It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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Can you imagine Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, innovation and skills posing for the cover of the Sunday Times magazine wearing a bowler hat and an umbrella in defence of the British industry? Arnaud Montebourg, the man with the slightly communist title of Ministre du Redressement Productif, minister of Industrial renewal, did just so for Le Parisien Magazine in the French equivalent of the clichéd British outfit: an Armor.Lux stripy t-shirt.

In the accompanying editorial, Montebourg wears other products of the French fashion industry such as Caulaincourt shoes and a Bérengère Claire shirt. His acknowledged aim is to prove the French industry is still going strong, producing quality products, and to encourage his fellow citizens to buy things made in France.

The French industry can’t bounce back without exports, including clothing ones, which accounted for 7.2 billion euros in 2011. Armor.Lux, Saint James and Petit Bateau are three of the French brands succeeding in France and abroad thanks to their high-quality nautical style.

It’s therefore fitting that, even though Montebourg’s cover t-shirt was French, the styling decision was anything but, adopting the codes of what is perceived as French outside the borders, rather than what the French people really wear.

A recent staple of the French wardrobe, first used by la Marine (the Navy) the stripy t-shirt was popularized over the past century by designers such as Coco Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier. Fashion is one of France’s strongest soft powers, and the sailor jersey has become a symbol of Frenchness abroad. No French-inspired editorial is complete without it, and American magazine TIME used the item to cover its issue on The death of French culture.

The stripy t-shirt sells well because it sells the French way of life and the Gallic romanticism foreigners still buy into. Montebourg is not just wearing a t-shirt, he’s wearing the millions of tourists who come to Paris for the food and the philosophical conversations in cafés, for the nonchalant cigarette and l’amour libre. He’s wearing a garment which innovation, ignoring colour and cut versions, is stuck somewhere on a 1920s Deauville beach. Is this loop of heritage and cliché really what the French industry is condemned to?

Posted at 7:45pm and tagged with: france, petit bateau, politics, chanel, Stripe,.

The concept, two well-known, coveted brands coming together might be the same yet the recent collaboration between French brands Petit Bateau and Carven has little in common with the H&M collections in partnership with Lanvin, Karl Largerfeld or Comme des Garçons its has been compared with, beyond bringing two well-known fashion names together.

Petit Bateau and Carven feel much closer, in terms of brand DNA, than any of the other brands did, pre-PR spin on the matter. Their links go beyond clothes-making. They are both pillars of French fashion. Despite very different origins (one was born at the end of the 19th century as an underwear brand, the other after the Second World War to cater to luxury clients), they now answer to a similar fashion ethos made of well-cut items and quality fabrics. Neither is fast fashion, nor is their natural price point that different. While the price of a Lanvin dress can easily reach 100 times that of H&M, Carven ones are rarely more than five times that of a Petit Bateau: with a saving effort, the Petit Bateau customer is more likely to purchase an item from Carven than the H&M customer to buy into a luxury brand.

With common points outweighing their differences, Petit Bateau and Carven are a natural fashion match built on foundations stronger than financial and brand building imperatives. Judging by the reviews so far, these affinities have resulted in as strong a capsule collection as I would have expected from two of my favourite brands - I’ll be queuing on King’s Road on 4 December.

Posted at 8:42pm and tagged with: Carven, Petit Bateau, shopping, brand,.