A new book that exposes the darker side of the French fashion industry is sure to ruffle a few feathers.
'The Most Beautiful Job in the World' is a product of academic Giulia Mensitieri's PhD, which offers a very damning view of the way the fashion industry is run. It looks particularly at the working conditions of young creatives, who, for example, are paid in vouchers or clothes, rather than receiving a proper salary.
The book – which has not yet been translated into English – has already had a strong response from the French fashion industry, both from big names disagreeing with Mensitieri and from those who relate to the book, having personally faced this exploitation.
The book claims that France's second most-profitable industry – which is worth £15 billion – exploits most of the junior creatives that keep it running. Mensitieri's four years of research involved putting together 50 case studies of workers who she felt had been exploited. In her findings, she touched on how the prestige of working for certain companies or designers results in the feeling that it is acceptable for workers not to be paid sufficiently and for companies to escape usual basic regulation.
'In spite of its economic power, fashion is ruled by a contradictory rule: the more a job can accumulate prestige and claim a symbolic and material consecration, the less it will be paid,' she told iD France.
One of her case studies included a stylist who was mostly being paid in vouchers for designer clothes rather than receiving a proper salary, meaning she was living on a friend's sofa, couldn't afford her phone bill and was eating fast food every day.
'She was wearing Chanel shoes and carrying a Prada handbag, being flown across the world in business class,' Mensitieri told The Guardian. 'I never would have imagined that she was in the situation she was in.'
Another case study was a woman who worked as a fashion journalist for a glossy magazine who had her colleagues turn against her and was then shunned out of the industry. She talked about the 'violence' of the fashion industry: 'Once you're out, you're out.'
In her interview with The Guardian, Mensitieri explained that due to the fiery nature of the claims, she was a little apprehensive ahead of the book's release.
'I was a little bit scared when it came out. It’s quite a strong renunciation, even though that was not my goal. I’m an anthropologist, not a journalist.'
However, her aim was to prove that other types of exploitation do exist in this industry.
'When we think of exploitation in fashion we think of sweat shops abroad or sexual harassment of models. But that’s not what I was interested in. I was looking at the creative side: stylists, make-up artists, young designers, interns, assistants. What I really want to make clear is that exploitation exists at the very heart of the powerfully symbolic and economic centre of the Maisons de couture; the big luxury brands. But it is a different form of exploitation.'
Yet of course, making such strong claims about the industry as a whole has already been met with a little friction. Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, for example, rebuffed the report and said that fashion was just like any other industry, describing it as 'a family'. Others have criticised Mensitieri for not having any real statistics to back up her claims and have taken aim at the fact that all but one of the case studies presented were off the record.
She has, though, had the opposite response too. Mensitieri told The Guardian about people who have written to her after reading the book, having since realised that they were, in fact, being exploited: 'They say that, now they’ve read the book, they began to see the big picture and little fragments of their own experiences.'
There is sure to be a big reaction from within the fashion industry about 'The Most Beautiful Job in the World', but the question is, can Mensitieri's findings result in any real change?
This story first appeared on ELLEUK.com.