“Every woman in Paris is a living propaganda poster, the universal function of the Frenchwoman is to remain chic,” wrote one fashion journalist in the early 1940s. “Frenchwomen are the repositories of chic, because this inheritance is inscribed in their race,” wrote another. And as Vichy continued to toe the Nazi line about Aryan physical fitness, more French fashion magazines began focusing on exercise and diet for women.
Although not everyone in the world of French fashion fell in line with fascist ideas, it’s no coincidence that many did. After all, there are deep and unsettling parallels between the industry, particularly in Europe, and fascism’s antidemocratic aesthetic.
Both, for example, rely on a handful of oracular, charismatic leaders who issue proclamations to (select) crowds. Fascist leaders offered their followers the prospect of an enhanced, mythic identity — a dream of youth and beauty, the same attributes promised by high fashion.
Not that this is really an indictment of fashion. Fascism succeeded because it tapped into important human desires, especially the desire to be part of something exciting that transcends our ordinary lives. If fashion can satisfy those same desires without war or concentration camps, great.