Fashion (Canada) - - Style Nostalgia -

Nostal­gia for the French stu­dent protests of 1968, or “Mai 68,” serves as a re­minder of what can, and should, be ac­com­plished to­day. By Clara Young

There is an enig­matic say­ing I en­coun­tered when I first came to Paris that con­founded me and still does to this day: “Sous les pavés, la

plage.” In English, it sounds like early Google Trans­latese “Be­neath the cob­ble­stones lies the beach.” What it re­ally means, though, is that when you rise up against the pow­ers that be, you make a kind of par­adise.

Each speck­led grey cob­ble­stone of Paris is a silent and sym­bolic re­volt. The last time these gran­ite cubes were lobbed at the riot po­lice in any great num­ber was on May 10, 1968. Some 20,000 strik­ing stu­dents marched over them through clouds of tear gas to the Sor­bonne, flip­ping cars, throw­ing Molo­tov cock­tails and thrust­ing fists and plac­ards in the air. For nearly three weeks, the stu­dents raised havoc and ul­ti­mately en­listed 10 mil­lion French work­ers for their cause. At the end of the month, Pres­i­dent Charles de Gaulle put his foot down. “Enough is enough,” he said, or, rather, “Ça suf­fit!” And then, like the last spi­ralling, fart­ing de­fla­tion of a popped party bal­loon, it was over. The utopia that the pro­test­ers had hoped to dredge up from be­neath the stones turned out to be just sand af­ter all.

The 77-year-old de Gaulle went on to sweep the June elec­tions—and with them ev­ery crumb of teen-rebel spirit that year. But even he couldn’t en­tirely snuff out the sparkle of that up­ris­ing a half-cen­tury ago. Now its em­bers have reignited.

Alessan­dro Michele feted Mai 68 in Gucci’s Pre-Fall ad cam­paign. Be­spec­ta­cled kids played hooky in shear­ling-lined jean jack­ets and Guc­cistripe ca­ble-knit cardi­gans. Dior plas­tered its run­way with Mai 68 posters and kicked

off the show with a sweater tantrum: a blackand-white knit that bel­lowed “C’est non, non,

non et non.” So­nia Rykiel, which has the truest rev­o­lu­tion­ary claim (the late founder started her la­bel in 1968), of­fered the Pavé Parisien, a cob­ble­stone-shaped hand­bag that some­one like Emma González might find use­ful in a pinch. The “soix­ante-huitard” an­niver­sary is the well­spring for this sea­son’s rad­i­cal-chic pol­i­tics. And the fash­ion houses have repack­aged it with such breath­tak­ing cyn­i­cism that it seems like there’s no ide­al­ism left from that far-off time. But Mai 68 has rein­car­nated it­self.

Like their Gal­lic cousins 50 years ago, Amer­i­can kids, too, have taken to the streets. Only, with the num­ber of school shoot­ings, Amer­i­can kids are de­mand­ing stricter gun con­trol. “The first im­pact of the re­cent gun vi­o­lence and school-vi­o­lence protests is that ma­jor Amer­i­can re­tail­ers are chang­ing their prac­tice of what they sell and who they sell it to,” says Jen­nifer Earl, a so­ci­ol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona who spe­cial­izes in youth ac­tivism. “There is a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion now about the role of pri­vate com­pa­nies in gun con­trol.”

Fash­ion ag­it­prop is one of many bull­horns for #Nev­erA­gain. Mil­lie Bobby Brown got up on­stage at the Kids’ Choice Awards wear­ing a Calvin Klein jean shirt with “Never Again” em­broi­dered above the front pocket. On the back were the names of the 17 peo­ple who died in the shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla. The #Nev­erA­gain hash­tag sug­gests light-years of so­phis­ti­ca­tion be­tween March for Our Lives and the naiveté of Mai 68. Yet what’s the dif­fer­ence, re­ally, be­tween churn­ing out anti-NRA memes and silkscreen­ing left-wing posters? Whether vir­tual or ana­logue, the mes­sage is the same, which is that the grown-ups have fum­bled and the kids must pick up the ball. But how? Mai 68 even­tu­ally mod­ern­ized the French: Its mythic cob­ble­stones paved the way for fem­i­nism and the low­er­ing of the vot­ing age from 21 to 18, but that didn’t hap­pen un­til the mid-’70s—many of the Mai 68 stu­dents were too young to vote in the June elec­tions. #Nev­erA­gain knows that marches, memes and fash­ion ag­it­prop mo­ments are noth­ing if they don’t ul­ti­mately turn into votes. If the adults are to lis­ten to them about gun con­trol, or pos­si­bly even other is­sues like cli­mate change and so­cial jus­tice, it will be at the polling booth. The kids are dig­ging hard for the sand be­neath the as­phalt. If they’re smart about it, it’s quite pos­si­ble they may find their beach.


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