PARIS — At one of its busiest times of year — France’s semiannual sales campaign — the nation’s capital was left reeling Thursday from its worst terrorist attack in years. Security was raised to the highest levels across the Paris region, including at department stores, airports and other public venues.
Some of fashion’s prominent figures came out in support of free speech following the devastating attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. A dozen people were murdered and numerous others injured by masked gunmen at the magazine’s offices. One suspect has surrendered and others — Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, French brothers in their 30s — are being sought.
News reports said that on Thursday morning a gunman killed a policewoman in southern Paris, although officials remain unsure if the incident is linked to the terror attack at Charlie Hebdo. There was also reportedly an explosion at a snack bar next to a mosque in eastern France.
The heavily armed Kouachi brothers were reportedly seen robbing a gas station 50 miles north of Paris.
By early evening Thursday, police were reportedly combing a 51-square-mile forest in northern France, called Forêt de Retz.
Numerous arrests have been made since Wednesday. Hundreds of military personnel and civil servants were deployed to beef up security in Paris and the Picardy region, where police are tracking the suspects.
France observed a moment of silence at noon to honor those slain. Flags are flying at half-mast countrywide.
“France is in shock today, the shock of an attack, because this is a terrorist attack, there is no doubt about it, on a newspaper that had been threatened several times and that was under protection as a result,” French President François Hollande told reporters at the scene of the shooting, caught on film by a witness and uploaded to social media.
“I have a feeling of absolute horror toward this attack against Charlie Hebdo,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “This massacre plunges our city, our country and our democracy into mourning. We have just been hit at the heart of our freedom.”
She called on “defenders of freedom” to demonstrate silently today from 6 p.m., starting from Place de la République. Another impromptu gathering took place Wednesday evening, and others were planned across Europe.
Fashion designers including Nicolas Ghesquière, Pierre Hardy, Yaz Bukey, Simon Porte Jacquemus, Aurélie Bidermann — along with model Caroline de Maigret and singer Lou Doillon — expressed their support for journalistic freedom on social media by posting “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie,” in English), along with the hashtag #JesuisCharlie, while Jean-Charles de Castelbajac posted a sketch on Instagram showing a masked figure toting a machine gun and another hoisting a pen.
Despite concerns over the potential threat of more violence, the CAC 40 rose steeply Thursday on expectations of economic stimulus in Europe and oil price stabilization. The French market closed up 3.6 percent to 4,260.19. Kering, LVMH and L’Oréal were all firmly in positive territory at the end of the day.
The CAC 40 had remained stable throughout Wednesday.
According to news reports, 12 were killed and scores injured after gunmen opened fire on the offices of the magazine in an apparent retaliation for disseminating cartoons offensive to Islam. Ten Charlie Hebdo staffers were among the casualties, including famous French cartoonists Cabu (Jean Cabut), Georges Wolinski, Charb (Stephane Charbonnier) and Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), plus two policemen. The BBC reported that gunmen also fired on policemen in the street, and shouted: “We have avenged the prophet Muhammad.”
The violence occurred at the paper’s headquarters, in the 11th arrondissement near Bastille, but a good distance away from main retail districts and big department stores that attract tourists. Nevertheless, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said security would be reinforced immediately around department stores, places of worship, public transport and the offices of newspapers and magazines. Convoys of police vehicles were on the move about the city, even as shoppers thronged the shops lining the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, with a line of people shivering outside the Christian Louboutin boutique, not far from the Élysée presidential palace.
While the immediate impact was hard to gauge, the attacks might impact the perception of Paris for wealthy shoppers from China and elsewhere. In a research note published earlier this week, Exane BNP Paribas analyst Luca Solca noted that anything that prevents people from traveling — primarily epidemics or terrorist attacks — would be a “major negative” for luxury goods, as travel spending accounted for an estimated 37 percent of the market in 2013.
“High-profile terrorist attacks like 9/11 not only affect travel, but also consumer sentiment, causing a ‘sudden stop’ in luxury sales,” Solca wrote. “Given the fixed-cost nature of the industry, this would precipitate operating deleverage (and multiple compression).”
Political instability also ranks among key risks to the luxury sector, as last year’s protests in Hong Kong proved, sending sales of watches and leather goods plummeting.
“A resurgence that resulted in violent confrontation between protesters and the police and [would lead] to the closure of Hong Kong to Chinese tourists would be a disaster,” he wrote.
Solca also noted that luxury is highly exposed in specific cities.
Citing data from Altagamma and Bain, the bank noted that Paris accounts for 74 percent of luxury consumption in France. By comparison, Tokyo represents about 41 percent of Japanese luxury sales.
The French luxury market was estimated at 15 billion euros, or $19.4 billion at average exchange rates, in 2013, with tourists accounting for 60 percent of purchases.
A series of armed heists on jewelry stores in the French capital, and a number of robberies of Chinese tourists, known for carrying bundles of cash, are also causing the city to lose some of its appeal with well-heeled shoppers from emerging markets.
“My sense is that there is no match with London already when it comes to millionaires, for example,” Solca told WWD. “I expect broader implications on consumption to be limited, as the attack was not focused on transportation facilities and it could be explained away by consumers as, ‘This does not concern me, as I have nothing to do with religion and its criticism.’ ”
Thomas Deschamps, statistics research manager of the Paris tourist and convention office, said it was too soon to predict how tourism might be affected by Wednesday’s events.
Paris recorded a 1.2 percent drop in visitors in 2014, with fewer tourists from the U.S., U.K. and Russia, while arrivals from Italy, Spain, the Middle East and China grew. The beginning of the year until Easter is off-peak time for tourism, Deschamps noted.
French retailers have been hoping for a boost to their fortunes as a lackluster economy and unseasonal weather have dampened demand. A recent survey by ma-réduc.com, a Web site grouping discount and promo codes, found that 39 percent of French consumers plan to spend less in the winter sales this year, with an average nationwide budget of 242 euros, or $288.
Sales of French women’s ready-to-wear declined in 2014 for the seventh year in a row, fostering a culture of bargain-hunting and discounted items that now account for one out of two women’s rtw items sold in France, according to the French Women’s Ready-to-Wear Federation.
Early reports indicated the winter sales got off to a soft start Wednesday, even before the terrorist attack, with lighter-than-usual crowds at the major department stores on Boulevard Haussmann.
A spokeswoman for Printemps said foot traffic picked up at lunchtime and the store should match or exceed last year’s level of first-day sales. A spokeswoman for Galeries Lafayette said it was too early to report on the impact of the increased security measures.
A spokeswoman for Le Bon Marché declined to comment on security measures that the Left Bank luxury emporium had taken.
As darkness fell on Wednesday, the main floors of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps were teeming, with the usual row of tourist buses parked along the Rue Tronchet, one of the streets leading to Printemps. Security at the department store wasn’t noticeably ramped up, with one guard stationed per door. And people continued standing in line patiently to shop at branded shops, including Chanel.
A pair of policemen was spotted making the rounds on the shop’s ground floor.
Guards next door at Galeries Lafayette were more plentiful and identifiable, sporting fluorescent armbands reading “sécurité.” They were outside and inside, directing shopper traffic through certain doors designated for entering and exiting. Here, too, were lines of customers at brands such as Longchamp.
Mathieu Mucciante, standing outside Galeries Lafayette, said he had been a bit concerned about shopping after hearing about the Charlie Hebdo incident.
“We decided to go anyway, because now that the terrorist attack has happened, I don’t think there will be a second attack,” he said, adding that he and his girlfriend — who was still shopping in another building of the department store — would be taking a taxi home rather than mass transportation “just to be sure.”
Sonia Lucas, also outside of Galeries Lafayette, had walked from Châtelet in central Paris with her daughter, who was in search of a new scarf. Lucas said people heard about the news of the attack earlier in the day “but I don’t think it’s stopped them from shopping. They are a bit afraid,” she continued, emphasizing that everyone was probably paying a bit more attention to their environs “because one never knows, unfortunately. But that must not prevent us from living.”
Jean-Marc Génis, president of the Federation of Clothing Retailers, said the attack would likely deter some shoppers from hitting the sales.
“There could be a reaction of fear,” he said. “People are clearly going to think twice before going out.”
He said retailers would immediately put in place additional security procedures, as set out under Vigipirate, the French national security alert system created in 1978. The plan was simplified last year and now has two threat levels, “vigilance” and “attack alert.”
The latter triggers exceptional and temporary measures, including the activation of intervention units and specialized services; the activation of crisis units; reinforced checks and surveillance around sites considered potential targets, and restrictions on traffic and parking.
Genis said it was too early to gauge the impact on retail, but he predicted that foot traffic and confidence would be hit.
“It’s clear it will have an impact. Unfortunately, we went through similar situations many years ago, and we know it’s always dramatic and that confidence can’t be restored in the blink of an eye, and that is precisely the intended effect of this kind of blind attack,” he said.
In 1995, a spate of bombing attacks on the Paris metro and railway system killed eight and injured more than 100 people. The attacks were the work of the Armed Islamic Group.
Later this month, Paris will host the twice-yearly couture and men’s wear shows. The Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode did not respond to a request for comment.
Wednesday’s attack also coincided with the release of “Soumission,” (“Submission,” in English), the latest novel by celebrated and controversial author Michel Houellebecq, depicting a fictional France of 2022 electing its first Muslim president. A sketch representing Houellebecq was featured on the cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo.