The middle class lowers the blinds in France

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There are names, brands, places that shine and fascinate until, without knowing how or why, one day they begin to seem gray and the next no one remembers them. Activist and writer Cory Doctorow has invented the word “enshittification.” Literally, this term refers to the process by which something turns into shit. Doctorow, with this crude expression, refers to the slow decline of digital platforms like Facebook. He could be talking about the crisis of the French clothing chains that flourished in the eighties and nineties of the last century, and that over time lost their luster. Some were the coolest, the coolest. The names of Naf-Naf, Kookaï, Camaïeu, Pimkie and others were part of the landscape of the streets of cities, large and small (the beautiful France, the postcard one), and of the shopping centers on the outskirts (the one known as Ugly France). Years passed, and competition from cheaper brands and chains like the Spanish Zara, changes in consumer habits and, finally, the Covid pandemic and the inflationary spiral, sentenced them. Some were dragged into suspension of payments. Or they have had to close dozens of stores. It is a crisis—that of the French chains that dressed the middle classes in the final stage of the golden era of the middle class in the West—that explains a fundamental social change. In the year 2023 alone, nearly 4,000 people will remain without employment in the textile sector, according to the latest report from the Alliance du Commerce, a professional organization for this industry in France. In four years, almost one in five clients has deserted. “Kookaïette… The new breed of chic and penniless young women,” said a television report from the late eighties about what was then the Kookaï phenomenon. The kookaïettes were the girls who dressed in Kookaï clothes. The video, taken from the extensive archive of the National Audiovisual Institute, seems from the perspective of 2024 to be a nostalgic lament for a world that will no longer return. A kookaïette declares in the report: “The 40-year-old woman who needs a sweater to wear under a jacket, even from Chanel or Saint Laurent, will come here to find it, just like the 16-year-old girl who is looking for a T-shirt or sweater. To go out at night».

Generational relief

Those kookaïettes are now over fifty and their daughters and sons no longer dress in Kookaï, which last autumn was acquired by the French group Antonelle-Un jour ailleurs, nor in other brands such as Camaïeu, which has been in judicial liquidation since last month. September. They buy, young and old, online, or second-hand clothes, in multinationals such as Primark, H&M or Zara, or in cheap chains such as Action or Zeeman.Already native, medium-sized, medium-priced and for The middle class has found it difficult to resist the new times. In reality, the crisis reflects a broader phenomenon that feeds the recurring French neurosis about eternal decline. It is what Jérôme Fourquet and Jean-Laurent Cassely call, in the essay La France sous nos yeux, “the end of the common home.” or “dismediation”. That is, the erosion and disintegration of the French middle class. Some fall and others rise, and what was a more or less compact block is fragmented into disparate ways of life. On the one hand, an upper-middle class that opts for more expensive and distinctive products (be it the gourmet hamburger, or the SUV electric). On the other, a lower-middle class that is losing its footing and consuming cheaper products (be it McDonald's and kebab, or the ubiquitous Dacia Duster automobile). There are two versions of everything today: the premium and the discount. And in the middle, a growing void.Here you can consult the latest Letters from the correspondentFollow all the information on Economy and Business on Facebook and xor in our weekly newsletter

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