PARIS Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has accused President Francois Hollande of destroying France's economy by imposing painful taxes on the rich, calling the Socialist leader an "idiot".
The creative director of French fashion house Chanel, whose clients are largely the wealthy who stand to be most affected by Hollande's tax hikes, likened the president to Spanish Socialist former prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
"This idiot will be as disastrous as Zapatero was," Lagerfeld said in an interview with the Spanish edition of glossy fashion magazine Marie Claire published on Friday.
He added a famously blunt celebrity voice to criticism from business leaders at tax rises Hollande is slapping on companies and the wealthy in trying to reduce France's big public deficit.
Officials at the Elysee presidential palace were not immediately available for comment.
Hollande has aimed to avoid increasing the already weighty tax burden on low- to middle-income households in his 2013 budget but is struggling regardless with approval ratings that have slid to as low as 41 percent from above 60 percent when he was elected in May, replacing conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.
Lagerfeld, known for eccentric comments and unconventional looks, and a darling of rich fashionistas who snatch up Chanel's pricey creations, said the rich were being singled out by Hollande, who has set a 75 percent income tax on with an annual income of at least one million euros ($1.31 million).
"It's a disaster. He wants to punish (the rich) and of course they leave and no one invests," he said. "Foreigners don't want to invest in France and that's just not going to work."
Business lobbies say that, rather than raising taxes, the government should be easing the heavy labor charges limiting the competitiveness of French companies and contributing to a surge in unemployment above 10 percent.
The government says it intends to look at ways of boosting competitiveness but has ruled out the sweeping cuts to labor charges that business leaders are seeking.
Lagerfel, a white-haired German designer rarely seen without dark glasses, high collar and gloves, sniffed that most French products were ignored by the buying public.
"Outside of fashion, jewellery, perfume and wine, France isn't competitive," Lagerfeld said. "The rest of our products don't sell. Who buys French cars? I don't."
In February, Lagerfeld weighed in on the election race between Hollande and Sarkozy, saying he was bored by it and no longer believed in politics. "I think countries should be run like big companies," he said.
Hollande is under pressure to show France has the fiscal rigour required to help the euro zone escape from a three-year sovereign debt crisis, while trying to keep election promises to tackle unemployment, which is likely to rise further with a spate of industrial sector lay-offs.
($1 = 0.7638 euros)
(Reporting by Alexandria Sage in Paris and Paul Day in Madrid; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Mark Heinrich)