Against a backdrop of the terrorist attacks across France that have dented Chinese tourism numbers in the last 12 months, the Salon du Luxe conference in Paris earlier this summer set tongues wagging about the desirability of Paris—as both a travel destination and as a country in which overseas businesses should look to invest.
The conclusion of the two-day conference: the city’s reputation as the undisputed capital of luxury and as a leader in innovation and commerce remains strong, especially for Chinese companies with eyes on new business in the world’s sixth-largest economy.
“Paris maintains a resilient economy,” said Karine Bidart, co-director of Paris&Co, in her address to more than 1,100 luxury industry executives who attended.
“France is number one in Europe for research and development, with the largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies and a dynamic start-up culture,” Bidart said. Her company has assisted 17 Chinese companies to open business in France since its inception in 2015.
As for the city’s reputation for desirability, Christian Boyens, General Manager of the newly reopened hotel Ritz Paris, described Paris as the city that will maintain its luster—by continually redefining the notion of luxury.
Boyens described how the Ritz Paris has the world’s only Chanel beauty spa (Chanel developed new products for the hotel), offers guests an airport pick-up service (a Bentley) at no extra cost, a cooking school where the atmosphere is “playful,” and the ability to check in at any time of the day or night—for starters.
Paris&Co is good news for Chinese luxury companies who want to expand to France. The not-for-profit Paris economic development agency (it does not charge for services) has helped 17 Chinese companies get their feet on the ground in the last 15 months. It assists with every issue in the business ecosystem from tax, recruitment, and accountancy to help with labor laws and partnerships. The agency goes further, hosting networking sessions, helping Chinese companies find partners, organizing conferences, and banking facilities.
Dusheng Gong, Paris&Co’s business development director for East Asia, said luxury brands dominate the Chinese companies he is assisting to Paris.
Frank Wu’s high jewellery brand TTF (for Today, Tomorrow, Forever), a second jewellery company, Marvella, from Macau, and the eco-friendly Shanghai fashion brand Icicle all enjoy the support of Paris&Co, which receives 40 percent of its funding from the French government and 60 percent from private investors.
TTF, which was founded in Shenzhen in 2002, now has an enviable Paris address within a breath of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Bulgari at 12 rue de la Paix.
Its futuristic designs, which are steeped in Chinese history, won Wu the “2014 Paris Best International Investor” award from France’s Economy Minister.
Marvella has also taken a building near TTF on the rue de la Paix. The building is currently undergoing lengthy renovations, for an opening later this year. Meanwhile, Icicle, the third luxury brand in Paris&Co’s Chinese portfolio, has found a niche following among Parisians who love its boutique at 77 rue Raymond Poincare in the upscale 16th arrondissement.
Icicle (whose Chinese name means “seedling”) has over 100 stores in China, while Paris is the first outside the mainland. Gong said, “The brand established a design atelier in Paris, recruiting European designers and seamstresses (petit mains) with 10-12 years experience. They came from major European brands in order to design in Paris for garments produced in China.”
Among Icicle’s European recruits is Thierry Thomas, who joined the company in 2013 as a director. Thomas, according to Icicle, had worked for Yves Saint Laurent, Balmain, and Dior before joining the company.
One of the key speakers at Salon du Luxe, for both French and Chinese brands in the luxury universe, was Stephane Galienni, founder and creative director of Balistik*Art.
Balistik was the first Paris agency to spearhead marketing campaigns for French luxury in China.
Galienni now counsels both French and Chinese brands on how they can prosper from social media. He is a contributor to the new book published in French, Luxe & Digital, that describes the way forward for luxury in a digital world.
“Rather than fret over the myriad of armchair commentators, brands should embrace them,” said Galienni. “People of all economic and cultural backgrounds who are commenting on Weibo or Instagram (in the West) should not make brands feel uneasy.
“There is no going back. There is a reshuffle of power and beyond the major bloggers influencers; there are armies of people commentating. If they love and endorse a brand, it can only be good news, even when the visual and the language is not what the brand may prefer. A zillion flat-lays speak out; it really doesn’t matter to whom.”
Susan Owens is the founder and editor of Paris Chérie, a Paris-based fashion website dedicated to bringing French style news to Chinese readers.