The fire of Notre-Dame de Paris, on Monday, April 15, produced a sideration of a magnitude as rare as sudden, seizing the whole France and many other countries beyond the borders, in Europe, in America, in Asia. While the embers were not yet extinguished, very early spontaneously manifested a willingness to contribute strongly to the huge reconstruction project that was announced. Everyone will have noticed it, it was the luxury families who launched the movement: the Pinault family, the Arnault family, the Bettencourt family. These are the three big names in luxury in France, those who contribute to developing the soft power of France, its culture, its influence on the world markets, through the well-known luxury brands Kering, LVMH and L groups. ‘Oreal.
Everyone will have been struck by the significant amount of donations announced, whose accumulation exceeded one billion euros just 48 hours after the tragedy. These sums are up to the fortune, immense, donors, but also to the extent of the probable cost of the work. They are finally at the level of the exceptional symbolic load of this fire that almost landed a building embodying all the history of France, its roots, its culture, its identity, whether one is believer or not.
Why has luxury come to the forefront of the will to refuse the announced destiny and forces of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame? Let’s eliminate from the outset theses that want to see there as communication or tax strategy. It’s bad knowing the creators of these groups. In reality, the causes are of another nature, linked to the deep function of luxury and the specificity of French luxury.
Luxury, a religious origin
Luxury is the industry of excellence, but it started as a sacred activity. From time immemorial, in all the countries where luxury activity has been able to develop, the best craftsmen have mobilized themselves to invent, create, produce exceptional products, made of the most precious rare materials, and over which time work was not counted, presents priceless offered as a sacrifice to the gods, either to reconcile them before the battle, or to thank them at the height of victories, or good harvests. The very high price of these products is precisely what makes it possible to be offered in sacrifice, that is to say in the literal sense “what makes the sacred”. That is why the temples were covered with gold, the churches adorned with the most beautiful objects, and the artists quick to give the best of themselves for this purpose.
After the gods came the demi-gods, the nobles, the dominant castes, to whom nothing was refused, the privilege of birth. The French Revolution put an end to the privileges of birth, but not to the right to access the beautiful, the sublime by virtue of its own fortune, that is to say, of its destiny and its means. The communist revolutions themselves began with a phase of eradicating inequalities, but the countries that lived them were forced to revive their economies by unleashing the bridle to entrepreneurship and innovation. In other words, to liberalization … which recreated inequalities on arrival.
However, luxury feeds precisely inequalities, because it is necessary that some have more money so that one can pay the objects to the height of their preciousness. All over the world, the rising social classes want to enjoy their efforts and to be recognized. Hence the remarkable growth of the luxury industry.
Even if it is real that this sustained growth results from the successive arrival of waves of new rich, yesterday of Japan, then of Russia and now of China, it would be a mistake to see luxury consumption as the search for look, bling bling. This is true in a first stage of the life of the customers but very quickly they reach a deeper truth, that of the cultural and sacred dimension of the objects that they buy so dearly. Because the paradox of luxury is that it raises buyers, not only in the perception of others by the known value of products and logos displayed, but also by offering them a way out of everyday life, thanks to the possession of a room incomparable that condenses all spirituality, the living culture of a country, its history, its art.
Cultures of the place, the time, the sacred
Luxury, particularly in the French style, is a sine qua non for luxury to be able to condense the uniqueness of a place, a historical heritage, and a filiation. This luxury makes space, long time and blood the basis of its influence and its quest for supremacy. Hence the importance of “made in”, the cult of origins, the respect of the founder and his legacy. Luxury brands, like Hermès or Chanel, are always referred to as their most precious heritage because this durability rooted in a place of origin and carried by a creator is what bases their “non commercialism “, the refusal to consider oneself as mere trade products.
In reality, the luxury industry is also sacred: its brands speak of their “icons”, they build “cathedrals” in capitals around the world, dedicated to the magnificence of the brand, the development of the community of believers, who adhere emotionally. No other industry values the concept of heritage as the foundation of its uniqueness: luxury brands project themselves even more in the future, as they have the assurance of their past that distinguishes them, as it confers distinction to the adepts of the brand.
We then understand the deep affinity between this sector and Notre-Dame, a heritage of French culture, of its history, where the national sacred has been concentrated for eight centuries. Luxury is the showcase of France, its ability to produce objects derived from art from brands of elegance fed by their history and places. France, which represents a history and a terroir common to these brands, has for symbol some monuments erected to the rank of world heritage, in the first rank of which figure Notre-Dame.
Families, not brands
It will not have escaped anyone that luxury homes are the new patron of art today. Yesterday the patrician families of Florence or Venice encouraged the arts, just like our Kings of France before the State guarantees the culture and its diffusion to all by developing museums, art schools, academies, etc. But the welfare state can not do everything. In addition, art has become a very speculative market where the prices of paintings or sculptures are flying away, because these pieces are unique, therefore objects of rivalry for their possession by museums around the world, including those, now countries emerging.
As the state is limited in its spending, luxury has become an essential patron of art. He has the means and the know-how. This is also part of a long-term approach known as artification aimed at transforming non-art into art. Luxury is the product of art. Hence the multiplication of collaborations with contemporary artists of all countries, the sponsorship of grandiose exhibitions hymn to fashion designers, or the creation of museums such as the Louis Vuitton Foundation.
This changes the perception of luxury objects themselves. As such, it was natural that the large luxury houses go from the outset to help this great symbolic house that is Notre-Dame. The luxury sector owes a lot to France, he had to give it back to him.
Lastly, it should be noted that donations were made in the name of the families themselves, Pinault, Arnault, Bettencourt … certainly through their foundations of which it is the function, but not through their notorious marks. For the symbolic significance would have been quite different. The highlighting of brands is “trading”, it is reintroducing the merchants of the temple when the building itself had a foot on the ground, and where any idea of short-term interest is banished. It would have been especially derogatory to the sacred …