Has Paris Fallen Out of Love With Luxury?

Eiffel tower in Paris on a sunny day

A city once so intrinsically linked to luxury, opulence and the finer things in life, may be taking a turn in the complete opposite direction. Thanks to a new generation gen Z’ers and the millennials who are attempting to keep up, things are changing in Paris, for better and for worse. In many ways, it appears that Paris has fallen out of love with luxury and is turning towards convenience, American culture traits and the ever growing disposable nature of the world we live in.

Even though Paris is home to a whole host of Michelin starred restaurants and inexpensive brasseries featuring hearty French dishes, more and more, the residents are turning towards fast food and frozen ready meals. Of course America still holds the record for the most amount of McDonald’s eaten however France is very close behind in just third place! Japan comes in second which in itself is a bizarre stat since France and Japan are considered two of the healthiest countries in the world, even with France’s love for baguettes, croissants and pastries. Fast fashion is up next, only a decade or two ago, Parisians would have been more inclined to shop in independent boutiques or designer stores. Yet, by todays standards, you’re much more likely to find the locals wearing fast fashion brands such as H&M, Zara and Mango. These shopping habits even translate into the weekly grocery shop. Where before Paris and France in general, was known for buying their bread in the bakery, their meat at the butchers, their dairy from the cheese shop and their fish from the fishmongers, the large chain supermarkets such as Monoprix have really taken over. There’s less need to visit those local artisans and make the extra effort to go to more than one store, when the large chain supermarkets have almost as good produce, under one roof. Of course, it’s still very much a part of the culture to visit your neighborhood suppliers, particularly the boulangerie (bakery) to get your hands on the freshest bread possible however it is no longer a necessity.

Parisian bakery, boulangerie full of bread

Coming back to fast fashion, it really has a lot to answer for. Trends have barely come off the runway before these big international conglomerates grab the chance to copy the design. Their copycat version of the expensive runway garment comes with a budget friendly price tag, looks almost exactly like the original and there will often be more choice of colors and sizes. It’s hard to blame Parisians for wanting to spend less, particularly when it’s so accessible to them. Yes, it’s hard to blame them but it is certainly diminishing Paris’s connection with all things lavish and luxury. If the city keeps moving in this direction, it would be a strange thing to imagine what the future holds for the city of light.

Thanks to the recent political and social movement of the yellow vests, even the word “luxury” has become a gros mot across the city. Gros mot literally translates as big word or fat word and is often appropriated to vulgarity or swear words, giving you an idea of the new meaning of luxury at this point in time in Paris. Saturdays, once a day for shopping and treating ourselves to some retail therapy have been relegated to Sunday status. It’s virtually impossible to enjoy a day out in Paris on a Saturday due to the violent protests and subsequent metro closures, delays and road blocks. Most recently, the stores of Longchamp, Bulgari, Hugo Boss and Lacoste were all burgled and looted on the Champs-Elysées with graffiti rubbing salt into the wound which read “Thanks for the cashmere.”

Another tagline that has been used by the protesters is “Le Luxe pour tous” translated as luxury for everyone. This particular line was used on Rue Saint Honoré, another hub much like the Champs-Elysées which is known for its luxury stores and designer goods. In fact, any kind of luxury in general is being targeted in Paris, even the director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is finding it challenging to find sponsors for his new exhibition which unfortunately has luxury as its core theme. So why is luxury being targeted I hear you ask? The answer is simple. The desire and love for luxury goods has been embedded in French society for so many years and finally the less wealthy who feel abandoned, rejected and even taken advantage of by the government are revolting back in the harshest way possible. This is their demonstration of their own rejection and hatred for all things luxury – something that is only obtainable by the well off. It’s a controversial topic but it’s not hard to see why the revolution has erupted when Paris has for so long pushed out the undesirables towards run down suburbs which has even been given their own general term for any kind of suburb “banlieue” a negative connotation.

Yellow vests, gillets jaunes protests in Paris

But luxury is fighting back and fighting back in the only way they know how. It’s through their local artisan chocolate makers on every neighborhood street corner, it’s through the strawberry tarts and chocolate opera cake that call out to you from the baker’s window display and even from the sign in the cheese maker’s shop that promotes specialty butter brought in from Mont Saint Michel. If luxury really is to disappear from Paris, it won’t go down without a fight, after all, luxury is a part of the Parisian lifestyle and breaking a habit of a lifetime is easier said than done.

Article Commissioned by Mod'Art University of Shanghai

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