By and  on February 16, 1994

PARIS -- With the Continent mired in its worst recession in a generation, fashion houses here continue to face the soft demand for their wares.

To fight the economic malaise, some are trying to learn more about their customers and serve them better. More lower-price lines are making an appearance, and among more commercial firms there's an attempt to give the product more of a lift, taking it out of the basic mode that has prevailed for several seasons.

And, in the absence of heartening economic news, industry leaders have turned to one of their favorite pastimes -- attacking each other. In the top heavyweight contest, Pierre Berge, president of Yves Saint Laurent, has embarked on a vituperative campaign to oust Jacques Mouclier, president of the Chambre Syndicale. Berge's offensive gained real impetus from the collapse of the $1 million Event Media deal brokered by Mouclier to broadcast the couture shows by satellite into the U.S.

The offensive against Mouclier began even before the opening of the brand new Carrousel du Louvre fashion center underneath the Tuileries Gardens, a project on which the Chambre Syndicale president had labored for years. Berge said Mouclier was incompetent as well as guilty of nepotism and -- with a burst of American vernacular -- added, "That dude is incapable of managing the Chambre."

Bets are already being placed in Paris on whether Mouclier will survive into the summer. Berge is not without troubles himself. In January, the Commission des Operations des Bourses fined him $500,000 for alleged insider trading, though the penalty has not been imposed pending a decision of the Paris Court of Appeal.

The last year has been a difficult one for French fashion. France suffered a women's apparel trade deficit of $54 million, the first in the country's history, according to the Federation Francaise du Pret-a-Porter, the ready-to-wear association.

In an attempt to counteract this trend, the Federation has begun sponsoring emerging French design houses that want to show in fashion trade fairs outside of Europe. In the latest step, the Federation said, it spent about $500,000 to create a village-type space for about 20 French resources in New York's Premier Collections, a trade show held there this week.

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