Woven Into the Style of France
There has never been a fashion show inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame, or in the piazza splayed in front of it, the way there have been in French cultural landmarks like the Louvre, the Palais de Justice and the National Archives.
But there might as well have been. It is embedded on the psychographic style map of the city, its two towers as defining a silhouette as the New Look, its image practically a brand in itself.
Four times a year, as the couture and ready-to-wear shows dawn in Paris, town cars and editors and retailers shod in stilettoes or Stan Smiths would crisscross the quais from the Tennis Club de Paris to Bercy, Austerlitz to the Pompidou.
Each time, they would swirl past the towers and rose windows of the cathedral on the Île de la Cité, the nexus of a diagonal from the Sixth Arrondissement headquarters of Sonia Rykiel to the Fourth Arrondissement home of Azzedine Alaïa, all around it other showrooms and ateliers like pearls on a string.
When it burned, so did one of the poles by which the fashion world orients itself, and not just geographically.
The tragedy at Notre Dame pierced viewers around the world, and leaders of all kinds have responded with emotion and support. For the French, there’s a more visceral connection between French fashion and French monuments that has to do with definitions of the country’s culture and how it is disseminated around the world.
To designers of French brands, whose identity is wrapped up in the history of Paris, Notre Dame is not just an example of gorgeous architecture (though it is that, and designers often cite various buildings as catalysts for their imagination), nor is it just another tourist draw that helps bring their customers to France (though it is that, too).
It is, in a more abstract sense, part of their own patrimony, an example and embodiment of the values they hold dear and that define their work at its best: beauty, artisanship, handwork, heritage, the emotion that can be evoked by creativity. A concrete — or rather, stone and wood — example of the worth that resides in these concepts. A character in the myth of Frenchness written by Victor Hugo and Disney.
And for anyone trying to capture that elusive quality of Frenchness and give it form — which is, let’s face it, part of the promise of French fashion, especially those brands that are synonymous with that je ne sais quoi (Dior, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Chanel and Hermès) — Notre Dame was an essential reference.
Just as it was shorthand for the sagas that surround it, be they of Joan of Arc, Napoleon or de Gaulle, which also provide the elements of a sartorial vocabulary all designers share.
文／Vanessa Friedman 譯／李京倫