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Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Waning interest in the supernatural spells end of `Le Halloween' in France

AP , PARIS

Tourists Maria Davey-Borresen, left, and her sister Philomena Davey, both from Dublin, Ireland, look through the only stand displaying Halloween-themed items at toy store chain shop La Grande Recre in Paris on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Five years after it took France by storm in a whirlwind marketing drive launched by a lone French entrepreneur, "Le Halloween" looks set to perform its very own disappearing act.

Parties, pumpkins and Halloween bar promotions were still on offer last night, but almost everyone agrees there's something missing this year.

The only people really spooked are retailers.

Arriving almost two decades after "trick-or-treat" entered popular vocabulary in neighboring Britain, Halloween swiftly became a cash cow that few French marketing directors could afford to miss.

But Richard Roizen, the businessman credited with importing the festival to France, died earlier this year. Paris trend-watchers are predicting that Halloween will be buried with him.

As chairman and chief executive of Cesar -- once a brand of masks worn to 19th century balls -- Roizen transformed the firm into the world's largest costume maker with a turnover of 122 million euros (US$142 million).

Attending Chicago's Halloween trade show, the annual gathering par excellence for makers of creepy masks and rubber spiders, he quickly grasped the potential for his home market.

"He struggled for years to bring Halloween to France," says Franck Matthais, head of advertising for French toy store chain La Grande Recre.

Things took off in the autumn of 1998.

"We were in a euphoric mood because France had just won the soccer World Cup," Matthais recalled. "Halloween worked very well indeed."

By 2000-2001, when it peaked, Coca Cola and mobile phone operator Orange had jumped on the bandwagon -- even though their products have no obvious connection to Halloween. Bakery windows were crammed with marzipan pumpkins and spidery confections.

Since then, however, Halloween has had "less impact each year," Matthais said in an interview. Last year, he spent US$175,000 on spooky decorations for the toy chain's 86 outlets, as well as in-store face painting for kids. And this year's budget?

"Zero," he said. "There are virtually no Halloween products in the shops."

The same goes for the Bakery Julien, close to Paris's fashionable Champs Elysees, where there is not a single pumpkin in sight.

Instead, its window is adorned with figurines of saints. All Saints' Day today, and Sunday's Festival of the Dead, are major dates in the French religious calendar.

"We're doing anti-Halloween," said bakery owner Gontran Julien.

Julien is not alone. Radio advertisements for Flunch, a fast food chain, urge diners to "escape Halloween" by seeking refuge in their restaurants, where they will instead be confronted with special menus celebrating the "Ancient Gauls' New Year."

The chain is offering mead, a medieval alcoholic drink made from honey, for diners to wash down large slabs of meat and other foods deemed authentically Gaulish.

Flunch marketing director Sophie Gilleron said she had felt the tide turned against Halloween last year.

"Besides, there are only so many things you can do with pumpkin," she said.

Elsewhere the culture clash is more serious. French Catholic youth groups plan to demonstrate for the second year running against what they see as Halloween's trivialization of death.

Despite the omens, costume company Cesar insists that Halloween, the source of 15 percent of its annual sales, will long outlive its late chairman -- mainly as an event for children.

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