Terrorist attacks and the robbing of Kim Kardashian have tainted Paris’s reputation, galvanizing Chanel, Cartier and other luxury brands to convince high-end shoppers that the City of Lights remains a beacon for high-end retail.
Local luxury association Comite Colbert, whose members range from Louis Vuitton to chef Alain Ducasse, last week hosted its first ever all-expenses-paid trip for 100 big spenders from around the globe, while Chanel chose Paris to showcase its pre-fall collection. The moves are backstopped by a 43-million-euro ($46 million) government campaign to lure back tourists with shopper-friendly measures like new surveillance cameras.
France is the world’s fourth-largest luxury market and Paris alone brings in more than 10 billion euros ($10.8 billion) in revenue, according to consultant Bain & Co. The country is especially vulnerable to tourism swings as overseas visitors will account for 60-65 percent of its luxury sales this year, Bain & Co. estimates. Tax-free spending by tourists in France has declined 20 percent this year through October, according to data tracker Global Blue. At handbag maker Hermes, French revenue dropped 0.9 percent in the most recent quarter.
“We are reacting in upbeat and creative ways because it’s a challenging time for us,” Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, president and chief executive officer of Comite Colbert, said in a phone interview.
The organization teamed up with Air France to select participants from countries like the U.S., Japan, China and Nigeria for its initiative, which maintained a veil of secrecy for security reasons. Beyond the Kardashian burglary, Paris was the scene of other high-profile thefts, with victims including a female member of the Saudi royal family and Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat.
At Comite Colbert’s three-day event, Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hosted a black-tie dinner for the unidentified guests, who attended workshops organized by the 48 participating brands -- for example, a visit to Dior’s haute couture ateliers paired with a tasting with pastry chef Pierre Herme.
“These are people who have access to everything, so we had to surprise them,” said Ponsolle des Portes. “The aim was to prove to them that Paris is the only place where you can live these exceptional experiences.”
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of global fashion at Chanel, said that the maker of quilted handbags and perfume chose to stage its annual Metiers d’Art show in Paris to highlight the brand’s heritage and support the city.
“Paris could definitely use a little boost right now,” Pavlovsky said. The brand hosted three shows Tuesday at the Ritz Paris, and about 350 top customers were offered spa treatments, yoga classes and pastry-making sessions.
The city’s landmark Ritz hotel reopened last summer after a four-year renovation, just as some of its competitors shut down entire floors in response to the tourism falloff. Overnight stays in Paris fell 12.7 percent during the May-September high season, according to the latest data from French statistics institute Insee.
Pierre-François Le Louet, president of the French Federation of Women’s Ready-to-Wear, said exports of luxury goods could partly compensate for the domestic decline. “The situation is not desperate: It’s bad, for sure, but I see glimmers of hope,” he said in an interview at the government-backed Fashion Forum conference. “Our overseas friends may be avoiding Paris, but they continue to buy a huge amount of French-branded goods in New York, Tokyo and elsewhere.”