Neither party will admit it, but France’s Yellow Vest protesters and the exclusive brands whose stores they recently torched need each other to survive. At least, that’s how one French author explains his country’s love-hate relationship with fashion. But we’ll get to that. First: some context.
The “thanks for the cashmere” and “luxury for everyone” graffiti left in the Champs Elysées high street in the aftermath of last week’s riots are a visceral reminder of the Yellow Vests—a widely condemned populist movement—and their obsession with fashion.
“The police appeared overrun as protesters swarmed the Champs-Elysees, vandalising and later setting fire to Fouquet’s brasserie, a favourite hangout of the rich and famous for the past century—as well as luxury handbag store Longchamp, a bank, another restaurant and several news stands,” (France 24).
But while international news outlets pit the two sides against each other, this conflict is more than ‘capitalists vs. socialists’; it’s the internal struggle of a country proud both of its historic ‘resistance’ movements and its ‘designer label’ identity.
That’s not to say the different groups don’t oppose each other, but that their opposition is in some sense inevitable. As Marc Abelès, author of “An Ethnologist in the Land of Luxury” points out, “Luxury has always retained a fragrance of the forbidden.”
Hence it’s appeal: by buying something high-end you are doing something rebellious and—dare I say it—irrational. But there’s a certain defiant beauty to it which both Yellow Vest protesters and wealthy consumers seem to recognise.
However, while protesters argue you should resist this temptation, designer labels rely on their disdain to sell to people who revel in (and can afford) this ‘devil may care’ look.
Which explains why luxury goods are locked into a cycle of becoming ever more expensive—and profitable—even as they are protested against. As reported by The Business Of Fashion, “Business is thriving for the behemoths of French luxury.”
“LVMH, L’Oréal, Kering and Hermès alone account for one quarter of sales recorded by the 100 largest luxury firms worldwide in a sector that is set to reach €320 billion to €365 billion in sales by 2025, and has captured the imagination of China’s newly minted millionaires and a new generation of millennials.”
At the same time, the director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is allegedly finding it hard to convince sponsors to fund his planned ‘exhibition on luxury’ in Dubai in 2020, as “Luxury in France is under attack,” (Business Of Fashion).