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I cannot remember where, but I had read something about this book, and my curiosity had been piqued. Would you recommend it?

When we were in Paris back in late May, a colleague wanted to purchase a Hermes tie, so we went to Hermès on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. And yes, I was shocked at the prices of their silk scarves. And my colleague got wise, and did decide against the purchase of a Hermès tie.


I would recommend it for anyone who teaches French (although it is a bit short on attributions, from a research perspective). It is filled with interesting trivia I had not come across elsewhere. It talks about why Louis XIV's shoes in his portrait by Hyacinth Rigaud have RED heels, for example. I had noticed this, but never pursued it. And it discusses how clothing became less of an absolute class marker over time.

Your story about the Hermes tie reminds me of Diane Johnson's novel _Le Divorce_. The young American protagonist is given an absurdly expensive Hermes bag by an older French man, and voila--all the French women in her sphere immediately know they are having an affair.

This is not an intellectual novel, but not bad in its genre. A movie was made from it, which again was no masterpiece, but hey--I watched it :-)


The thing is that it permeates all areas of parisienne life. People are in and out of these shops. parisiennes do not consider it rude to have a good look up and down at you and check out your handbag and where it is from.
It is interesting to think that these things have come from history.


I'm French and would agree with you except for one thing : I have the feeling current French luxury companies have not understood that a few things have changed since Louis XIV ! Look at their websites, look at their services, the way they "welcome" you in their stores : most of them still believe power must come from the top : themselves. They're arrogant, despise marketing (which is to try to understand customers, in a way)... They're too stuck in their old (bad) habits to me and would have many things to learn from Italians and Americans. Anyway 21st century will surely bring a good revolution on those monolithes, I'm sure... But I love Hermes, and I'm absolutely sure it's worth its prices, because everything is handmade in France, not in China, the print patterns are among the finest, and you buy something that will last for generations. This means real luxury. But for instance, I would not defend Dior so well...


Thanks for your insider's view of the fashion industry in France, Geraldine. I do appreciate good design and workmanship, so you have piqued my renewed interest in Hermes. When one thinks of buying a luxury item as an investment, it is easier to justify. I think it was Jean Cocteau who commented that the French are more in tune with the idea of "luxury" and Americans are more keenly interested in "comfort." (Kind of sad for us yanks!) But a well-crafted object of beauty can help us transcend some of the drabness of everyday existence. How can you put a price tag on that?


I love to read about the toilettes of the French Kings and Queens. The way all of the nobility would fight over who got to take off what garment sounds very much like the way fashion editors fight for the front row seats at the couture shows.

I have to agree with Geraldine, though, that the American definition of marketing focuses much more on pleasing the masses, rather than the snob appeal that the French are inclined toward. Sounds like a very interesting book, though...


I'll have a look at your book, it sounds quite interesting even if I suspect it to be a bit too "French friendly" for me.

You and La Dauphine seem to speak good French, so you may be interested in "Rose Bertin, ministre des modes de Marie Antoinette". It's a good book describing very well the "Versailles" system under Louis XVI, but it goes into a lot of details, so I always hesitate to recommending it. There's a link on my blog for it (on the right column). After that, you know everything about the birth of Haute Couture in France, and not many French people know it !!

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