A French saying holds that you should never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. But of course, that’s the only conversation there has been for months. On Sunday, after an excruciating campaign cycle, France heads to the polls for the first in a two-round presidential election. It was a toxic cocktail long before last night’s attack on the Champs-Élysées.
With 11 candidates and two seemingly clear front-runners—the center-left progressive independent Emmanuel Macron and the far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, with the socialist stalwart Jean-Luc Mélenchon making a strong sprint to the finish—tensions and passions are running high and the outcome is anyone’s guess.
Often billed as the “French Trump,” Ms. Le Pen is that and more: A lawyer by training, she is the second-generation leader of a party with a penchant for revisionist history and a very narrow definition of who is, or should be, allowed to be “French.” Leaving the European Union, aka “Frexit,” tops her 144-point political program. A savvy rhetorician, she has packaged voter anger into a pro-France, anti-Europe, anti-Islam, and anti-immigration agenda. That there’s also a Russian connection is clear, even if the details are anything but.
Few in fashion are willing to speak publicly, never mind printably, about the election’s possible outcomes. In private, one often hears broached the possibility of leaving France should Le Pen prevail. For Vogue, a scant handful of iconoclasts agreed to weigh in. Here are their views.
Simon Porte Jacquemus, designer, Jacquemus
“There’s this idea that fashion people operate in some kind of bubble outside of politics. The reality is quite the contrary: Politics are the stuff of every day. We walk through the streets every day. Politics are about life. Personally, I don’t think Le Pen will win. What upsets me is the fear that drives this conversation. Fear is the opposite of life, and to me [the National Front] is the party of fear. In that sense, there’s a parallel with fashion: If you give in to fear, you end up doing nothing.
“We saw the ‘impossible’ become possible in the U.S., so I guess that nothing is impossible. I just want everyone to do whatever it takes so that the ‘impossible’ doesn’t happen here. If it does, I will be here to defend the bleu-blanc-rouge: This flag belongs to us all. It really bothers me when people say they’ll leave France. I love my country, I like people in general, and I have always been interested in the social aspect of politics, so I’d become even more involved. Between the terrorist attacks and the American elections, there’s been a lot more discussion about politics this election year compared to previous ones and I really hope we’ll see a surge in the number of voters on Sunday. I’m even hopeful there might be a surprise—the good kind.”
Christelle Kocher, founder and creative director, Koché
“As a fashion designer, I’m hesitant to even touch the topic, but personally I’ve been quite concerned about the rise of extremists of all kinds. There’s this current of generalized anxiety running through Paris and especially the younger generation. What I do as a designer isn’t political per se, but what I try to do in my work, my shows and films, is celebrate the multiculturalism I love so much about Paris. To me, it’s so important to defend that. It’s a very simple message: It’s about the multilingual, peaceful coexistence of communities as well as the sharing that that implies. To me, creativity is about freedom: In my own way, I try to express values of openness and tolerance through Koché, and I feel the rise of conservatism is a threat to creativity both personally and in a larger sense. I’ve been listening to the debates and discussions nonstop and I have confidence in French democracy and French youth. On Sunday I’m going to be in my studio glued to the radio. I’m hoping that we will get out the vote and vote with conviction.”
Jean-Marc Loubier, CEO First Heritage Brands (Sonia Rykiel, Robert Clergerie, Delvaux)
“Any election is local, but the common link between the French elections, the U.S. elections, and this curious moment in the British Isles is big societal questions. The reason Western Europe and America have led the world for so long is because there was wealth, strong shared values, and faith in the future. Most recently, the rise of Asia has completely changed international relationships and the balance of wealth. So the questions France needs to address now is how to be international—not for survival but to increase prosperity at home and ensure that everyone, including newcomers, benefits. We’re living in countries where everyone wants advantages and they have a hard time accepting commitment. That doesn’t work: We need to be grounded in strong and shared values.
“Every country has its extremists. Right now, it’s open bar for any kind of negative reaction. If people look to outsiders such as Marine Le Pen, it’s because they think she might be able to change things, but Ms. Le Pen has only been able to harness discontent. She will not be elected, we rationally do not want or wish it, but we need her to exist because we are a democracy. Any leader must be able to address that discontent: What’s happening now has been building for the last 10 years. It’s an awakening for political leaders who would be states people.
“Protectionism is not the way to build a society or a country. Reality is much more complex. To have the power to affect change, a president must also have a majority in the National Assembly. For France’s next leader, the real responsibility is to pave the way for long-term evolution. We need to stop living in the short term in everything we do. Listening to people who don’t know what they are talking about and tracking their number of followers is no way to build a society. We need to find a way to accept differences, effort, and long-term benefits so we can look at the future with confidence.”
Source: TINA ISAAC-GOIZÉ
Vogue – http://bit.ly/2oTvdse