Watching the spire of Notre Dame fall live on television was something I doubt I’ll ever forget. One of the most famous buildings in the world gutted, almost irreparably. Thankfully, the cathedral will be rebuilt. It must be. As one of the most important pieces of architecture in the world, it is vital that it is not left to crumble.
That may well be, but how does this relate to fashion? It is widely known that the majority of the funds raised, now in excess of £650 million, came from private donors, with only a fraction of the cost being footed by the government. Many have heralded this as evidence of capitalism facilitating charity. But cynically, these are tax deductible donations, by at least 60 percent, so the French government will be footing much of the bill.
As the owners of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Arnault and L’Oreal donate a cumulative total of roughly £300 million, the French government pays £180 million. The PR and clout provided to those who run vast empires built on the exploitation of workers on poverty wages across the world give the money they insist they could never pay to their staff to a French cathedral. Except they aren’t, given much of it is offset in taxes.
The fashion industry likes to paint itself as bringing joy to the world, with exciting new designs and social commentary that you can wear. Behind this veneer are sweatshops, exploitation, environmental devastation and greed. It is a shame that a Christian place of worship, a religion partially-founded on anti-elitist gospel and the righteousness of respecting one’s peers, will be renovated with money generated through exploitation.
As the profits of the fashion industry continue to grow far beyond the means of those on its lower rungs, the vulgar display of wealth that are the donations to the cathedral reeks of neoliberal insincerity. The state provides a subsidy for what amounts to little more than a PR campaign. Meanwhile, those working within the industry receive limited state support or rights, for fear that jobs will go somewhere else more accommodating to exploitation. The French should rebuild Notre Dame. If the government is paying for it one way or another, it should not be an advert for unethical fashion brands in the process.