PARIS – Bernard Arnault on Friday became the first major fashion industry executive to endorse French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, just two days before the final round of a general election that pits him against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, threw his weight behind the center-left politician and former economy minister in an op-ed column published in French newspaper Les Echos.
Describing Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-European Union platform as a “dead branch,” Arnault cautioned that protectionism was not the solution to the economic and political turmoil roiling the world today.
The magnate has warned in recent months of the risk of another major economic crisis, citing record-low interest rates; high stock prices; geopolitical uncertainty, with potential conflicts brewing in the areas of trade, customs and currencies, and continued low growth in Europe.
“Everything in Marine Le Pen’s program, and despite her cloak of sovereignty, breathes fear and weakness,” he said.
“Leave Europe? That is to ignore very imprudently that we owe our prosperity to peace and to European exchanges since 60 years. Leave the euro? It is to forget how much our common currency protects our savings and prevents the cost of our imports from soaring, notably for energy,” he added.
It is not the first time Le Pen’s National Front party has made it to the second round of a French presidential election. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002 squared off against conservative candidate Jacques Chirac, who won the second round with a massive 82 percent of the vote.
The outcome of this election is less clear-cut. Marine Le Pen garnered 21 percent of votes in the first round, and a survey by Ipsos/Sopra Steria for France Télé and Radio France on Friday showed her pulling in 38.5 percent of the vote on Sunday, against Macron’s 61.5 percent.
While Macron is resoundingly the choice of business leaders for his pro-European stance and campaign based on financial reform, he is unpopular with large parts of the population, who have come to mistrust business and financial institutions.
But Le Pen’s vociferous attacks on her opponent during a televised debate Wednesday evening, at the expense of explaining her own program, is likely to have boosted support for the frontrunner, observers believe.
“Since the televised debate on Wednesday, I think people have realized who Le Pen is and what the National Front stands for. It’s less scary than it was last week,” said Delphine Dion, associate professor of retail and luxury at ESSEC Business School.
“I really think Macron will be the next president. If it is Macron, in the politics he wants to implement there will be a focus on entrepreneurship, on technology, so it will affect luxury and fashion, because he will find more opportunities for new business and make it easier to develop your business and hire people,” she said.
“If it’s Le Pen, the problem is that she doesn’t really have any economic program. The situation would be dramatic.” Should Le Pen move towards exiting the euro zone, it would create significant difficulties for companies in France, Dion said.
“The main problem with that is that it would create a lot of instability on the market. Entrepreneurs and companies would not invest in France,” she said. “If she imposed taxes on imports, other countries would do the same. That would be a real problem, because luxury is one of France’s main exports.”
Fashion industry figures have privately expressed fears that many voters will abstain from going to the polls on Sunday, which falls on a long holiday weekend. That risks eroding Macron’s majority or even — in an extreme-case scenario — handing victory to Le Pen.
Few have ventured to speak on the record, and economic issues have taken second place in an ideological debate that has pitted the country’s blue-collar workers against its educated elite, with campaign rhetoric that at times echoed the U.S. election that brought to power Donald Trump.
Among the more outspoken, Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing came out in support of Macron’s party En Marche (On the Move, in English) the day after the first round of voting.
“Bravo @emmanuelmacron. We need a republic, a vision, a future for France. Let’s walk together towards a future made up of freedom, equality and fraternity. I believe in France I believe in Emmanuel Macron,” wrote Rousteing, alongside a black-and-white photo of the presidential hopeful.
His comments were met with a wave of criticism online, however, as followers questioned his views and understanding of the candidate’s policies.
Arnault’s 24-year-old son Alexandre, joint ceo of luggage label Rimowa, also spoke out online.
“Has Voted,” he wrote after voting in the first round, using the official expression that seals each voter’s ballot in polling stations. “Hope that all French people will : a) show up massively to prevent extremism from killing our country b) make the right choice and elect the one who is best qualified to give France the power it deserves.”
Simon Porte Jacquemus, meanwhile, published three identical French maps on Instagram, one accompanied by the text in French, “I will never leave you, I love you forever. Sunday May 7 I will vote against the Front National, I will vote Macron. Strength and Sunlight.”
Coming on the heels of Britain’s surprise decision to leave the E.U., the French election marks the first time in more than 50 years that neither of the mainstream political parties is present in the second round, a sure sign of voter dissatisfaction.
In a break with the past, candidates have focused little on subjects affecting the apparel and retail industries, despite the ongoing financial struggles of certain major players like Vivarte.
Macron does have some ties to the fashion industry. He is reportedly close to entrepreneur and tech billionaire Xavier Niel, partner of Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton and daughter of Bernard Arnault.
It is said that she offered Macron’s wife, Brigitte Trogneux, style advice during his time as a minister. Trogneux has often worn Louis Vuitton and twice attended the brand’s fashion shows. She has also been spotted at Dior, another brand within the LVMH fold.
Bernard Arnault described Macron’s program as a path of “hope and reason,” noting that it was built on the conviction that the private sector is key to job creation.
“I share this founding conviction without reserve: A company that is not hindered in its development, that is not thwarted from its growth path by unreasonable taxation or a cumbersome bureaucracy, has no other project but to invest, innovate and create sustainable employment,” said the executive.
He concluded by saying: “It is without hesitation that I will vote for Emmanuel Macron.”
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