Why are the French so chic?
“It was my dream to visit Paris,” says designer Kenzo Takada, recalling the time he travelled there by sea as a twenty-something visionary. The founder of worldwide fashion brand Kenzo – which has its headquarters in the French capital – admits that while London in the mid-1960s was a “very dynamic and interesting” place to be, it wasn’t the swinging British capital that held sway in his imagination – it was Paris. “When I was growing up in Japan and wanted to enter the industry, fashion was really in Paris… I was driven to go to the capital of fashion.”
Takada was far from being alone in his sentiments. Despite the fact that Paris had competition from London and New York, as well as that the ‘Golden Age’ of French couture had ended the previous decade, in the late 1950s, many at the time, French and otherwise, believed that Paris was still the fashion capital of the world, if there was one. Little seems to have changed. Just as Takada’s eponymous label is still located in the City of Lights, so Paris – the focus of an exhibition running at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology – continues to be regarded as the epitome of all that is fashionable. But why? What makes the French so chic?
对巴黎之时尚如此着迷，高田并非唯一一人。尽管在1950年代末，巴黎面临着来自伦敦和纽约的竞争, 而且法国时装的十年“黄金时代”已经结束，但那时的许多人与高田一样认为，如果全球有个时尚之都，那仍然应该是巴黎。正如高田的同名品牌Kenzo仍然坐落在号称为“光之城”（City of Lights）的巴黎一样，纽约时装学院（New York's Fashion Institute of Technology）正在举办的一场展览的焦点仍然是巴黎。巴黎迄今仍被视为集全球时尚大成之都会。但是原因何在？是什么让法国人如此时髦？
It is actually outside Paris, in nearby Versailles, that the story of French fashion truly begins. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), the court invested heavily in the arts – and fashion. Visitors to Versailles would be dazzled by not only the ‘Sun King’ himself, but also the palace’s many courtiers and mistresses, who set trends both in France and abroad. According to Dr Valerie Steele, curator of Paris, Capital of Fashion and editor of the show’s accompanying book, this emphasis on fashion stemmed from far more than just aesthetics. “The theatre of power was very important,” she tells BBC Designed. “[Louis XIV] wanted to make sure that his appearance and the appearance of his courtiers were in accordance with his idea of being a modern, powerful, civilised monarch – no longer just a warrior king from the Middle Ages, but a real kind of ‘Sun King’ with all kinds of mythological connotations. And obviously fashion and ceremonial dress… were a big part of that.”
法国时尚的历史实际发端于巴黎郊外的凡尔赛宫（Versailles）。在法王路易十四（1643-1715）统治期间，法国宫廷在艺术和时尚上投入了大量资金。后世来凡尔赛宫参观的游客不仅会被自号为“太阳王”（Sun King）的路易十四，也会被凡尔赛宫的众多廷臣及仕女的华丽服装迷得眼花缭乱。正是太阳王和他的廷臣仕女们引领了法国国内和整个欧洲的时尚潮流。纽约时装学院策划的展览《时尚之都——巴黎》其策展人及介绍此展览之书籍的编辑瓦莱丽·斯蒂尔（Valerie Steele）博士表示，这种对时尚的强调并非仅源自美学。她告诉BBC时尚栏目，“权力的舞台非常重要。路易十四想确保他及其朝臣的形象能符合他企图打造现代的、强大的、文明的君主的形象，要使自己看起来不再只是一位中世纪骑士国王，而是一个带有所有神话含义的真正的‘太阳王’。显然，要达到这个目的，华丽时尚和礼仪性服饰……就是其中的重要部分。”
Louis XIV’s sartorial investments were incredibly fruitful, and he came to be viewed as a monarchical paragon. “Everybody [wanted] to look and act like [him],” says Steele. It wasn’t only soft power and cultural branding, however, that Louis XIV was concerned with. In fashion, he and his finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, saw enormous economic potential, too. Accordingly, they together strove to keep out foreign competition and protect the local textile industry, which they also provided with substantial funding. “Colbert said that ‘Fashion will be for France what the gold mines of Peru are for Spain,’” says Steele. “This [belief] would be central to their economic agenda, which is remarkable, because three-and-a-half centuries later, it’s still true: [fashion] is a major pillar of the French economy.”
Following the death of Louis XIV, the courtiers at Versailles began spending more time in Paris. Coupled with the emergence of fashion icons like Marie Antoinette, this led many to associate Paris with “fashion and sensual pleasure”, as Steele writes in the exhibition’s book. The French Revolution may have caused a lull in this respect, but, thanks to the rakish incroyables and their merveilleuses (members of a fashionable aristocratic subculture in the post-Revolutionary period), fashion was far from forgotten. It would only be a matter of time before the Ancien Régime would be looked back on – at least in terms of style – with nostalgia and admiration.
路易十四死后，凡尔赛宫的廷臣们开始在巴黎消磨时光。再加上玛丽·安东尼（Marie Antoinette）王后等时尚偶像的出现，这让许多人，如斯蒂尔在展览手册中所写的，将巴黎与“时尚和感官享受”视为一体。法国大革命的爆发可能让巴黎时尚曾中断一时，但由于在革命后期巴黎出现推崇时尚的贵族次文化，在服饰上追新逐奇的时髦男女，即法文中所谓的“incroyables and merveilleuses”，服装时尚潮流并没有被法国人遗忘。法国人以怀旧和倾慕之心情，至少在文化风格上，重新回顾法国大革命前的波旁王朝传统，只是时间早迟的问题。
Even though it had lost the title of the world’s greatest superpower to Britain, France’s superiority in fashion – and all forms of high culture, for that matter – persisted well after the fall of the First French Empire. In contrast to London, which excelled in menswear, Paris’s focus was on womenswear. French fashion revolved around the idea of la Parisienne – the ideal Parisian woman, stylish, cultured, and discerning – and Paris itself was referred to in the feminine, and even anthropomorphised as a woman. But for all its prestige and renown, French fashion operated on a small scale until the British designer Charles Frederick Worth set up shop in Paris in the mid-19th Century. “You had plenty of couturiers,” says Steele, “but… they were mostly small-scale artisans”.
在法兰西第一帝国（First French Empire）告终后，尽管法国已战败，其世界上最伟大的超级大国之头衔，已转手给了英国，但法国在时尚方面的优势，以及所有形式的高雅文化依然存在。伦敦以男装著称，而巴黎则专注于女性时装。法国时尚的核心是称之为巴黎仕女（la Parisienne）的理念，即完美优雅的巴黎女性，时髦、有教养、有头脑，而巴黎这个词在法文中也是阴性名词，甚至巴黎这个城市也被看作是拟人化的女子。尽管享有盛名，但法国时装的经营规模一直很小，直到19世纪中叶，英国时装设计师查尔斯·弗雷德里克·沃斯（Charles Frederick Worth）在巴黎开设了时装店才为之改观。斯蒂尔说，在巴黎“当时有很多服装设计师，但他们大多是小规模的工匠。”
Worth revolutionised the French fashion industry by introducing the concept of grande couture. For the first time in the country, high fashion was being produced on a large scale. However, Worth, who also founded the Chambre Syndicale to regulate and provide a framework for the French fashion industry, later spoke not of grande or large-scale couture, but haute (meaning ‘high’) couture. “That,” says Steele, “was definitely a way of differentiating [grande couture] from the simultaneous rise of confection, the first round of ready-to-wear clothing, sold in department stores in France… He claimed that [haute couture] was an art form and that he was an artist.”
Today haute couture is often used as a catchall term for luxury clothing in general, but in France – and in fashion circles generally – it’s an appellation reserved only for designers who meet a rigorous set of criteria. Also contrary to popular belief, haute couture pieces aren’t necessarily one-of-a-kind. “[Haute] couture is not unique,” says Steele. “It’s made for your body, but it’s not unique.”
Much in the spirit of Louis XIV, the French once again used haute couture as a means of soft power in the aftermath of both their defeat at the hands of the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and the Paris Commune (1871), when a revolutionary socialist government briefly seized power. If they were clearly no longer a significant economic or political force, the French at least had their culture and their clothes. “It was… no coincidence,” writes Dr David Gilbert of Royal Holloway University in an essay entitled Paris, New York, London, Milan: Paris and a World Order of Fashion Capitals, “that the aggressive promotion of the couture system… followed the military humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent traumas of the 1871 Commune.” Gilbert goes on to say that “Paris fashion… under the Third Republic… was part of a wider external reassertion of French power and influence abroad”. And, in trying to reassert themselves on the world stage, the French, as Steele says, “[equated] France [with] civilisation and Germany [with] barbarity, which [became] part of a longstanding French ethos”.
法国在普法战争（Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871）被德国人打败，以及随后的社会主义革命者短暂夺取政权的巴黎公社（Paris Commune）革命失败后，法国再次发挥路易十四的精神，将高级定制时装作为一种文化软实力。尽管法国人显然不再是欧洲最重要的经济或政治强国，但他们至少拥有自己的文化和时装。伦敦大学皇家霍洛威学院（Royal Holloway University）博士大卫·吉尔伯特（David Gilbert）在一篇题为《巴黎、纽约、伦敦、米兰：巴黎和时尚之都的世界秩序》的文章中，这样写道：“在遭受普法战争的军事羞辱和随后1871年巴黎公社的创伤后，大力提倡时装系统，这不是巧合。”吉尔伯特接着说：“法兰西第三共和国统治下的巴黎时尚……是法国对外重申其权力和影响力的一部分。”正如斯蒂尔所言，为了在世界舞台上重新确立自己的地位，法国人“将法国与文明划等号，将德国与野蛮划等号，而这样的观念已成为法国长期民族精神的一部分。”
The French did the Sun King proud. Even after the further devastations brought about by the two world wars, New York – the undisputed economic centre of the world – largely took its sartorial cues from Paris in the early and mid-20th Century. “The Chambre Syndicale,” writes Gilbert,“… promoted the idea of the surpassing taste of Paris’s women, but the lasting power came from the way that this idea was repeated, often uncritically as almost a fact of nature, in fashion promotion and media based in other major cities. And nowhere was this more powerful and of more significance both locally and for the wider geographies of fashion than in the ‘capital of the 20th Century’, New York City.”
It might seem strange that a city as ambitious and powerful as New York would promote Parisian fashion over its own; but there were clear reasons for this, as Steele is quick to point out. “A lot of the [US] magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were for socially elite people,” she says. “These people had been travelling for decades to Paris to get couture wardrobes… They were heavily invested.” Steele also mentions a feeling of nostalgia many around the world felt for “the glamour they [associated] with French fashion”. That said, the rage for French fashion in the US was double-edged, as cheap copies of French haute couture designs abounded, many North Americans being at the time more than willing to settle for far less than the real thing. “You know,” remarks Steele, “a little black dress, a cheap ready-made copy from New York or Berlin, [looked] pretty damn similar to a Chanel couture version”.
In the late 1940s and early ’50s, designers like Christian Dior, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, and Hubert de Givenchy ushered in what’s now referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of French fashion, and there was no doubt of Paris’s supremacy in womenswear. Things got a bit more complicated in the mid-’60s, however, with London’s ‘youthquake’, led by the likes of Mary Quant, while the 1970s and ’80s saw the rise of Milan and Tokyo as major fashion centres. And if the ‘defection’ of many Japanese designers to France à la Takada quelled the threat from the East, Paris – despite enjoying a renaissance of sorts with designers like Christian Lacroix and Jean-Paul Gaultier – faced increasing pressure from London and New York, rivals old and new, in the late ’ 80s and ’90s. “But they kept pushing back,” says Steele of the French.
在20世纪40年代末和50年代初，克里斯汀·迪奥（Christian Dior）、“可可”·香奈儿（Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel）和休伯特·德·纪梵希（Hubert de Givenchy）等设计师开创了如今称为法国时尚“黄金时代”的潮流，毫无疑问，巴黎在女性时装的潮流中是傲视群雄。然而，到了60年代中期，潮流开始有变，在玛丽·昆特（Mary Quant）等设计师的领导下，伦敦发生了时尚界的“青年震荡”，到70年代和80年代，米兰和东京崛起，成为新的时尚之都。如果说许多日本设计师仿效高田贤三“叛逃”到法国，算是平息了来自东方的威胁，巴黎在80年代和90年代尽管出现克里斯汀·拉克鲁瓦（Christian Lacroix）和让·保罗·高提耶（Jean-Paul Gaultier）等著名设计师，掀起巴黎时尚的文艺复兴，但面临来自伦敦和纽约新老竞争对手的压力也越来越大。斯蒂尔说法国“也一直在奋力反击。”
Through soft power and cultural branding, the emergence of haute couture, and the assiduous promotion of French fashion on behalf of the French, as well as vested tastemakers abroad, Paris came to enjoy a reputation of seemingly irrefutable chicness. But today, considering the status of cities like London, Milan, and New York, and the increasing globalisation of the fashion industry – “[Fashion] is pretty much all over the world,” as Kenzo Takada puts it – can Paris still be talked about as the fashion capital of the world?
According to Steele, Paris still reigns internationally as a fashion metropolis for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s home to some of the world’s most prominent fashion conglomerates. “Fashion is no longer a question so much of small independent businesses,” she states, “but of giant conglomerates. Almost all the luxury groups – LVMH, Kering, etc – are based in Paris, [despite having] bought up Italian companies [and] invested in English [and] American ones.” Steele also believes Parisian fashion shows to be superior to those held in other cities. “It’s not as thrilling to go to Milan. [And] I mean, New York is a wonderful place, but the New York fashion shows don’t have the glamour and excitement that the ones in Paris do, for the most part.”
Her opinion is echoed by Paris-based designer Agnès b: “They’ve tried with Milan and London, [and] with New York – there are shows everywhere,” she tells BBC Designed, “but inspiration comes from Paris, for sure”. Similarly, designer Isabel Marant, also based in Paris, points to the grandeur of the city’s fashion shows, too, in commenting on its status as the world’s fashion capital. “Paris,” says Marant, “is quite unique for the way that fashion is expressed [there], for the quality and level of the shows of its fashion week.”
巴黎设计师艾格尼丝·b（Agnès b）赞同斯蒂尔的说法。她告诉BBC设计栏目：“他们在米兰、伦敦和纽约都做过尝试，到处都办过时装秀，但肯定灵感都来自巴黎。”另一位在巴黎工作的设计师伊莎贝尔·玛朗（Isabel Marant）在评价巴黎作为世界时尚之都的地位时，也持同样的观点，指出巴黎时装表演之盛大令人叹为观止。玛朗说：“在巴黎的时装周，通过时装表演的素质和水平引领时尚的方式，是独步天下。”
The presence of major conglomerates in Paris and the quality of its contemporary fashion shows are certainly important to consider. History, though, is perhaps the crucial element in the continued perception of Paris as the epicentre of fashion – regardless of whether the historical associations being made are rational or the result of clever marketing done by the French and others with a stake in French fashion. “France has always been … [introducing] new ways of wearing clothes,” says Agnès b. “It has always been [this way] in France. We’ve had this for a long time.” Marant agrees: “France has a great cultural heritage,” she tells BBC Designed, mentioning the likes of Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Chanel, who “created new trends [and were] admired all over the world”. And as Agnès b points out: “Now [there’s] a new generation [of designers], but Paris has still this aura, I think.”
大型时尚奢侈品跨国集团总部设在巴黎，以及当代巴黎时装秀的无与伦比，无疑是值得考虑的重要因素。然而，或许历史才是巴黎一直被视为全球时尚之都的关键因素，不论这种历史渊源是有理有据的事实，还是法国人和其他与法国时尚有关者巧妙营销的结果。艾格尼丝·b说：“法国一直在……（介绍）穿衣服的新潮流。我们法国人已经引领了潮流很长一段时间。”玛朗表示赞同说：“法国有伟大的文化遗产。”她在接受BBC采访时，提到了保罗·波烈（Paul Poiret）、艾尔莎·夏帕瑞丽（Elsa Schiaparelli）和香奈儿等设计师，称赞他们“创造了新潮流，受到举世的赞赏”。正如艾格尼丝·b所指出的：“现在有了新一代设计师，但我认为巴黎的时尚氛围依然如故。”
It may seem strange to place so much emphasis on Paris’s sartorial past, no matter how dazzling it may be. As Gilbert writes, however, “The status of fashion capital in the 21st Century is as much about reputation, expectations, heritage, and tradition as the design and production of actual garments… Deep and long-running symbolic associations also have real economic and cultural consequences.” Steele puts it slightly more casually. “The law of precedents is really important. If you’ve been the fashion capital longest and have this amazing reputation, then you can ding it around the corners an awful lot and it still comes out looking like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s still the best!’”
In light of such arguments, one is hard pressed to deny the primacy of Paris as a fashion capital. But what about the future? Do those who feel Paris to be the world’s fashion capital think the title could potentially be seized by another? “Of course anything can change,” says Steele, who suggests Shanghai as a possible contender, on account of China’s growing economic clout. And, though they don’t single out any particular cities, Takada and Marant also raise the issue of increasing international competition and the proliferation of fashion shows around the world. “There are many cities [also] showing… very interesting [styles and] emerging talents,” Marant admits. Considering, however, the immense role played by heritage and history in forming perceptions of cities as fashion capitals, it seems unlikely that Paris, the fabled ‘Queen of the World’, will budge from her throne anytime soon, if at all.