Who would have imagined that the sexiest person at a lingerie show filled with supermodels and A-list celebrities would be a grizzled septuagenarian crooning about girls?
French lingerie brand Etam pulled off quite a marketing coup yesterday by closing its glittering annual runway show with surprise guest Jacques Dutronc, the rakish Paris icon who rose to prominence in the 1960s alongside other new wave pop stars like Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy. The 73-year-old singer and actor is a national treasure in France, and Etam kept Dutronc’s appearance under wraps until two hours before showtime.
At the Centre Pompidou yesterday, where Etam’s show was live-streamed to an estimated 2 million viewers worldwide, the apparently ageless Dutronc serenaded models with his signature J’aime les Filles (‘I Love Girls’) before slipping into his hits It’s 5 A.M. (Paris Awakes) and a rocking Les Cactus.
It was an audacious and hugely popular way to cap Etam’s Paris Fashion Week event, which celebrated the brand’s centenary under the slogan “100 Years of Freedom” and included a whopping 19 different ensembles all based on the tricoloure French flag
It was also hard not to draw comparisons with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, or to see Etam’s broadcast as a thinly-veiled message to its American-based rival.
The two productions have a lot in common, mixing current pop stars (Etam also crammed Marina Kaye, Dua Lipa and Minuit into its show) and an endless stream of supermodels under a dazzling light show in front of an invitation-only crowd of fashionistas and celebrities. This year, Etam even employed many veterans of past VS shows, including Constance Jablonski, Maria Borges, Devon Windsor and others.
Where the two shows differ, though, is in Etam’s decision to broadcast live — which provides a welcome contrast to the conspicuous lip-synching, cut-and-paste editing and canned crowd noise that mar Victoria’s Secret’s glossy production — and keeping the whole thing to a brisk 30 minutes.
Live-streaming the show, which Etam has done since 2011 (when its first such attempt drew only 250,000 viewers), also allows the company to amp up the sex appeal away from the meddling eyes of network censors. Several pieces among the 75 styles exhibited yesterday included sheer or bare tops that would be much too risqué for traditional media, even by French standards. There is also an immediacy inherent in watching a live event, and Etam allowed viewers for the first time to see-and-shop the runway styles without even leaving their web page — a popular new wrinkle for fashion week events, and one that Victoria’s Secret is almost certain to adopt.
Despite its much smaller audience and budget, the Etam show has always had a reputation for being cooler, edgier and more willing to take risks tailored to its social-media-crazy audience. And putting Dutronc back in the spotlight provided a startling contrast to Victoria’s Secret’s typical approach, which is to lure young TV viewers with au courant (and very young) celebrity guests (including a then-18-year-old Justin Bieber and fan fave Taylor Swift).
All of this makes for juicy speculation for two reasons: Etam Group chairman Laurent Milchior has mused publicly about wanting to expand his retail empire into the U.S. “within two years”; and Women’s Wear Daily reported that Victoria’s Secret will take its annual TV show to Paris this fall, where the brand has little commercial presence (VS has not yet confirmed this). And both brands are hungrily eyeing expansion in China and across Asia, so a market showdown between the two big brands is bound to happen somewhere.
With a runway show that boasted 80 models (a few of them in Angel-like wings), imaginative and artistic costumes and a guest star who oozes timeless French savoir faire, Etam’s message to Victoria’s Secret couldn’t be clearer: Beat this!