When the Paris shows ended this season, the exodus of British fashion press and buyers returning to London on the Eurostar will have been joined by a new bunch of homecomers: the French. Estate agents report more wealthy French people moving to London, and there is a feeling that President François Hollande’s new marginal tax rate of 75 per cent on earnings over €1m will increase the influx.
The French are bringing style influences from across the Channel with them. Both Isabel Marant, queen of off-duty cool, and Céline are set to open London stores, while premium chains such as Maje, Sandro, The Kooples and APC are proliferating. On the cultural front, last month the Serpentine gallery played host to a pop-up version of David Lynch’s hip Parisian club Silencio, and Paris’s fashion-forward burlesque Crazy Horse show is appearing on the South Bank as Forever Crazy.
But how will the French adapt their style to London life, and are retailers ready for them? Parisian women are known for their finesse. French Vogue editor Emmanuelle Alt, for example, epitomises the art of wearing simple, well-tailored clothes with a rock ’n’ roll edge that make anything decorative look gaudier than a Moulin Rouge costume.
French designer Vanessa Bruno does not think French women will easily opt for the more experimental, eclectic – and invariably scruffier – style of London women. “The chic way of French fashion is instilled and it will take a lot to shift,” she says. “It is more a philosophy than a way of dressing.”
Ruth Chapman, co-founder of the London boutique Matches with her husband Tom Chapman, believes that to fit with Gallic tastes, “clothes have to be perfectly cut and flattering, and [the French] will choose a lot of black and navy. They are not as engaged in colour or prints as the Brits. Yes, they will look for that fashion piece from a designer like Christopher Kane but our experience has taught us they will look for the most well-cut and cleanest piece from that collection.”
She adds, “We are prepared for it. We study buying patterns, rationalise it and edit to the changing population flux – we have acted on this before with wealthy Greeks who left their country as the economy collapsed.”
Bruno has observed that when Parisians are away from home their tendency is still to buy French: they are big shoppers at her brand’s concession in Harvey Nichols. “They definitely will catch the spice of London, maybe with a scarf, or a bag, but with a French approach.” Tom Chapman agrees and reports that labels such as Carven, Vanessa Bruno and Lanvin are “flying out of the window”.
For Maje, which arrived in 2009 and now has six stores with another planned, and seven concessions, the UK is a key market. Such labels cater to the mid market, which suits recent French émigrés in a recession: a Maje coat with leather sleeves or a wool and cashmere blazer by Carven, for example, costs about £500.
“I never know if my husband will come home and say he has been made redundant,” says one, a mother and wife of a City financier. “It is the most unpredictable economy we have seen since he started in the finance business 20 years ago. When a lot of his colleagues are being laid off, it would be very inappropriate to walk around in a £10,000 tailleur [suit] or handbag.”
For shopping on a budget (of sorts) the strength of UK high street brands evens up the Anglo-French cultural exchange, particularly since Emmanuelle Alt revealed that she favours Topshop jeans. Maje founder Judith Milgrom adds: “I just love how well the UK mixes mass market brands with luxury labels.”
But where will the French inhabitants be spotted in their understated, high-low mix of labels? “The French actively seek something cultural to do on weekends,” says Andrée Deissenberg, managing director of Paris’s Crazy Horse. “They get dressed up in their finery, take out their Louboutins, and do up their hair. Fashion is a big part of the French sensibility.” London, you have been warned.
www.net-a-porter.com (Christopher Kane stockists)