Stay curious, stay driven: A conversation with Daphné Cousineau.

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February 10, 2021

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Jessica Marrazzo

Stay curious, stay driven: A conversation with Daphné Cousineau.

J

Jessica Marrazzo

When Daphné Cousineau arrived as General Manager at Carven in 2019, she faced a series of challenges. The brand was set to restructure, expand internationally and reposition itself for an evolving consumer market. But Daphne describes it as a ‘fresh slate’, motivating her to move forward in a creative way. 

It was a time of transformation. It’s the story of Daphné’s career: she quickly adapts, pivots and transitions with the brands that she works with. It’s the type of work that she finds more rewarding, inspiring her to truly innovate.

As part of our new series on leaders in luxury, we spoke to Daphné about her journey so far, her approach to her work and key learnings. 

Tell us a little about your career journey so far.

I’ve worked in luxury fashion for the past 15 years. But my journey was by no means linear.

When I left high school, I originally wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. From there, I studied science, philosophy and then went on to law school. After working in the law for a few years, I started socialising with a group of fascinating people – and they happened to work at McKinsey & Company. My intrigue led to a career change. I worked on strategy and organisation at the firm for seven years across Europe and North America. Following McKinsey, I worked in media, film and production in LA for a couple of years.

When I decided to return to Paris, the capital of luxury fashion, I chose to look for opportunities within this sector.

Celine was your first step into fashion in 2005. How does the industry differ from others you’ve worked in?

There are certainly similarities between media and fashion. They both are creative industries with global reach. Developing and promoting film projects is not unlike the risky nature of creating and selling seasonal fashion collections. There are also parallels to be found in managing multiple distribution channels and optimising various stages in the product cycle.

How do you think digital is changing the industry right now? How do you think it will change the way physical retail operates in the future?

It’s revolutionising the industry as much as it is our lifestyles. We’re used to accessing information, products (both cultural and physical) and services quickly and easily. The current context has only accelerated this. More people naturally rely on digital to explore and access fashion. What’s more, they now expect efficiency and accessibility through digital channels.

Fashion distribution will likely develop and improve from an omnichannel perspective. Physical retail and digital will work closer throughout the process: think facilitating stock visibility and transfers, accessing client data and buying profiles, easy mobile payment methods and seamless client communications. You can now access stores and staff virtually to see the latest collection or get some styling ideas. Or you can do the reverse and buy online items in-store via an iPhone.

Physical retail should retain an advantage when it comes to giving clients a personalised brand experience. Aesthetic can be seen in architecture; ethos is communicated through brand ambassadors. Customers can appreciate the tactile “touch” and feel of a product too. The face-to-face personal interaction and sensory experience in-store is a key part of what brings joy and luxury to the fashion world.

The past year has changed the world of work. How do you think the industry is approaching flexible working?

One of the most challenging management challenges right now is the difficulty in planning for the future, especially when putting together projections or analysis. For resources, this means more flexible employment opportunities and systems to support the business through this volatile time. 

Fashion is already dynamic. So, drawing together talent and expertise for a project makes sense, especially where you might not need continued support after launch. The challenge lies in balancing temporary external talent while retaining internal skills and expertise. It’s vital to share long-term knowledge with client teams. This will make external contributions all the more successful.

Have your work choices changed due to the global situation?

Not really, although the location is potentially more flexible. Can we realistically “commute” in Europe now? Should we ready ourselves for “a world less global”, at least in terms of personal and client interactions?

What sort of projects interest you now? Why?

I find it extremely rewarding working with brands to unlock their value as they go through important transitions. I look back fondly of my time with Valentino, evolving from a historical Couture house to a full category brand driven by Ready-To-Wear. When I joined Balenciaga, Demna’s (Gvasalia) vision had already been recognised, but my job was to maximise the commercial potential, and translate his vision into the company ethos, store concepts, services and selling approaches. It’s an honour to be part of that process.

Where do you see your future taking you?

Ideally, I’d like to continue in luxury fashion, or otherwise in another creative, consumer-facing industry. Hopefully in a strategic, holistic-thinking role that also addresses real operational issues. I can also see myself working in global contexts in the medium-term, such as being a strategic and operational partner for an investment fund.

What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned in your career so far?

Curiosity and drive will take you anywhere. You’ll learn a lot that way, sometimes indirectly. 

I often reflect that my Philosophy studies gave me the most useful preparation for my career. I was exposed to great thinkers’ writing, improving my ability to understand and express complex ideas in the spoken and written form. 

At McKinsey, I thought I was there to upskill and get business experience. But I was actually learning new methodologies for problem-solving – problems of all kinds and for all sorts of industries. It’s still my most valuable take-away to this day.

Daphné Cousineau is an experienced C-Level executive in the luxury fashion industry and a senior member of the Dweet community.

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