TWO HUNDRED of France's top furniture companies, home-accessory manufacturers, apparel designers, and costume jewelers invaded the United States last week with the hope of getting Americans to think of France as more than just the land of perfume, fine wine, and a handful of top fashion designers. ``French Impressions '86'' was an attempt to capture the American imagination and market on this side of the Atlantic.
The French have plied New York and Chicago with annual fashion shows and piggybacked their products onto other national trade shows in the past. But lured by California's 22 million people market (the world's sixth-largest GNP) and a warm C^ote d'Azur climate and life style, they decided to try an expo event of their own through a new port of entry.
``We don't want to change our image here,'' said Pierre Letocart, director of the French Committee for Trade Exhibitions Abroad, who created the four-day event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. ``We just want to add to it.''
T'etard Fr`eres, Parisian silversmiths since 1860, brought silver place settings at $1,000. Volpon of Saint-Fons displayed all manner of rosewood marquetry - from commodes to tables and sofas. Delisle showed off baroque and rococo (``baroco,'' says owner Jean-Michel Delisle) candelabras and chandeliers from the Grand Trianon in Versailles - in stunning gold-plated reproduction.
There was crystal, tapestry, porcelain, and tile in great quantity and quality. The traditional detail and Old World elegance were overwhelmingly French, fanciful, and ornate.
But there were also products more suited to the contemporary: futuristic bronze lighting sculptures straight from a Star Wars sequel. Pencil-thin, high-tech fluorescent lights in rocket red. There was whimsy and inventiveness in fixtures and furniture. Of interest to space-conscious Americans was a contemporary-looking chair that folds into a step stool, and then folds another way for easy storage. This came from the same inventive company, Reametal, that has a table with an ironing board that can be folded out of the way at mealtime.
Organizers capped the four days of exhibiting with Jean Patou's latest big-hatted fashions, paraded with panache down the aisles at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
``America is very eager for French imports,'' said Gerry Lee from Carefree, Ariz., who came hoping to promote a translating and negotiating service. ``But we need to `demystify' the French impression in America. Here we are overwhelmed by the chicness, beauty, and sophistication of the products and we think they are all so expensive. This is not so.''
``French products are just too expensive,'' countered Thomas Lausch, a hotel buyer and entrepreneur. ``Californians do not want to pay these prices when they can get good quality at lower prices from other countries.''
``We won't know until much later how we have done here,'' said Ms. Rigail. The FTC plans to take its lessons to Chicago, for an exhibition focusing on interior design.