Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Horse: A power symbol in the French fashion industry

by Isabella E. Isbiroglu

“For a long time, moreover, the status of the horse stimulated strong feelings because it endorsed the identity of socially dominant groups and symbolized wealth and power, and also owing to the horse’s place at the heart of rituals and social differentation. All this made it the focus of interests both intellectual and affective, both passionate and partison.” (Roche, p. 2)

Hermes flagship, Paris

Andrew Roche explains in his quote the horse’s role in French society. He believes this figure symbolizes wealth in dominant groups. The Horse has been a part of French history for centuries and has remained to be a significant code in French culture that can be seen in the French fashion industry through design and symbols today.

Tom Roche explains that there are three main reasons as to why the horse has been significant in France. He states,
First, there was the need throughout society for the performance of numerous horse-related services; second, there was the pleasure produced by activities such as hunting, dressage, the schooling of horses and (slightly later) horse racing; and thing, there was the way that power was express in war.

Roche’s main goal of the article is to explain the horse’s relationship with France between the 16th and 19th century. Through this quote he points out that the horse has had many purposes in French culture including transportation, leisure, and war. He believes that understanding the relationship between horse and man helps us understand the world of social order through our own understanding of materialism.


The horse has had many functions in French culture such as hunting, dressage, the schooling of horses, horse racing, use in war, and for transportation (Roche). Horse racing is a momentous part of French culture. One region of France, Chantilly, is sometimes referred to as the “Capital of the Horse”, or at least according to journalist Jade Dalleau.

Horse competitions, hunting and horse racing have always considered to be prestigious sports. Why? Because these sports are expensive. Riding gear, horses and housing horses will cost a handsome sum of money. So it is only natural that the participants and spectators would attend and participate in these events in style. In many cases only the elite take part in these events, so they dress the part and use only the nicest of equipment.

Hermes and Gucci both started out as companies focused on horse equipment.Both companies branched out into the fashion industry expanding their luxury image. Even though they are mostly recognized today as luxury brands for apparel, they still have their image of traditional equestrian heritage intact. Both companies have sponsored horse shows and Hermes also still to this day sells horse gear.

Hermes horse gear

Any sport or occasion involving the horse usually has a certain dress code. Usually a rider of a horse wears riding boots, tight pants with chaps, a crop in hand, on occasion a quilted jacket, and a helmet. I should know because I used to ride horses myself. Due to France’s strong powerful and prestigious relationship with the horse, it is no surprise that the horse became a part of French fashion. Equestrian style is associated with aristocracy and wealth. The horse being the face of the equestrian world, along with its own attire (the bit, the saddle, etc), speaks to its audience.

Consumers want to feel like they are part of this elitist class, so naturally attire styled after the equestrian style or merchandise with a horse on it, makes them feel that much closer to that particular class. An example of this can be seen through John Galliano, the designer of Christian Dior. Galliano not only designed equestrian inspired pieces for his Spring 2010 couture show, but in his most recent Fall 2010 Ready to Wear show as well. Galliano took elements from the dress code associated with the horse rider and combined it with his own personal modern designs to create two beautiful collections. Models came out wearing side saddle skirts with crops in their hands in the Spring couture show. In addition, the Fall ready to wear show presented woman dressed in thigh boots, equestrian inspired capes, baker boy caps and blanket coats. (Mower)

Equestrian inspired Dior, S 2010

The horse itself is represented in numerous places. A horse and rider is the symbol for the brand Longchamp. Longchamp is actually a horse race track in France and has been called the “flagship” racecourse. In addition, we can see the horse on many of Hermes’ products like its ashtrays, bracelets and scarves. Hermes uses its history with the horse as a its main symbol because of the meaning behind this symbol. The horse to Hermes is tradition, luxury and ultimately power. It holds the traditional expensive ideals that horse riders and luxury consumers share.

Through examining the French labels Hermes, Longchamp, Dior and Gucci (French owned) it is evident that the horse is a symbol represented in French fashion. France’s history with the horse has been significant on its culture ranging from sports to leisure to war. Even in some cases, designer houses such as Hermes and Gucci, started out as caterers so the horse rider. The bridge between fashion and the horse is a strong relationship embodied through such brands and the representation of the horse they still carry with in their fashion brands. The horse is a dominant creature, assisting the French from transportation to fashion.


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