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Emily in Paris
Still from Emily in Paris, 2022

Paris’ ‘chic’ status revoked as thousands of shoppers queue for Shein

They were either hunting for papier-mâché two pieces or looking for some kindling to burn at one of the city’s next demonstrations

Last weekend, thousands of French people in zebra-striped flares and pleather bustiers queued outside Shein’s pop-up store in Paris for a chance to buy some zebra-striped flares and pleather bustiers. The fast fashion juggernaut opened a temporary site in Le Marais that was attended by 8,000 shoppers, debunking two of the greatest myths that collect within style writing: A) that Parisians are chic and conferred some kind of God-given appreciation of beauty at birth and B) that people shop fast-fashion because they’re too poor to do otherwise. Perhaps they were on the hunt for papier-mâché two pieces or perhaps they were – as writer Salome Wagaine suggested – looking for some kindling to burn at one of Paris’ next demonstrations. After all, a halterneck bodycon made from literal fossil fuels is cheaper than a pack of firelighters. Quite economical!

A scientific analysis of the queue – watching the videos on Twitter for a couple of seconds – also seems to suggest that Shein is not the Gen Z kryptonite that it positions itself as. The bystander footage shows a couple of quite geriatric faces standing in line… maybe they were unaware that Shein has free delivery and that waiting in line for hours is a waste of time. The pop-up – which has previously arisen in Birmingham, Bristol, and Cardiff – took place in the shadows of an Extinction Rebellion die-in, with a couple of activists splayed flat on the street. “A real social and ecological aberration,” the group said of Shein’s project, while shoppers diverted their gaze, faces non-plussed, clapping guilelessly. 

The brand also set up a short-lived location in the so-called City of Lights during the SS22 fashion week, which was the same season that Extinction Rebellion stormed onto Nicolas Ghesquière’s “grand ball” in Paris’ Passage Richelieu – making clear the eco-anxieties that surface across fashion’s high-low spectrum. The desire to spend, engendered by high fashion brands, has a knock-on effect on those purchasing fast fashion alternatives. And so perhaps Paris has become a symbolic tinderbox for those kinds of tensions, and perhaps Shein is sticking its tentacles into its fissures. As Shein continues its pop-up tour in an attempt to elevate brand perception and lure in more customers, click here and here to see the true price of £2.40 bodycons and the human costs that get bound up in fast fashion.