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CULTURE

Victoria Beckham caps French makeover with Paris debut

Having turned to French experts to overhaul her struggling business, Victoria Beckham is seeking the highest validation of the fashion world with her first runway show in Paris on Friday.

Victoria Beckham caps French makeover with Paris debut
British fashion designer Victoria Beckham is presenting a collection at Paris Fashion Week. Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP

The former Spice Girl, 48 – who has been away from the catwalk for two years – joins Paris Fashion Week after a long stint presenting her clothes in New York and a brief dalliance with London.

Her sophisticated office and evening wear has been a surprise hit with fashionistas ever since her debut show in 2008, confounding those who expected her to be another celebrity dilettante.

But despite having 250 global outlets selling her clothes, 30 million followers on Instagram and one of the most famous husbands in the world, Beckham’s company has always struggled to turn a profit.

In a bid to turn things around, she has recruited top French talent: her chairman is Ralph Toledano, ex-president of the French Federation for Haute Couture and Fashion, and her CEO is Marie Leblanc de Reynies, former lead buyer at Paris shopping mecca Printemps.

“Victoria is not from the fashion world. She threw herself into the business and at a certain point, she needed to structure, organise and bring some order to the house, which is what we’ve been doing for the past four years,” Toledano told AFP.

Chic evening wear was always going to struggle during the pandemic, and reports this summer showed the label had €54 million in debt, and had to cut prices and staff to stay afloat.

But a successful cosmetics line, launched in 2019, has helped trim losses, and the team hopes to break even in the coming months.

Beckham has called her personal fame a “double-edged sword” for the business.

“Are other brands under the scrutiny that mine is under every time we file (results)? Absolutely not,” she told Vogue.

“But how many other brands have the luxury of getting the attention when they want it?”

Her team is upbeat: “We’ve defined a strategy, combined two pret-a-porter lines, found the right price-point… now it’s time to enter the big league,” said Toledano.

That means Paris — throwing Beckham into the loftiest and most scrutinised of fashion weeks.

“She’s a bit intimidated, she’s someone very humble,” said Toledano.

“There’s a lot of expectation. For someone who entered fashion without training, there’s a hope that Paris will be a sort of crowning moment,” he added.

Paris Fashion Week is a way for Beckham to validate her status “as a designer and not just a celebrity,” said Benjamin Simmenauer, a professor at the French Institute of Fashion.

London and New York are more focused on the commercial side of the business, as well as “audacious young designers”, while Paris “has a more creative and historical” side, Simmenauer told AFP.

It was a chance for her to shed the last of her image as an ex-Spice Girl, he added.

“Presenting in Paris is proof that she is truly dedicated to the project, not just trading on her past and present celebrity… that she has an original and relevant vision.”

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POLITICS

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday headed to the southern American city of New Orleans, which retains much of its French-infused heritage, as he wraps up a rare three-day state visit to the United States.

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

After vowing continued support for Ukraine and seeking to quell a EU-US trade dispute during White House talks with President Joe Biden, Macron was expected to meet with local officials and energy companies in New Orleans and unveil a French language program.

Once a French colonial city, New Orleans was sold to the United States by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Macron has called it “the quintessential francophone land.”

Macron will promote an initiative to broaden access to French language education for American students, with a focus on disadvantaged groups “for whom the French language can be a multiplier of opportunities,” the French leader said.

Addressing members of the French community in Washington on Wednesday, Macron added that he wanted to revamp the image of the French tongue in the United States, “which is sometimes seen as elitist.”

Macron will follow in the footsteps of French President Charles de Gaulle, who visited New Orleans in 1960. As he strolls through the streets of “NOLA,” Macron is likely to stop by the “Vieux Carre,” or “French Quarter”, the bustling historic city center.

“We have a history in New Orleans and important things to say there concerning both our history and what we want to do for the future,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Energy and climate

Besides celebrating French-American ties, Macron will pay tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina which killed more than 1,800 people in and around New Orleans and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2005.

Macron will also meet with businesses “devoted to energy and climate issues,” according to his office, while French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Louisiana Governor John Edwards will sign an energy deal.

Accompanied by French film director Claude Lelouch and dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Macron will meet local artists and prominent cultural figures of New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz.

The visit will come on the heels of a lavish dinner at the White House, headlined by master jazzman Jon Batiste, who comes from a family of New Orleans musicians.

Macron’s state visit — the first such formal occasion since Biden took office in January 2021 — symbolized how Washington and Paris have buried last year’s bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

The visit featured a full military honor guard for Macron, including service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb.

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