Let’s all pray that the spotlight has finally moved away from the addicted bad boys who have dominated the news in recent weeks. But let’s also pause to notice that when bad behavior is dominant, dignity gains in currency.

Even those of us who don’t follow fashion have, over the years, seen countless videos of countless famous (or infamous) designers taking their bows after a season’s collection has sauntered down the runway on the backs of women less human than otherworldly. The more the models are treated like canvases, the more the media seems to notice. The more outlandish their headgear or eye make-up or footwear, the more likely the magazines that matter will run photos priceless for their publicity value. It’s the apotheosis of objectification, and no one in the industry has ever done much to try to countervail against it.

But at the height of Paris Fashion week, after an ordeal that makes a Eugene O’Neill play look like something Walt Disney threw together for pre-schoolers, the House of Dior paused to think about what mattered.

“The heart of the House of Dior, which beats unseen, is made up of its teams and studios, of its seamstresses and craftsmen, who work hard day after day, never counting the hours, and carrying on the vision of Mr. Dior,” noted Sydney Toledano, Dior’s CEO, in salute to the petits mains, or “little hands,” of the atelier.

The mention was groundbreaking—and probably would have been more than enough for those unsung heroines and heroes who labor to bring to reality the visions of those for whom reality is often more rumor than daily fare. But it seemed not to be enough for the 64-year-old fashion institution that began just after World War II, when Christian Dior declared an intention to “free women, to give them back their sparkle and joyfulness.”

At the show’s finale—a moment that might have belonged to an incorrigible and misguided icon of the industry had House of Dior not fired him, some 30 white-coated, petits mains appeared on the catwalk, many visibly in tears. The viewers’ reserve was broken. The applause rose to a crescendo and many of the audience rose to their feet as well.

Last week in Paris, the “little hands” were saluted for their gigantic contributions.  Undoubtedly many of those women and men had resigned themselves to being faceless in a world that is supposedly about beauty and grace. It was a beautiful, graceful, and dignified moment, not the least diminished by what inspired it.  Corporate Europe reached for its heart rather than its pocket when an awful thing happened. May others who ride on the backs of the “little people” be chastened and inspired by that act.


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