The reason “France is France”, says John Lewis-Stempel in UnHerd, is almost entirely down to Louis XIV. In his 72-year-long reign, the “Sun King” turned the country into the world’s leading tourist destination that we know today. There’s the obvious stuff like culture (Louis supported Molière, danced in ballets, and founded the Académie d’Opéra) and architecture (he transformed Versailles from an “obscure hunting lodge” into “the most imposing gaff in the world”). But, inadvertently or not, the monarch’s opulent taste transformed French industry too.
First, fashion. Before Louis came to the throne, Spain dictated European style and most Frenchmen wore dark clothes year-round. But the Roi-Soleil wanted glamour: he invented high heels to boost his 5ft 4in frame, implemented a bi-annual court dress code that championed ruffles and ribbons, and banned non-French fabric. By the 1700s, a third of the population worked in textiles and his “radical fashion reforms” established France as the capital of haute couture. The beauty industry prospered too. Louis was terrified of washing – he apparently had just three baths in his life – so doused himself with perfume instead. At one point he was commissioning a new scent for each day of the week, helping the French perfume industry “to rule the atmosphere”. The boozy king also “quaffed champagne daily”, causing local alcohol businesses to fizz, and reinvented French cuisine. Without him, France would be nothing. “Not a bad result for a guy in heels.”