Sunday, September 06, 2015

An industry by Royal decree

King of Couture: How Louis XIV Invented Fashion as We Know It - The Atlantic

Even though caring little about fashion, this article about how the Sun King pretty much invented it for France (and the world) is interesting.  Here are a couple of key bits:

When Louis came to the throne in 1643, the fashion capital of the world
wasn’t Paris, but Madrid. Taste tends to follow power, and for the past
two centuries or so Spain had been enjoying its Golden Age, amassing a
vast global empire that fueled a booming domestic economy. Spanish style
was tight and rigid—both physically and figuratively—and predominantly
black. Not only was black considered to be sober and dignified by the
staunchly Catholic Habsburg monarchy, but high-quality black dye was
extremely expensive, and the Spanish flaunted their wealth by using as
much of it as possible. They advertised their imperial ambitions, as
well, for Spain imported logwood—a key dyestuff—from its colonies in
modern-day Mexico. While Spain’s explorers and armies conquered the New
World, her fashions conquered the old one, and Spanish style was adopted
at courts throughout Europe...
Now, how Louis changed this:

Luxury was Louis’s New Deal: The furniture, textile, clothing, and
jewelry industries he established not only provided jobs for his
subjects, but made France the world’s leader in taste and technology.
His shrewd finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, famously said that
“fashions were to France what the mines of Peru were to Spain”—in other
words, the source of an extremely lucrative domestic and export
commodity. Louis’s reign saw about one-third of Parisian wage earners
gain employment in the clothing and textile trades; Colbert organized
these workers into highly specialized and strictly regulated
professional guilds, ensuring quality control and helping them compete
against foreign imports while effectively preventing them from competing
with each other. Nothing that could be made in France was allowed to be
imported; Louis once ordered his own son to burn his coat because it
was made of foreign cloth. It was an unbeatable economic stimulus plan.

As he waged a never-ending series of expensive wars across Europe, the
French luxury goods industry replenished his war chest and enhanced the
king’s reputation at home and abroad. Louis transformed Versailles—a
dilapidated royal hunting lodge buried in the countryside 12 miles from
Paris—into a showplace for the best of French culture and industry; not
just fashion but art, music, theater, landscape gardening, and cuisine. A
strict code of court dress and etiquette ensured a steady market for
French-made clothing and jewelry. Louis has been accused of trying to
control his nobles by forcing them to bankrupt themselves on French
fashions, but, in fact, he often underwrote these expenses, believing
that luxury was necessary not only to the economic health of the country
but to the prestige and very survival of the monarchy. 

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