March 5, 2018 / 11:26 PM / 6 months ago

France's Macron mingles with fashion royalty in bid to woo designers

PARIS (Reuters) - Nowhere is fashion a bigger business than in France - and President Emmanuel Macron intends to keep it that way.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a joint news conference with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Designers from France's Jean Paul Gaultier to Lebanon's Elie Saab descended on the Elysee Palace for dinner on Monday, as Macron sought to further boost one of the country's most profitable sectors with an appeal to brands from far and wide.

The gala, coinciding with Paris Fashion Week, was the latest effort by 40-year-old Macron, who came to power last May, to try and lure entrepreneurs with a pro-business agenda, weeks after a summit with business executives at Versailles.

"It want to say the same to those who create: choose France," Macron said, addressing guests such as Christian Louboutin, famed for his stiletto shoes, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton.

"My deepest wish is that creators, whether they come from India, Japan, Africa, the United States or China, will consider coming to (create) in our country, and that we get everything in order to make that work easy for them."

Macron's wife Brigitte, also present, wore one of her favored French brands, Louis Vuitton.

Paris' catwalk shows and France's broader fashion industry are already huge motors for growth and jobs, at a time when the government is trying to bring down a stubbornly high unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent.

One study, by the French Fashion Institute, IFM, puts the sector ahead of autos and aerospace put together by annual sales, which hover at 150 billion euros ($184.8 billion) when including areas like jewels, watches, cosmetics and perfumes.

Yet some designers said public cheerleading was welcome, even if Paris-based luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Kering, owner of Saint Laurent, have already helped put France squarely on the map.

ABOUT TIME

Late French Socialist President Francois Mitterrand had also championed fashion at glitzy Elysee dinners in the 1980s, though they later petered out.

"It was about time. (Fashion) is an icon of French know-how, just like fighter aircraft," said French couturier Julien Fournie, 42, before the Macron dinner.

Fournie said he hoped for more initiatives to help a traditional sector adapt to new technology, but also to encourage more youngsters to learn crafts that needed supporting.

Macron's entourage said he planned to work with the sector to support the creative "ecosystem", which spans artisan workshops and suppliers to the big couture houses.

Paris already lures more international designers to its fashion weeks than others, with half the brands on show from overseas compared to 13 percent in runner-up Milan, according to Pascal Morand, head of France's haute couture federation.

Trendy U.S. labels Thom Browne, Proenza Schouler and Rodarte are among several who recently ditched New York for the Paris catwalk, and some designers said the city offered better access to professional buyers for instance.

"I naturally decided to show here because all the movers and shakers are here," said Anais Mak, 28, whose Hong Kong-based label Jourden will show its latest collection in Paris on Tuesday. "There are a lot of young designers developing their businesses along with the big brands Paris is famous for."

($1 = 0.8116 euros)

Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Tom Brown

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