PARIS — Françoise Montenay, president of Chanel SA, will soon be wearing another hat, as well.

The French luxury goods trade association Comité Colbert will today officially appoint Montenay as its new president for a four-year term.

One of the country’s most prominent fashion executives, Montenay has been an active force for almost two decades within the trade group, which has successfully advocated for stricter anticounterfeit laws in France and promoted French savoir faire in emerging markets such as China, Russia and India.

Recalling an exhibition last year in Shanghai, Montenay said hotel operators dreamed up her favorite display — showcasing the luxury inherent in their signature bathrobes.

Chief among Montenay’s ambitions is to tackle the dearth of skilled craftspeople produced by France’s education system, which emphasizes “intellectual” education over skilled labor, she said. “I want to influence the way that savoir faire is transmitted,” she said in an interview Friday. “My concern is that it’s very difficult for us to find these talents at school.”

Montenay also spied a “big challenge coming” as so-called luxury products are outsourced to low-cost countries, creating consumer confusion. “We need to educate people about what is true luxury: for example, a jacket that is done perfectly with perfect fabrics,” she said. “Luxury for me is really detail.”

Founded in 1954, the Comité Colbert today counts 70 members, from fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior to makers of perfume, champagne and porcelain to restaurants and hotels. Together, the 70 brands account for some 30,000 jobs in France and generate annual turnover of 12 billion euros, or $15.1 billion at current exchange, more than 80 percent of that from exports.

Montenay succeeds outgoing president Olivier Mellerio. She said her Comité Colbert responsibilities would not affect her role at Chanel. “It’s a question of two or three days per month,” she noted.

Her other extracurricular activities include the European Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfume Association, where she is president, and the group Cosmetic Executive Women, which she has headed since 1994.

This story first appeared in the June 26, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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