Friday, January 6, 2012

1795 / 1975

1794: Robespierre, the beheading heart of French revolutionary Terreur, stood interrupted on the floor of the Paris Commune on July 27, agape as young men clad in grandma’s drapes and pink silk knee-breeches called an end to the session. With them was Eros, her laughing head intact, corpulent and singing in the People’s Chamber…the death-party was over. These scandalous cousins of the recently-departed brashly entered the scene in death-on-sight garb, true fashion outlaws, and they looked Incroyable.  The gig was up for Robie-baby; any cake eaten tomorrow would fall to the floor…
After Revolutionary foreplay came the orgy of bloodletting, the mesmerizing fever of Thanatos, and haute Parisians were suddenly liable for crimes of behavior, thought, and attire. Laborer’s trousers and tunics were the mandated Utopian uniform – Carhartt’s by decree. But this was Paris, not Peking, and counter-revolutionary forces dressed, if not to kill, then to maim.  Packs of Incroyables roamed Paris, dandies in brash silk jackets with huge lapels, their hair cut a lá victime, rough- chopped and short at the back, a shaggy homage to the barbarous shearing prior to the Blade. They hunted down Jacobin Terreuristes with overgrown ‘Hercules’ walking sticks, silk-clad thugs with clubs kicking ass.  Clockwork citrus?  Two centuries early.
Les Incroyables wore a confusing mélange of approved workingman’s cloth (for cravats and vests), that hairdo, loud jackets and exaggerated style.  Reminiscent of the old days, but different - this was fashion, not theory.  Their gals, the Mervelleuses, wore sheer faux-Greek muslin dresses over skintone body-stockings; hoop skirts were out, skin was in.  Their discos were illegal bals de la victime, entrée gained by proof of severed relations, the hand-stamp a red ribbon for your neck, curtsies replaced by sudden downward drops of the head, morbid humor for black times.
copyright Charles Gatewood, used with permission
1974: The idealistic youth revolution of the 1960s had changed everything, and failed. The May ’68 Situationist fervor in France, the Students for Democratic Society in the US, marched the road of Thanatos, devolving into violent rhetoric, vicious infighting, and ‘political correctness’ (to quote Mao). Their numbers thinned as moderate changelings turned off to the Rules, and again, the People’s Uniform sucked.  Early 70s Robespierres robbed banks and planted bombs, hardening into a supercorrect core, attracting no-one at all. Eros descended center stage on a hydraulic lift, amid swirls of smoke… Glam had arrived, a leopard-glove slap to the Weather Underground, who could not believe the true face of Liberty– sexual, personal, artistic – was before them.
copyright Charles Gatewood, used with permission
Predictably, Glam was received with horror, as ‘counter-revolutionary’, ‘hedonistic’, ‘irresponsible’; in other words, a success! Eros laughed as Vidal Sassoon chopped Rod Stewart’s hair a la victime, in his suit cut from grandma’s drapes, with ultra-wide lapels.  Vietnam had quieted, the Pill was finally legal, and the lures of sex and fun drew young eyes young away from the previously cool -revolutionary chic- just as in 1794. It is the oldest story, repeated; the force of creation, Brahma’s eternal inventiveness, becomes codified and boring under the preserving hand of Vishnu, until Shiva gets angry and kicks the whole thing sideways, making space for Brahma’s next good idea.
Busy with continual discovery, Youth forgets, but History remembers, and the big wheel of samsara goes round.

Cue David Bowie!
This article appeared in Men's File magazine #5.   Copyright 2011 Paul d'Orléans.

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