Fashion has been the fiber of this city since the Sun King's court in nearby Versailles mixed power, elegance and style.
But as much as "la mode" is anchored in the Parisian psyche, thanks to designers from Coco Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent, much has changed since French culture dominated the globe and fashions each season dictated the rules of style.
In today's flatter world, Paris even battles emerging powers to retain its crown as fashion's reigning regent.
Thanks to the Chambre Syndicale, France's governing body of fashion, the city has weathered ups and downs — at least in high fashion — and remains the world's foremost showcase for creativity and experimentation.
Designers across the globe — even Chinese and Indian designers now show collections in Paris — view presenting collections in the City of Light as the ultimate recognition.
Next up for women are the couture shows for fall-winter, which will be held June 30 to July 3. That tradition stretches to the 19th century, when Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman, became the darling of the chic and father of French haute couture, outfitting Empress Eugenie and her court. (Worth's son, Gaston, founded the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.)
Fashion and lifestyle today are among the city's most important industries, in revenue and image.
Two of the world's most important luxury groups — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and PPR, which owns Gucci Group — have Parisian headquarters, and countless others, from Chanel to Hermès, call the city home.
But even as luxury asserts leadership in Paris, the French fashion industry has suffered. A number of businesses, outdueled by competition abroad, have had to close or downsize.
More than a quarter of France's apparel-making jobs are based in the greater Paris region, with many of them mom-and-pop-size businesses. More than 80 percent of apparel makers in and around Paris had fewer than five employees in 2003, while 96 percent of fashion manufacturers in the area employ fewer than 20, according to the Regional Center of Observation of Commerce, Industry and Services, or CROCIS.
CROCIS stressed that the sector was destabilized by growing global competition, with "the quasi disappearance of production [fabrics and garments] beyond luxury, haute couture and activities with great added value.""It is a necessity for French companies to position themselves on the highest market segments or the most technical activities," CROCIS added in a recent study.
The movement upscale also is spilling to retail activities here, with main department stores — Le Bon Marché, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette — over the last decade having moved to the market's top tier. Even streets that were once popular shopping destinations are migrating to the top. Rents on the Champs-Elysées more than doubled in the last five years as tenants from Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Montblanc and Hugo Boss encroach on the street's cinemas and bookstores.
Rents became so steep, even McDonald's is being priced out of the Champs-Elysées, which attracts 100 million visitors a year to admire what the French boast is the "most beautiful avenue in the world." (McDonald's is suing its landlord to freeze its rent.)
A study by Cushman & Wakefield noted that rents on the Champs-Elysées rose 8.7 percent last year. The street is the third most expensive retail location in the world after Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, with average rents at more than $900 a square foot, the highest in Europe.
Like many subjects in France, the street is a study in contradictions. While the likes of McDonald's are battling to stay there, others are struggling to open no matter the cost.
An attempt to open on the Champs-Elysées by Hennes & Mauritz, the Swedish fast-fashion giant, was spurned by the Paris mayor's office. The move by Mayor Bertrand Delanoe to block the store came after a French commission informed H&M that opening the store was a no-go because it would "banalize" the street to the detriment of more cultural destinations, such as bookshops and movie theaters fleeing escalating rents.
The commission's initial red flag was lifted late last year — a decision then rescinded — only to have Delanoe get involved because he felt he needed to protect the street's "magic" and "diversity."
An H&M spokesman said the company still hopes to earn the right to open on the street and is trying to navigate the sensitive issue. H&M tried to sweeten its project by getting high-profile French architect Jean Nouvel, who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize this year, to design the store.The H&M example underscores how complicated doing business in France can be.
Companies have to deal with the 35-hour work week — legislation meant to create jobs and eliminate unemployment — as well as highly restrictive opening laws and regulated sale dates.
Shops in France aren't allowed to open on Sunday, except during peak periods around holidays and the first weekends of sales periods, set by the prefecture.
Recently Louis Vuitton faced trouble gaining authorization to open its Champs-Elysées flagship on Sunday, but the luxury house circumnavigated the problem by adding a museum atop the store.
Cultural destinations are allowed to open Sunday, but union representatives tried to block Vuitton from doing so, setting off a battle Vuitton finally won.
Since election of the right-leaning government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, many hope for change and more liberal laws.
Legislation now is being examined by the parliament to relax some of the strictest laws regulating retailers, including opening hours and the right to put merchandize on sale. The legislation also would allow retailers to open big stores without having to go through red tape.
Though the results are sure to be clouded with compromise, most retailers see a glimmer of hope ahead.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast