Selling British design abroad sounds like a dream ticket for anyone closely involved in the business, and it is one that Gretta Doyle, a 27- year-old architecture graduate seconded by Levitt Bernstein to the British embassy in Paris, relishes. 'There is tremendous curiosity about British design in France, and people here are very receptive,' she says. 'After all, three of the top French fashion houses are now run by British designers.'
She is one of 11 people recruited by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year, on six-month contracts, to work in the commercial sections of our embassies and promote everything creative from advertising to websites. As a French speaker who knows Paris well and formerly worked for a local architectural practice there, she leapt at the opportunity.
She started in January, following a successful presentation and dinner staged in Paris last October, at which 20 British architects and designers were showcased and received enormous media coverage. She has a useful ally in the ambassador, Sir Michael Jay, who has a keen personal interest in the subject, and several contracts were placed as a result of the event.
The Liverpool graduate, who will be taking her Part III at the South Bank at the end of this year, joined Levitt Bernstein just a year ago and has worked on the Holly Street housing estate in Islington, and an £800,000 hostel in Chelsea. Now she is targeting potential buyers and specifiers of contract furniture, furnishings and textiles, organising mailshots and attending trade fairs, and generally flying the flag.
'The design world here is up to speed on all things British,' she says, 'and Foster and Rogers are household names. People worship designer names, much more so than at home where the interest tends to be more in the product.' But many product designers are simply invisible and she is helping to raise their profile, not least in broadcast media. Six months is not very long to tackle such an ambitious task, she agrees, but by the time she leaves in just over two months she will have established many contacts that the embassy will continue to follow through.
Then there are the Millennium Dome, of course, a unique single visual focus, and the Millennium Products being promoted by the Design Council. 'And France is a prime target for getting overseas visitors to Greenwich,' she explains. By the opening of the event on New Year's Eve next year, she will be long back in England, while her brief stint as an ambassadress should continue to bear fruit.