PARIS — Five months after taking office and becoming the first female mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo is getting ready for Paris Fashion Week. “There are magnificent light variations here,” she said in an interview in her large, bright office at city hall.
Sporting a Georges Rech blazer, jeans and a silk blouse — she is loyal to the contemporary French brand — the 55-year-old left-leaning politician talked about Parisians’ unfriendliness, opening up City Hall to young designers and visiting the new Fondation Louis Vuitton.
This story first appeared in the September 23, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: What have been your priorities since you got into the office?
Anne Hidalgo: Paris is betting on the digital economy, so our support has been going to start-ups, as well as to more traditional sectors such as tourism and fashion. Paris is one of the three most influential cities in the world after London and New York. The summer season went really well for us. We’ve had events such as the Tour de France’s arrival, the Eiffel Tower fireworks on Bastille Day, the commemoration of Paris’ Liberation that attracted tourists — both French and foreigners.
WWD: And the challenges?
A.H.: There is one thing I am not happy about: Paris ranks among the unfriendliest cities. Parisians may have strong personalities, but they aren’t unfriendly. By the end of my mandate, I want us to be among the friendliest. Parisians must be known for their smiles. We will work on it by involving Parisians. We might consider, for example, a label rating the quality of the hospitality of places such as restaurants.
WWD: Beyond unfriendliness, Paris has made the headlines for street crime issues. Any concern that might discourage tourism?
A.H.: Things are getting better. We have worked closely with the police, public transportation organizations, museums, hotels, etc. First-quarter figures have improved; the Chinese tourists are still coming en masse. Paris is a city that people want to visit. I am not one of those who do “Paris bashing.” I am proud of the city.
WWD: What have you done for the fashion industry so far?
A.H.: Our contribution mainly consists of supporting entrepreneurs and designers, providing them with office spaces and studios at very low rates. The big challenge in Paris is the rent. We have incubators dedicated to creation and innovation. We got on the bandwagon for this season and will shed light on young designers such as Léa Peckre.
WWD: How are you helping them?
A.H.: One of our observations was that large events such as Paris Fashion Week aren’t being backed enough by the city and Parisians alike. I am opening up City Hall to young designers. We are making City Hall’s salons available for free. We sent one invite to Parisians via Twitter.
There have been shows at City Hall in the past, but it was mostly rented to big fashion houses. I want to open not only city hall, but other venues such as Carreau du Temple, La Gaîté Lyrique and the Centquatre. It is a way to give momentum so that Parisians are proud of fashion week.
WWD: But isn’t fashion week an inconvenience for residents?
A.H.: I want Paris Fashion Week to be a public event involving all public places. We are working in that direction with the Chambre des Métiers de Paris, which regroups artisan butchers, cheese-makers and bakers as well as métiers d’art. We are setting up an operation to shed light on the métiers d’art. We still have a tradition of métiers d’art — embroideries, feathers, etc. We need to keep it, to make it more visible.
Fashion Week will be flagged in shops even if they have nothing to do with fashion. It will have a positive impact on the economy. It boils down to mobilizing the city around what makes it strong. The fashion industry employs 60,000 in Paris.
WWD: Which cities are inspiring to you?
A.H.: I am inspired by New York and the importance the city accords to the fashion world. I am also inspired by the way London nurtures young designers. There is also a crop of young talents in Paris. I want to make it more visible. Paris has the historic fashion houses so it’s more difficult to break in. However, since there are all these houses and fashion schools, it is a great city for aspiring designers.
WWD: Copenhagen Fashion Week — which specializes in sustainability — organizes a Fashion Exchange on the esplanade of City Hall, a swap on the last day of fashion week.
A.H.: It is a very good idea. I’ll take it.
WWD: Which shows do you plan on attending this season?
A.H.: Lanvin, I want to see what Alber Elbaz is doing. I wish I could go to more.
WWD: Fashion professionals have been asking for a change in legislation to let shops open on Sunday. What’s your stand on this?
A.H.: I am not for a generalization of Sunday labor. I am for an extension of touristic areas [legislation allows shops in these areas to open on Sundays]. For instance, I think it would be relevant to change the perimeter of the Marais area, add some streets, and remove others. I will take advice from a committee on these questions. Several other such areas are being scrutinized, such as the department stores area, Les Halles, Beaugrenelle, Bercy Village. But again, I don’t want it to be generalized. I am for salary compensations for those who work on Sundays. It’s a principle of social justice and democracy. There are some people who will end up in very difficult personal and familial situations if they are obliged to work on Sundays. I am also against superstores opening on Sundays. Because so far this has protected smaller convenience shops, which makes the city vibrant.
WWD: The Fondation Louis Vuitton is set to open in October. To what extent will it boost the city’s attractiveness?
A.H.: The Fondation Louis Vuitton is a true gift for Parisians. It’s one of the major works by Frank Gehry. I am thrilled that it will incredibly boost the city’s attractiveness. If the Pinault Foundation had chosen Paris instead of Boulogne, I would have done anything to make it happen and not let it go to Venice, the same way we did everything to make Fondation Louis Vuitton happen. It hasn’t been easy because this project, which is an architectural achievement, had opponents. With Bernard Arnault, we pushed it through, including when the building permit was canceled while 400 were already working on it. There are also other projects such as Renzo Piano’s Jérôme Seydoux Foundation that we have just inaugurated, La Tour Triangle [a skyscraper for offices and retail designed by Herzog & de Meuron] and Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris.
I am also strongly backing the [LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton] Samaritaine project. These are signals that the city is modern, our ability to combine our heritage with tomorrow’s architectural heritage.