“The invention of French luxury”, thus fashion was born


This is a disconcerting documentary: its slightly old-fashioned historical reconstruction (although carried by prodigious actors) takes nothing away from the luminous teaching it distills on the birth of luxury in France. The unstoppable demonstration of Stéphane Bégoin and Flore Kosinetz takes us through three Louis, so to speak: Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI. From the 17th century, these monarchs, skilfully advised, would in turn invent not ostentation which, alone, would only be expenses, but a paradigm which on the contrary generated wealth. It was not a foregone conclusion. Under Louis XIV, the privileged loved what was rare and expensive: porcelain, fine linens, embroidery, lace, mirrors, all things that France did not know how to manufacture. Holland provides the textiles, Venice is the only one to know how to make large mirrors, while China bewitches the world with its porcelain.

A national treasure

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In three reigns (and as many brilliant ministers), with the backing of great resources and procedures worthy of the best spy films, France will shamelessly steal a few manufacturing secrets from the other kingdoms. What makes the documentary fascinating is that it recounts both this economic war and a decisive trigger. Because France will understand that the acquisition of various know-how is not enough for it, that it is better than that, in a way. The panacea is rather to know how to arouse the desire and to constantly renew it.

The sequel after the ad

By finding new colors for porcelain, new patterns for silks, new models for dresses, French luxury will finally pulverize its competitors. By this very fact, France invents fashion. Diabolical invention, perhaps. Still, this sector is today even more powerful in exports than our aeronautics. So, of course, we can judge the domain frivolous, find a thousand shortcomings in it, the fact remains that it is the fruit of a particular genius, and constitutes a national treasure.

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“The invention of French luxury”

Saturday April 30 at 8:50 p.m. on Arte. Documentary by Stéphane Bégoin and Flore Kosinetz (2020). 1h30. (Available in replay until June 28, 2022 on Arte.tv).



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