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Revolutionary upheavals have substantial repercussions on the luxury goods sector. This is because the luxury goods market is ever-changing, highly competitive, and a source of considerable profits. Yet it is also fragile, given its close ties to fashion, to the imperative for novelty and the short-lived, and to objects or materials that act as social markers, intended for consumers from elite circles. However, this very fragility, related to fashion’s fleeting nature, can also be a strength. When we speak of fashion, we speak of inventiveness and constant innovation in materials, shapes, and colours. Thus, fashion merchants become experts in the fleeting and the novel. In his Dictionnaire universel de commerce [Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce], Savary des Bruslons assimilates ‘novelty’ and ‘fabrics’ with ‘fashion’:
[Fashion] […] It is commonly said of new fabrics that delight with their colour, design or fabrication, [that they] are eagerly sought after at first, but soon give way in turn to other fabrics that have the charm of novelty.
In the clothing trade, which best embodies fashion, talented merchants are those that successfully start new fashions and react most rapidly to new trends, which are sometimes triggered by political events. In 1763, the year in which the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the Seven Years’ War, the haberdasher Déton of Rue Saint-Honoré, Paris, ‘in whose shop one finds all fashionable merchandise, invented preliminary hats, decorated on the front in the French style, and on the back in the English manner.’ The haberdasher made a clear and clever allusion to the preliminary treaty, signed a year earlier. He transformed a political event into a sales argument; how could anyone be any more fashionable? During the American War of Independence (1775-1782), hats ‘in the Boston manner’ and parures ‘in the style of Philadelphia’ were abundant. The relationship between fashion, politics, and clothing reached new heights during the French Revolution.
Jacques Savary des Bruslons, Dictionnaire universel de commerce…, Paris, Veuve Estienne, 1741, entry ‘Mode [Fashion]’.
Gazette du commerce, Paris, Prault, 1763, No. 1.
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