French luxury giants hope to click with Silicon Valley billionaires

File photo taken on Dec 20, 2017, showing a window display of French fashion luxury goods retailer Hermes in Paris.
File photo taken on Dec 20, 2017, showing a window display of French fashion luxury goods retailer Hermes in Paris. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Mr Steve Jobs may have been a tech genius but he clearly did not care much for fashion. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has followed in his footsteps, sporting a plain grey T-shirt every day for years - only to swop it for a simple black suit to testify before Congress and the European Parliament.

But Silicon Valley, whose billionaires have long stuck to basic, functional apparel, may finally be starting to get a taste for something more extravagant.

Sensing an opportunity, French luxury titan Hermes has launched its 34th American store in Palo Alto, the ultra-rich beating heart of the world's technological behemoths.

"We opened this new store after our San Francisco store reaped very strong results," Hermes chief executive Axel Dumas said.

"It's also a bet on the future. Right now, you can see how residents often invest more in their cars than in their clothes. We hope to be able to change that a little," he added.

Mr Guillaume de Seynes, a top executive at Hermes, sees great potential in Silicon Valley.

Palo Alto "isn't very far away from San Francisco, where luxury is everywhere. However, the environment is very different. People are very focused on their professional success, working very long hours", he said.

For now, that potential has yet to blossom, with Silicon Valley's residents still mostly seen in jeans, T-shirts and trainers.

Until recently, few luxury houses had thought to venture out to Palo Alto. Today, three French giants - Hermes as well as Louis Vuitton and Cartier - have set up shop there.

In neighbouring Santa Clara, high-end fashion addicts can find Christian Dior, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent boutiques, all huddled together in a glitzy Californian shopping mall.

But just because they do not necessarily wear designer clothing, the children of the digital revolution are not by any means new to luxury.

"This particular population segment... has already adopted luxurious lifestyle habits," said Ms Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes of the Comite Colbert, which groups together 82 French luxury houses specialising in fashion, gastronomy, hotels and culture.

"They invest a lot in real estate, contemporary art, cars and charity. They also know a lot about wine and gastronomy," she added.

Comite Colbert has entered into a partnership with the prestigious Stanford University, located in Silicon Valley. From September, artisans will teach students the coveted techniques honed over centuries by French goldsmiths.

In December, the group plans to welcome some 70 Californian industrialists and investors in Paris, where they will visit tailoring workshops and dine in Versailles.