France Tal­lies ‘Se­ri­ous’ Cost of Na­tion­wide Protests

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bruno Le Maire said antigov­ern­ment ac­tion have caused a 15 to 25 per­cent de­cline in rev­enues for mass re­tail­ers.

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY JOELLE DIDERICH

PARIS — France faces “se­ri­ous and on­go­ing” eco­nomic fall­out af­ter a third week­end of antigov­ern­ment protests led to scenes of vi­o­lence and ran­sack­ing not seen since the May 1968 stu­dent ri­ots, of­fi­cials said Mon­day.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bruno Le Maire said mass re­tail­ers have seen a 15 to 25 per­cent cu­mu­la­tive drop in sales due to the on­go­ing protests by de­mon­stra­tors in re­flec­tive safety vests — known as “gilets jaunes” — who have blocked roads and van­dal­ized stores, caus­ing foot traf­fic to plum­met dur­ing the cru­cial hol­i­day spend­ing sea­son.

The protests were sparked by a fuel tax and have grown to en­com­pass a range of de­mands over de­clin­ing liv­ing stan­dards.

Emerg­ing from a meet­ing with

Prime Min­is­ter Édouard Philippe, Paris Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo con­demned the hooli­gans who smashed store win­dows; torched cars, and van­dal­ized the Arc de Tri­om­phe, one of the coun­try’s most revered mon­u­ments, on the side­lines of the protests that drew 10,000 peo­ple in the French cap­i­tal on Satur­day.

“I have come to speak on be­half of Parisians who were shocked and ex­tremely wor­ried to see their city in this state. We haven’t seen any­thing like this in a very long time, prob­a­bly since May ’68,” Hi­dalgo told re­porters Mon­day.

Upon re­turn­ing from a G20 meet­ing

in Ar­gentina on Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron headed straight to the Arc de Tri­om­phe to in­spect the dam­age and pay trib­ute to the tomb of the un­known sol­dier, which com­mem­o­rates the fallen soldiers of World War I, as on­look­ers chanted: “Macron re­sign.”

The French leader held an emer­gency meet­ing with se­nior of­fi­cials amid talk that the gov­ern­ment was ready to re­in­state a state of emer­gency in re­sponse to the protests, which left 263 peo­ple in­jured and led to 682 ar­rests na­tion­wide, ac­cord­ing to the In­te­rior Min­istry.

Lau­rent Nuñez, secretary of state for the in­te­rior, told ra­dio sta­tion RTL on Mon­day the gov­ern­ment was not con­sid­er­ing the op­tion at present.

Depart­ment stores Ga­leries Lafayette, Prin­temps and Le Bon Marché evac­u­ated shop­pers and closed early on Satur­day af­ter vi­o­lent protests spread throughout Paris, with de­mon­stra­tors fan­ning out from the Av­enue des Champs-Élysées to re­tail hot spots in­clud­ing the Grands Boule­vards, Place Vendôme and Rue de Rivoli.

Con­tacted by WWD, of­fi­cials at the three depart­ment stores de­clined to com­ment on the eco­nomic im­pact of the protests, but gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates show tourism is be­gin­ning to feel the im­pact of can­cel­la­tions as images of ri­ot­ers are broad­cast around the globe.

The U.S. em­bassy in Paris on

Mon­day is­sued the lat­est in a se­ries of demon­stra­tion alerts af­ter a sep­a­rate strike by am­bu­lance per­son­nel shut down Place de la Con­corde, with police fir­ing tear gas at pro­test­ers yards from the Hô­tel de Cril­lon, adding to the sense of gloom hang­ing over the French cap­i­tal.

“The im­pact is se­vere and on­go­ing, since we are now look­ing at drops in turnover rang­ing be­tween 15 per­cent and 25 per­cent de­pend­ing on the sec­tor,” Le Maire said af­ter meet­ing with busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Mon­day.

“Let’s not un­der­es­ti­mate the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on French peo­ple of this vi­o­lence,” he added.

The min­is­ter re­ported that rev­enues for spe­cial­ist re­tail­ers have plum­meted by 20 to 40 per­cent since the protests be­gan on Nov. 17. Restau­rants have seen their turnover fall by 20 to 50 per­cent, and ho­tel reser­va­tions are down by 15 to 20 per­cent due to the “demo­cratic cri­sis” grip­ping the na­tion, he said.

Sig­nal­ing that the gov­ern­ment is keen to find a so­lu­tion to the dead­lock, Le Maire said France needed to speed up tax cuts and trim pub­lic spend­ing to re­verse what he de­scribed as decades of eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment that has dec­i­mated for­mer in­dus­trial strongholds and squeezed lowand medium-in­come house­holds.

“Yes, taxes are too high in France.

Yes, there are too many taxes. Yes, jobs don’t pay enough in France, but we have im­ple­mented poli­cies pre­cisely in or­der to break with the pat­tern of the last 30 years of steadily in­creas­ing pub­lic spend­ing and steadily in­creas­ing debt, re­sult­ing in ever-higher taxes on work­ing peo­ple,” he said.

“We must not take back with one hand what has been given with the other to work­ing peo­ple,” Le Maire said.

Mean­while, re­tail­ers were left count­ing the dam­ages. Among the stores tar­geted over the week­end was the re­cently opened Chanel store on the cor­ner of

Rue Cam­bon and Rue Saint-Honoré. The two main win­dows of the bou­tique were boarded up on Mon­day.

“The house of Chanel deeply re­grets and con­demns the vi­o­lent at­tack on its store at 19 Rue Cam­bon. For­tu­nately, there was only ma­te­rial dam­age. Chanel thanks the staff of the store who demon­strated their com­po­sure in this tense sit­u­a­tion and is grate­ful for the rapid re­ac­tion of the se­cu­rity forces who in­ter­vened rapidly to se­cure the premises,” the com­pany said in a state­ment.

“The bou­tique was not pil­laged, even if there were some thefts, and it re­opened on Sun­day morn­ing,” Chanel added.

Bruno Pavlovsky, pres­i­dent of Chanel fashion and pres­i­dent of Chanel SAS, said the bou­tique en­joyed healthy busi­ness once it re­opened, seem­ingly in de­fi­ance of the van­dals.

“We have seen a lot of cus­tomers com­ing in the bou­tique just to sup­port us,” he said in an in­ter­view on Mon­day. “I hope the gov­ern­ment will do what it has to do. They have to find ways to open a di­a­logue with the peo­ple who are not happy.”

In New York on Mon­day to pre­pare for Chanel’s Metiers D’Art show at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art, de­signer Karl Lager­feld raised his iPhone to show a vis­i­tor video footage of the new Chanel bou­tique be­ing ran­sacked by van­dals.

“Can you imag­ine, this is Paris,” Lager­feld lamented. “It’s hor­ri­ble.”

In an eerie co­in­ci­dence that has him re­buff­ing a bar­rage of re­quests from French me­dia to com­ment on the vi­o­lence, Lager­feld fronted a 2008 high­way safety cam­paign that showed him wear­ing the light-re­flec­tive vests that have be­come a sym­bol of the pro­test­ers. Bill­boards pic­tured Lager­feld on a dark road with the tag line: “It’s yel­low, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with any­thing, but it could save your life.”

Foot traf­fic at shop­ping malls con­tin­ued to de­cline, said the French Coun­cil of Shop­ping Cen­ters, or CNCC. While the num­ber of visi­tors fell 14 per­cent on Satur­day, in line with the prior week, this time the drop car­ried over into Sun­day, with foot­fall down 11 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Quantaflow data.

“This evo­lu­tion is prob­a­bly linked to con­sumers hold­ing back from spend­ing in re­ac­tion to the images of vi­o­lence seen over the week­end,” the CNCC said, adding that in ad­di­tion to block­ing ac­cess to shop­ping malls, pro­test­ers at­tempted to force their way into a num­ber of malls in cities in­clud­ing Saint-Éti­enne and Per­pig­nan.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion wel­comed the gov­ern­ment’s emer­gency mea­sures to help re­tail­ers com­pen­sate for lost busi­ness, and called for ex­cep­tional Sun­day open­ings to be ex­tended into 2019 to help busi­nesses re­coup some of their losses.

Car­refour, the world’s sec­ond-largest re­tailer af­ter Wal­mart Inc., said it suf­fered “ex­ten­sive prop­erty dam­age” on Sun­day as sev­eral of its hy­per­mar­kets, su­per­mar­kets and con­ve­nience stores were pil­laged, with the south­east, the south­west and the north of the coun­try worst af­fected.

The re­tailer said it was still eval­u­at­ing the im­pact of the pro­longed road blocks on its busi­ness.

Of­fi­cials at LVMH Moët Hen­nessy Louis Vuit­ton and Ker­ing, the coun­try’s lead­ing lux­ury groups, de­clined to com­ment on the on­go­ing protests, though eye­wit­nesses re­ported see­ing in­creased se­cu­rity at high-end stores over the week­end.

Speak­ing on French ra­dio last week, Ker­ing chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer François-Henri Pin­ault said he was sur­prised by the scale of the protests, but said he un­der­stood its causes, ar­gu­ing that the tran­si­tion to greener en­ergy sources should not dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect low­er­in­come house­holds via taxes on petrol.

“I un­der­stand why peo­ple are re­act­ing in this way be­cause in­come in­equal­ity is al­ready strong in our coun­try, so if on top of that it wors­ens, and peo­ple have no prospects to bet­ter them­selves, and their spend­ing power me­chan­i­cally de­creases, it’s un­bear­able,” he told RTL ra­dio.

Sev­eral de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing

Olivier Rouste­ing and Jean-Charles de Castel­ba­jac, re­layed an im­age of the smashed statue of Mar­i­anne, the sym­bol of the French Repub­lic, inside the Arc de Tri­om­phe. “This is not Paris, this is not France, I know we are bet­ter than this,” Rouste­ing wrote on In­sta­gram.

Even Pamela An­der­son weighed in on the de­bate. In a se­ries of tweets, the for­mer “Bay­watch” star said she un­der­stood the pop­u­lar re­volt. “I de­spise vi­o­lence…but what is the vi­o­lence of all these peo­ple and burned lux­u­ri­ous cars, com­pared to the struc­tural vi­o­lence of the French — and global — elites?” she ques­tioned.

“In­stead of be­ing hyp­no­tized by the burn­ing images, we have to pose the ques­tion where did it come from…?” An­der­son con­tin­ued. “And the an­swer is: It came from the ris­ing ten­sions be­tween the met­ro­pol­i­tan elite and ru­ral poor, be­tween the pol­i­tics rep­re­sented by Macron and the 99 per­cent who are fed up with in­equal­ity, not only in France, all over the world.”

“The im­pact is se­vere and on­go­ing, since we are now look­ing at drops in turnover rang­ing be­tween 15 per­cent and 25 per­cent de­pend­ing on the sec­tor. [And]…Let’s not un­der­es­ti­mate the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on French peo­ple of this vi­o­lence.”

— FI­NANCE MIN­IS­TER BRUNO LE MAIRE

The Chanel store at 19 Rue Cam­bon.

De­mon­stra­tors run by a burn­ing fire near the Arcde Tri­om­phe dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in Paris.

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