PARIS — Comité Colbert is out to win back the hearts of luxury tourists from Japan and the U.S., with plans to devote the next few years to promoting French art de vivre in those countries.
This story first appeared in the September 23, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Paris, the most visited city on earth, stands to lose as much as $1.5 billion in tourist revenues this year. Visits by Japanese tourists plummeted 46.2 percent, and Americans by 5.7 percent in the first six months, according to the Paris Regional Tourist Board. It blamed the string of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice; a spate of strikes in France, and the wettest spring on record in 150 years.
“Resilience, optimism; the collective mood of our members is that we are determined to bounce back,” said Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, president and chief executive officer of the French luxury goods trade association, at a press lunch Wednesday hosted by one of Comité Colbert’s members, the Ritz. “Many of our American and Japanese clients are scared to come to Paris, our aim is to remind them what a wonderful place it is.”
The year 2017 will be dedicated to Japan “through the prism of young creation,” said Guillaume de Seynes, executive vice president of the manufacturing division and equity investments at Hermès International and chairman of Comité Colbert since June. Initiatives, he added, will include an exhibition in Tokyo in June of works by 50 students from the Tokyo University of Arts inspired by “Dreaming 2074: A Utopia Created by French Luxury,” a collective bilingual work of literature and music created for the association’s 60th anniversary in 2014. Three students will then be invited to present their works in Paris next fall. The year 2018 will be dedicated to the U.S., with details to come, while a deeper look into Sub-Saharan Africa — notably Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and South Africa — is also on the cards.
“The past few years have been focused on studying emerging markets; now we’re looking at mature markets, but also markets with strong potential,” said de Seynes.
“Nigeria has a population of 200 million people, a figure that is expected to grow to 500 million by 2050. It will be the third-biggest country in the world,” said Ponsolle des Portes, adding that Comité Colbert members are already active in three sectors there: wine and spirits — with Nigeria the fourth-biggest consumer of Champagne globally; perfume and cosmetics, and watches. Fashion opportunities still need to be explored. “The African client is extremely discerning but tends to get their clothes made by a tailor, using fabrics they have chosen and adapted to their morphology. The approach is quite different to that of Europe and the U.S.,” she said recalling the experience of attending Nigeria’s equivalent of the Oscars. “The Nigerian film industry — known as Nollywood — is huge, you should have seen the amazing outfits and hairdos à la Marie Antoinette, it was a show in itself. There is so much going on culturally over there, both in literature, with figures like the young novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote the bestseller ‘Americanah,’ and the arts. Bonhams recently opened an office [in Lagos].”
Comité Colbert, which has an ongoing partnership with the École nationale supérieure des arts appliqués et des métiers, is also looking to other ways to get the next generation interested in the crafts and métiers of its various members. Founded in 1954 by Jean Jaques Guerlain, the association counts 81 members in fields ranging from fashion and jewelry to hotels and gastronomy, with certain skills tracing back to the Middle Ages.
Comité Colbert is participating in a competition organized by France’s Ministry of Education inviting students from schools across France to produce three-minute videos based on fields of work that interest them. The awards ceremony will be held at the Grand Rex cinema in Paris in May.