LIKE THE REST of the world, France is experiencing an invasion of Chinese textiles and clothing, much of it made offshore by or for French companies. And the alarm bells are ringing. Most vulnerable is the pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear sector, which boasts such popular brands as Morgan, Antik Batik and Kookai. And the industry isn't taking it lying down. The clothes may be made in China and eastern Europe, but the inspiration and imagination behind them are French. Industry group Federation Francaise du Pret a Porter Feminin is lobbying the government to replace 'Made in France' labels with 'Designed in France'. Is it all just a defensive gesture from an industry under threat? Federation president Jean-Pierre Mocho says that customers from around the world want to see French style in the clothes they buy, regardless of where they're made. 'There's a real demand from our clients overseas for products with a distinctive French flavour, although the creation is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain because of the loss of savoir faire,' Mocho says. 'We have to set ourselves apart with a 'Designed in France' label to be applied to all articles which were created here, including all those bits churned out in China.' Nonetheless, goods made in China - known in France as the workshop of the world - don't have the same cachet as those made in France. The connotation of Parisian couture can sometimes be enough to convince customers to buy. The same applies to Italy, where the industry is pushing for a 'Designed by Italians' label for fashion made overseas. 'The advantage of French fashion stylists, designers and producers lies in their huge potential for creativity, design and resourcefulness,' Pascal Morand, director of the French Institute of Mode, told current affairs magazine Le Nouvel Observateur recently. 'There will always be an international market for our production, as long as it's of top quality. That whole process of creation and originality isn't just restricted to the garment. The success of French fashion also comes down to good management.' In other words, it's about French creative identity. And it's the off-the-peg producers who are under pressure to prove that they still have a creative edge. 'It's true that French ready-to-wear fashion has lost its creative image,' says Mocho. 'The rumour going around was that la creation was no longer a French thing. Now, the industry wants to reaffirm its creativity.' Designer Christian Lacroix says the French industry must maintain its originality, particularly with multinational brands flooding the market. '[French fashion] is much more authentic than the banal and hyper- marketed fashion lines with which people have already become blase and indifferent,' Lacroix says. 'Now, in a world of globalisation, they're looking for more individuality, distinctiveness and one- off clothes.' Lacroix says ready-to-wear fashion must evolve so people feel it makes them stand out from the crowd. 'We must redefine a new style of ready-to-wear fashion which is more closely tied with ultra- luxury,' he says. 'But that can't happen without haute couture. Haute couture is an industry, not a museum. It's an authentic French expression and savoir faire, which has existed for ages, needs new talent.' According to Morand, the luxury end of the market isn't at risk from the upheavals. Bernard Arnault, head of the world's biggest luxury group LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), agrees and says there's no question of the group manufacturing offshore. He says the qualities of being manufactured and created in France are inseparable and indispensable for genuine luxury goods. 'Unlike businesses which produce relatively commonplace industrial goods, which can be fabricated willy-nilly anywhere in the world, we sell small-scale artisan products for which French savoir faire is fundamental,' he says. Sidney Toledano, director of Christian Dior Couture, isn't concerned about any threat from China. In fact, he regards the mainland as a growing market for French fashion. But he says it's crucial that the savoir faire and image of luxury a la francaise be maintained. 'If we stop with the tradition of couture, we lose our added value compared to our American and Italian competitors,' Toledano says. 'It's by playing on luxury that we got off the mark in China.'