Paris Is Burning: The Fire At Notre Dame Cathedral
If fashion is a global conversation, for many within this interconnected international community, its heart beats in Paris. Since the courts of the French kings, couturiers and ateliers have crafted the sublime into exquisite excess for Parisian style leaders such as Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, whose milliner and dressmaker Rose Bertin continued to make items for the queen, including her mourning outfit when her husband Louis XVI was executed, even while she was imprisoned before her execution by guillotine in 1793.
Through the French Revolution, the Second World War and up to the Paris shows of today, Notre Dame, where Joan of Arc was canonised in 1909, has been a constant backdrop to the city, surviving wars, revolutions and famines, since work began on the cathedral in 1160. Located in the Ile De Cite alongside the Seine, it is a symbol of France and an icon for cultural continuance, steadfast through change, challenges and tragedies. Anyone who has entered its huge doors, looks up, awe-inspired by the three rose stained glass windows, in part dating back to 1225, as well as the gothic architecture.
Yesterday, Notre Dame – a backdrop to so many of our lives, whether as tourists, travelling to Paris for fashion shows, or working in the city – caught fire and caught all of us in shock as we watched the devastation across our news, or in my case my social media, following updates from Parisian friends. All of us heartbroken, all of us unified in regarding this as a special, loved and valued space. The shock when commentators announced it might not survive the night was palpable.
This morning, the situation looks distressing, but survivable. Somehow by miracle, the three magical rose windows have remained intact, while the wooden roof was destroyed; but importantly, the building still stands. Funding to help repair the cathedral is currently at €600m, with fashion leaders donating half that amount.
“The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity,” LVMH said in a statement. Bernard Arnault’s family and his LVMH group announced it would donate €200 million (£173 million) to help repair the World Heritage-listed cathedral, whose spire collapsed amid flames that ravaged the structure last night. This pledge follows a similar €100 million (£86 million) donation from the Pinault family, who own the Kering luxury goods company. Kering chief executive Francois-Henri Pinault is quoted in French media that he and his father, Francois, had decided to donate the money to help with the “complete reconstruction” of the 800-year-old Gothic cathedral.
This is a tragedy for all of us, whatever our culture, our religion and our heritage, but to see two of France’s largest fashion companies unite in donations to support this iconic cathedral’s rebuilding, no strings attached, highlights that in these dark times, fashion can and will value and understand the importance of culture.