Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture

By Alex Hughes; Keith Reader | Go to book overview
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Further reading

Bhabha, H. (1994) 'Interrogating Identity: Frantz Fanon and the Postcolonial Prerogative' , in The Location of Culture, London and New York: Routledge (essay by Fanon's leading post-colonial exponent).

Caute, D. (1970) Frantz Fanon, New York: Viking (essential reading).

Gendzier, I. (1973) Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study, New York: Pantheon (a critical study and biography).

Farge, Arlette

b. 1941, France

Feminist historian and journalist

Focusing in the main on the eighteenth century, Farge's work foregrounds women's history. Her publications include Le Miroir des femmes (Women's Mirror), La Vie fragile: violence, pouvoir et solidarité a Paris au XVIIIe siècle (Fragile Life: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth-Century Paris) and Dire et mal dire: l'opinion publique au XVIIIe siècle (Public Opinion in Eighteenth-Century France). She works at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris.


See also: feminist thought


France's leading role in the international fashion industry, and the special status of fashion in French society, make this apparently epiphenomenal activity of significance in understanding French culture. Fashion also has an economic importance which belies its ephemeral nature, and as political and social correctness spreads in France the work of some designers has provoked polemical comment.

It is useful to consider what is understood by la mode in France: first, fashion is the industry and society of la haute couture; second, fashion as le prêt a porter is what is worn by people in everyday life; third, fashion is informal leisurewear, or streetwear-clothing worn as a kind of inverted badge of social distinction. Each of these reflexes of fashion has produced companion corpuses of clothing in cinema and photography especially, and also in literature. The place of fashion in French intellectual life is indicated by the way in which it has inspired literary critics and philosophers such as Roland Barthes and Gilles Lipovetsky: Barthes formulated a semiotic analysis of a corpus of articles from the women's fashion magazines Jardin des modes and Elle, elaborated in 1967 in The Fashion System (Système de la mode), and Lipovetsky has interpreted modern democracy in the light of fashion and trends.

Arguably the first connotation of fashion in France is haute couture. Historically, European and American fashion has been dominated by French style and expertise, and an important component of the contemporary image of La Maison France (France plc) is her production of luxury clothing, perfume, accessories and toiletries. Not for nothing is the fashion, wine and spirits conglomerate owning Givenchy (Louis-Vuitton-Moët-Hennessey or LVMH) now one of France's largest companies: fashion houses are controlled by big businesses-YSL is owned by the petrochemicals giant Elf-Sanofi. Surprisingly, given the high profile of the industry, fashion houses of couture-création (fabrication and design) number only twenty or so, of which only Azzedine Alaïa remains independent. The haute couture industry employs some 30,000, and overall (taking account of the production of prêt a porter and accessories) French fashion has an annual turnover of 20 billion francs. Contemporary French culture has been irrigated by the trickledown glitter of the fashion houses of Balenciaga (founded 1937), Balmain (1945), Cardin (1950), Chanel (1924), Dior (1947), Givenchy (1951), Lacroix (1987), Lapidus (1949), Nina Ricci (1932), Patou (1919), Yves Saint Laurent (1962)-and others-who, in


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