“I feel like I’m at a wedding,” McCartney cooed as she made her way between the banquette tables on Monday night.
In fact, it wasn’t a marriage celebration, but a symbolic embrace of the fashion industry by French President Emmanuel Macron, who threw open the doors of the Élysée Palace to a wide swath of fashion designers. His message: Come all ye creative types, and make a go of it in France.
“I have good news for you: There won’t be any fashion show tonight,” Macron said in a brief speech to the crowd, seated at oval tables under the gilded ceilings and giant chandeliers of the great reception hall.
Among the designers in attendance were Jean Paul Gaultier, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Rick Owens, Giambattista Valli, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Olivier Rousteing, Alber Elbaz, Joseph Altuzzara, Clare Waight Keller, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Louboutin, Virgil Abloh, Guillaume Henry, Simon Porte Jacquemus and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.
Reflecting the youthful, informal charm of the new administration, guests were invited to help themselves to small plates of food laid out on side tables, while waiters ensured glasses were never emptied of wine. First Lady Brigitte Macron paid a visit to each of the 20-some tables, toasting the designers and executives in attendance.
Earlier, the government’s official photographer climbed a stepladder to immortalize the rare gathering as attendees assembled on a riser.
Anna Wintour, resplendent in a sequined Chanel couture gown, could not resist art-directing the photo from a distance, quietly imploring a woman in the front to set down her very large handbag. She eventually obliged.
“Doesn’t anyone dress up anymore?” she mused, surveying a crowd where T-shirts and sneakers were as common as suits or cocktail dresses.
This was the third such event organized by Macron to attract investors and entrepreneurs to France, which suffered from an antibusiness reputation under the previous Socialist administration.
Macron’s centrist En Marche party swept to power in May 2017, making him, at 39, the youngest leader in the history of France.
Told the purpose of the dinner — to promote France as a good place for fashion designers — as he waited outside for the security check, Owens look puzzled. “Aren’t there already enough designers here already?”
Yet the American designer, who set up shop in Paris in 2002, echoed scores of designers in stressing that recognition of the industry was appreciated.
Indeed, the last time a French president invited the fashion industry to the presidential palace was 1984, when François Mitterrand hosted a cocktail.
“Tonight is an important moment because the government recognizes that fashion is an important industry,” said Dior’s Chiuri, who caught up with Bertrand Guyon, couturier at Schiaparelli.
“I think it’s visionary of Mr. Macron to bring everyone together,” agreed Albert Kriemler, designer of Swiss brand Akris, which has shown in Paris for 15 years.
France’s fashion industry — spanning apparel, shoes, jewelry, watches, eyewear and beauty products — represents 580,000 direct jobs and generates 36 billion euros of revenues, according to figures from the Elysée.
Didier Grumbach, honorary president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, noted the most recent Paris Fashion Week, whose eight-day program ended Tuesday, had designers of 25 nationalities on the official calendar. “You realize that it’s really international,” he said.
“Look around — all the best designers are here,” said Andrew Gn. But the Singapore-born designer lamented that Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo seems oblivious to fashion week, having organized a half marathon that snarled traffic for buyers and press trying to make their way to runway shows, presentations and sales showrooms.
In a seven-minute, off-the-cuff address, Macron urged creative people from around the world to bring their talent to France.
“We are reforming the country, it is imperative that you come here, that you help to transform it,” he said. “To those who create, who invent, who create beauty, I want to say, ‘Choose France,’ because it is the vocation of this country, and it is especially the vocation of this city, to welcome women and men who want to make beautiful things.
“My deepest wish is that designers, whether they come from India or Japan, Africa, the U.S. or China, think about coming to our country to make it,” he continued. “I just dream to have you create here, live here and be happy to create because I think it’s part of the transformation we want for the country.”
“I feel like I’ve been welcomed with open arms back in Paris,” said Altuzarra, who decamped from New York fashion week to the French capital. “I came back because there was a spirit of optimism and enthusiasm, in large part because of Macron and the First Lady.”
“Everybody wants to be here because it’s the most creative place,” said Lanvin men’s designer Lucas Ossendrijver. “People really look up to creation in France; it’s not just business, it’s very, very creative, and that’s what I love about it. Also it’s very open toward people that don’t come from France.”
“I think what is happening tonight is exactly what I always felt about my President and the First Lady — that it’s so elegant, and just makes Paris shine even brighter,” said Olivier Rousteing of Balmain. “I just love that feeling of inclusivity and that’s what I feel sometimes fashion is missing and thanks to the politic of my country, everything feels more inclusive than exclusive and this is just amazing.”
McCartney agreed Paris has “treated me very well over the years. It’s funny, I came here when I was 25, I had my first ever defile at the Opera Garnier, and I had my most recent defile just hours ago in the same place,” McCartney recalled. “I have a great fondness for all things Parisian. It’s the home of fashion for many of us.
“Obviously Paris is an extraordinary city,” she continued. “But you know London is pretty kick-ass if you ask me.”