The 38-year-old ready-to-wear brand had been forced into liquidation three days earlier after poor financial results.

An economic and social drama that could unfortunately also call for others. Because even if Camaïeu made mistakes of its own, the company is the symbol of the structural crisis that the French clothing middle class is going through. What to fear about other brands? The news isn’t good: in 2018, Jules launched a job protection plan, cutting 466 jobs and closing 88 stores. Celio closed around thirty stores in 2019 and forty in 2020, the year the brand was placed on backup.

Clothing, a less and less important item

“Each year since the 2007-2008 economic crisis, apparel sales have fallen by 5%. In times of economic hardship for consumers, clothing is one of the expenses that comes first because it is considered expendable,” explains Pascale Hébel, co-managing director of a marketing consultancy.

Especially since the coronavirus: “The health crisis has given clothing much less importance, continues the expert. The rise of telecommuting and restrictions have reduced the need to show up. Even when we go to work, we put less effort into dressing than we did before 2020.” In addition, the population is ageing. “However, it is the younger generations that carry the sector,” adds Pascale Hébel. The buying peak is reached at the age of 30. After that it goes down. »

No more throwing. Or rather: tell yourself that these pitfalls are increasing for the particularly neglected French textile middle class.

For Adrian Kammarti, a specialist at the Institut français de la mode and professor of art history at the University of Paris I Sorbonne, clothing has in some ways the same problem as the French car: if you want a cheap car, go to an Asian automobile. If you want a car that throws it, you take a German. Let’s stay with the metaphor: If you want a nice piece of clothing, you’re in the upper range and put 80 euros in a Lacoste polo shirt, for example. Otherwise, go with sub-brands, second-hand or the cheapest possible clothing. Basically not necessarily middle class. According to the expert, it therefore has two shortcomings: a price that is not exactly affordable and a brand that is not recognized enough to be valued by society.

“The entry-level segment has grown strongly, has managed to combine fashion and low prices and is no longer socially devalued. There is no shame in shopping there, on the contrary. Getting a good deal or buying used to recycle a garment are respectable actions today, agrees Philippe Moati, director of the Society and Consumption Observatory. On the other hand, high-end brands are increasingly competitive and less and less inflated prices. In addition, there is the effect of an “hourglass society”, he continues: “The middle class is shrinking: the lower middle class is being pulled down in terms of purchasing power, the upper middle class is being pulled up, leaving little room for the middle -supply”.

missed turn

As a result, “young people are no longer buying a new middle class,” says Pascale Hébel. They prefer to buy used, reduced or cheaper brands. This is at their expense: Today’s youth have a significantly smaller clothing budget than previous generations of the same age. Not that our darlings are fundamentally opposed to buying a nice sweater. But “today the brand has to have more. Made in France, an ecological, ethical commitment, recycling…. There’s a demand for meaning that most French midfielders haven’t understood.”

A bitter observation from Pierre-Louis Desprez, Associate Director of Kaos Consulting, an innovation and marketing company: “The French textile middle class does not surf on any of the current trends such as sobriety or sustainable development. These are brands that are largely non-innovative. “But some perform better than others: “Kiabi, which was the first to invest heavily in the Internet, has got on the right train,” notes Pascale Hébel.

International competition

Of course, for Adrian Kammarti, the French middle class was also strongly challenged by the arrival of large international groups such as Zara, H&M and Uniqlo in the 1990s. Not only affordable brands, but also more fashion-oriented: “Zara copied runway shows, H&M and Uniqlo multiplied collaborations, and consumers discovered wardrobes that adapt to all fashionable silhouettes, and at low prices.”

The opportunity for Pierre-Louis Desprez to release a blower: “There is no brand identity strong enough, no vision of fashion pushed enough, we don’t know why we go to such and such instead of another . Playing with neutral and sober clothing, French brands disappear from the landscape and from the imagination. These boxes have fallen asleep, they no longer know why they are there. The comparison with international brands is uncompromising: “You can say what you want about the style of Uniqlo or Desigual, but at least there is a style, ideas. You recognize Desigual as soon as you see it, you don’t recognize Jules or Célio. »

That would then be the limit of French mid-range brands that have remained in a logic of mass consumption, according to Philippe Moati: “They aim as much as possible at the median consumer, but they no longer exist: everyone wants to be different. Today we need prejudices, risks, strong and unconventional proposals that some like and others hate. French brands are a bit like a hot water faucet that wants to please everyone.” Everyone likes it, but nobody’s darling. Camaïeu learned this the hard way.

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