French Luxury Retailers Philosophize About Downturn

The French aren’t really sure how they should handle this economy’s effect on the luxury goods business. After all, France’s luxury goods biz, which employs 200,000 people and is perhaps the business that most defines France.

One paper, Le Parisien, called it a “bombshell” when Chanel laid off 200 out of its 16,000 staff. TV channel LCI compared it to when Coco Chanel canned everyone and shut the doors during WWII.

The French are trying really, really hard to play it as kind of a good thing, like a return to values. But that whole push sort of reminds us when someone is insisting that they’re absolutely over an ex.

NY Times: A recent issue of Le Figaro Magazine featured a 12-page guide to scaled-down living in 2009, with predictions that people will work less and put family (even in-laws) first. A French trend expert quoted in the magazine dramatically described the changes as nothing less than “a revolution in values.”

…Some French intellectuals want to go much further, calling for the death of the entire luxury industry as a sort of national ritual of purification.

“Since the ancient Greeks, luxury goods have always been stamped with the seal of immorality,” said Gilles Lipovetsky, a sociologist who has written several books about consumerism. “They represent waste, the superficial, the inequality of wealth. They have no need to exist.”

Even Sarkozy who came in as “President Bling-Bling” wanting the French to embrace capitalism, to “work more to earn more.” Now he talks of things being “perverted” by “amoral” capitalism, complaining that “the signs of wealth count more than wealth itself.”

“This whole crisis is like a big spring housecleaning — both moral and physical,” Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chanel, said in an interview. “There is no creative evolution if you don’t have dramatic moments like this. Bling is over. Red carpety covered with rhinestones is out. I call it ‘the new modesty.’ “

But when you really press, the French (including German transplants like Lagerfeld) are still the French.

And for Mr. Lagerfeld, cutting back his own spending at Chanel is not part of his “new modesty” strategy. He said he is not being forced by the private company’s owners to bend or adapt because of financial constraints. “We have no budget, we do what we want and throwing money out the window brings money back in through the front door,” he said. “The bottom line is that I don’t deal with the bottom line. The luxury in my life is I never have to think about it.”

See Also: Madoff’s Surprisingly Modest French Retreat

Luxury Watch Retailer Opens On Madison Avenue Despite Downturn

Finally: Manhattan Real Estate Market To Collapse

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