As I sat here with the task of writing my Wednesday blog I searched for my way back to witty clothing commentary. Everything felt glib to me after the devastation of what happened in the city that has my heart: Paris.
And then I read today’s New York Times editorial, “Embracing French Art and Fashion as Counterattack,” by Vanessa Friedman.
Following is what she so brilliantly expressed, excerpted here for us all to remember–that it was, indeed, no accident where the murderers chose to attack:
There’s a temptation, when confronted with fear, sadness and human loss, to turn away from luxury; a natural instinct to dismiss frivolous subjects as inappropriate at such a serious time. Some may assert that gatherings honoring how we adorn our bodies have no place in the current conversation, that such discussions should occur only in abashed whispers, that anything smacking of aesthetics is somehow disrespectful of the horror attached to current events.
It is easy to forget, when you hear words like “luxury” and “fashion,” that these industries do not simply represent gold-chain handbags and elaborately embroidered silk dresses.
Rather, they represent jobs, heritage, taxes and national identity.
Within France, 165,000 people are employed, directly and indirectly, by the luxury industry, according to the French government, which advertised that statistic during the January haute couture shows along with the hashtag #FiersdeFrance (#ProudofFrance).
Those jobs include seamstresses who have worked for more than three decades at the Dior couture atelier, which has been on the Avenue Montaigne since 1946. They include the employees at Chanel, which has been based on the Rue Cambon since 1910.
Fashion and luxury companies power the French economy and will be integral to helping the nation recover. According to Euromonitor, the French luxury goods industry had sales of $25 billion in 2014. The taxes on that can fund a lot of roadwork.
As Steven Fischer, a former professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the founder of the Image, Style & Design Studio consultancy, wrote in an industry newsletter: “Put aside the investors. Put aside the star C.E.O.s. And what do we have? For product-centric Luxury, fine artisans who ply their craft. For hospitality-centric Luxury, countless people devoting their lives to providing comfort to travelers.”
This is not to deny that there are enormous issues of national security and emotional trauma that need discussion, nor to suggest that all of our problems can be solved through haute couture. Safety, security and freedom from the kinds of hatred that compelled last week’s attacks are the greatest luxuries of all.
But if we turn away from the luxury and fashion industries at a time like this because they are not “serious,” then we contribute to the goals of those who attacked France. When the terrorists opened fire on restaurants and nightclubs, they were not simply sowing fear. They were assaulting a certain kind of lifestyle, one that values conversation, self-expression, art and beauty, of which fashion is a part. To embrace those values is, now, a political statement.
Indeed it is.