One long-time designer is conspicuously absent from the Paris Fashion Week schedule for Spring/Summer 2010. Indeed, Christian Lacroix's haute couture show in July (pictured above) was billed as possibly his last fashion show ever. But, while rumours continue to swirl of would-be white knight investors to save Lacroix — the latest is Hassan bin Ali al-Nuaimi, a nephew of the ruler of Ajman — BoF investigates the wider implications for protecting a 'Culture of Luxury.'
PARIS, France — News this week about a potential rescue of Christian Lacroix brought to light the remarks France’s culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand made this summer, saying the loss of the couture house would be a “cultural disaster.” He added that he was willing to help find a solution for Christian Lacroix.
This may no longer be necessary. Still, it raises some interesting questions about the cultural role of luxury. European governments are, in principle, prohibited from supporting certain industries or sectors to the disadvantage of others. This follows from EU competition rules on state aid. However, the importance of promoting culture is recognised as an exemption.
High-end luxury items (be it clothes, leather goods, or jewellery) arguably form part of our cultural heritage. At the same time, they carry our heritage forward by reflecting today’s societal values. Just think about the line from Marie Antoinette to Vivienne Westwood. Luxury is also a source of ensuring European traditions in craftsmanship and artisanship are kept alive.
Indeed, the luxury industry is seen to seriously take on this role as a bearer of culture. There are numerous notable initiatives linked to the culture of luxury: Armani at the Guggenheim, Italian cinema at Le Bon Marché, “Silent Writings” at Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, the Prada Transformer, the Chanel Contemporary Art Container, the Festival International de Mode et de Photographie à Hyères, just to name a few.
Luxury is by definition exclusive, with items accessible to a limited group. However, because of the inherent cultural aspect of these items, a slice of luxury is available also to a broader clientele through the type of initiatives mentioned above. They allow people to appreciate luxury as cultural objects displayed at museums, galleries, events, or in shop windows.
So with Frédéric Mitterrand’s remarks, might we be seeing an emerging readiness of European governments to recognise, and promote, the cultural values of high-end luxury products?
There does seem to be one interesting analogue. Governments have long supported audiovisual works, on the premise that they are both economic products, offering important opportunities for the creation of wealth and employment, and cultural products, which mirror and shape our societies.
The same could also be said of luxury products, which form an increasingly visible and rich thread of our cultural fabric.
Hanne Melin is a competition and IP lawyer based in Brussels.