PARIS • It is known as the City of Light. But a shadow has been cast over Paris, where many of the wealthiest women in the world have arrived for the January couture shows.
Instead of swanning freely into the arching halls of the Grand Palais and other local landmarks where the lavish defiles (fashion shows) are held, most will be forced to open their handbags, doff their furs and regularly submit to full body checks at almost every event as part of stringent new security measures.
Terrorist attacks and a spate of vicious high-profile robberies have tarnished the French capital's reputation as a playground for the very rich and raised concerns that the clients usually wooed during such fashion events may start to avoid them.
In October last year, thieves broke into the residence of reality TV star Kim Kardashian West during Paris Fashion Week, tied her up and stole millions of dollars worth of jewels.
The following month, Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat and her French partner were tear-gassed by three masked assailants in a botched robbery.
And five days later, two Qatari sisters lost valuables worth US$5.3 million (S$7.5 million) when three balaclava-clad robbers targeted their chauffeur-driven Bentley on the highway from the airport.
There's no question in my mind that these robberies will play heavily on the mind of shoppers and travellers from the Gulf.
PRINCESS DEENA ALJUHANI ABDULAZIZ, from Saudi Arabia, who is editor of Vogue Arabia, after the attack on Kim Kardashian West in October last year.
There are indications that heightened fears for personal safety have led many high-net worth individuals, particularly from Asia and the Middle East, to think twice about visiting (and spending in) Paris. Hotel occupancy rates, restaurant reservations and boutique foot traffic all fell steadily last year, with European destinations, particularly Switzerland and Britain, benefiting from Paris' fall from favour.
Some visitors who can afford to are spending hundreds of euros a day on increased protection.
"There's no question in my mind that these robberies will play heavily on the mind of shoppers and travellers from the Gulf," Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz from Saudi Arabia, who is editor of Vogue Arabia, said following the Kardashian West attack.
In recent years, Paris has brought in more than €10 billion (S$15.2 billion) in luxury sales revenue annually, according to business management consultancy Bain & Co, with almost two-thirds of that from foreign visitors.
So the Paris-based titans of the luxury industry are going to new lengths to keep those shoppers coming back.
Few of these companies will comment. But in December last year, Comite Colbert, the French luxury association whose members include Cartier and Hotel Le Bristol, invited 100 international big spenders to the city for a free trip with a range of money-can't-buy experiences. Around a week later, Chanel held its Metiers d'Art show at the Ritz. And on Monday night, just hours after its show, Dior scheduled a masked ball.
The message that Paris is safe is one that the mayor's office is eager to reinforce. Mr Manuel Valls, who was prime minister at the time of the Kardashian West attack, announced a government plan to spend about €10 million on video surveillance and other security measures near museums, monuments, hotels and other tourist areas.
"Paris is the first tourist destination in the world," Mr Jean-Francois Martins, deputy mayor in charge of tourism, said last week. "Incidents sometimes make headlines, for example about Kim Kardashian, but these acts are very rare and exist in all the cities of the world."
Mr Martins said police statistics show that burglaries in Paris fell by 11 per cent from 2013 to 2016 and violent robberies by 28 per cent over the same period.
Mr Marc-Andre Kamel, the Paris-based head of Bain for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, said that there were plenty of reasons for the city's travel slump besides personal safety issues.
"Changes in visa regulations for Chinese visitors made a big impact, as did the considerable shifts in currency valuations," Mr Kamel said last week. "The weak pound has made Britain a very attractive place to visit for tourists."