Beauty in the Service of Commerce (Die Schönheit im Dienste des Kaufmanns)

Die Fackel

Dear Loos[1],

you are going to give a talk against the idea, which could only exist in Viennese minds, of creating a Viennese fashion, this last word of the stupid Viennese idea of freeing itself from the yoke of Parisian fashion¸ that well-known yoke which has the peculiarity that one has sighed under it for so long, and can now only sigh after it. You know that this hypocrisy is the combination of the unfitting patriotism of well-situated ladies of fashion, and the upstanding business instinct of a number of tailoring firms, and no one knows better than you that the decision to create a fashion is considerably bolder than was the decision to create the world, so the result is unlikely to justify the creator’s self-praise that it was good. Certainly, the Viennese fashion would bear comparison with the screwed-up state of the world today, with the difference that fashion, if it wants to survive honourably, must be so dishonourable as to smuggle in Parisian models under Viennese labels, whereas the world continues to market its original model under the old name, and has the cheek to still maintain that contemporary human beings are created in the image of God. The world which we have now got to learn to accept, is, I am sure you would agree, just the German rubbish with which you are familiar, which used to try to conquer the world market under foreign names, until it was forced to declare itself as Made in Germany. Fashion is going about it the other way round, it claims, bare-faced, to be German, even though it’s still French really, and when it’s rumbled, it turns honest, and tries hopelessly to conquer the world market as a Viennese product. It would be easier to convince the world that the one, true God was German than to invent a Viennese fashion, which is about as likely as growing a field of corn on the palm of your hand, in contrast to our ability to stamp armies out of the ground, which everyone knows exceeds all expectations. I don’t think I need to say any more about the madness that pursues such organic things as fashion as a national obligation, and even regulates it in a military decree. You will also be aware that this symptom of a dementia heroica cannot be separated from the overall picture of that Viennese emotional disorder which desperately wants foreign tourism, but only the tourism bit, and tries to get rid of the ‘foreign’ with insults. Your talk will anticipate one of the craziest Viennese carnival jokes which was ever risked in time of war, hunger and pestilence. A committee, this hated word which we have not yet got round to abolishing, has its root here in ‚comical’, so it is well-liked, had the idea of commissioning a play to promote the local tailoring industry, in which the tighter-fitting Viennese fashion triumphs over the wider skirts of the Parisian fashion, which is represented barely adequately by a better-dressed Cinderella. The author chosen to write the play, which was to be as distinctive as the Viennese fashion, was an experienced Viennese legal correspondent, whose relationship with the muse was just as legitimate as his relationship to fashion, and whose special competence to contribute to the promotion of local industry is adequately demonstrated by the fact that, although his real name is Feigl, he has succeeded in marketing himself under the more presentable name Melbourn. He will now realize that the time for incognitos is over, and that Viennese fashion has always been more modest about it than Viennese poetry, by trying conversely to hide the Melbourn behind the Feigl, and is now overcoming the Melbourn, wants to be nothing but a Feigl, who used to blossom in secret, but can now catch the world’s attention. However, and whether or not you believe that the world will no longer mistake Austria for Australia, or Feigl with Melbourn, the fact is, and remains, that a man was called upon to dramatically celebrate the victory of Viennese fashion, who knows cosmetic luxury from the designs of the extra edition cartoonist, and worldly life from district court cases in which so-called ladies of easy virtue are charged with leading a life for purposes of setting up forbidden encounters between private persons, to frequent dens of iniquity, and to have maintained networks of relationships in the fleshpots of the big city. It is not for me, who only collects the material for the future cultural historian, it’s for him to explain the puzzling fact that in Vienna, in the war year 1915, there was still enough time and desire for such antics, when the seats in the stalls only costed 30 crowns, and that 84 ladies of the higher aristocracy and Viennese society agreed with the actresses appearing in Herr Feigl’s play, to only wear Viennese creations, so that this day in the German Popular Theatre gives one an overview of Viennese fashion. But what I want to recommend to your attention is not even the grotesque fact that the ladies of the higher aristocracy can think of no better way of recovering from nursing the wounded than to grasp the opportunity to be fashion models of bad taste, sandwich women for the spirit of Feigl-Melbourn. What makes me interfere with your talk is the insight into a phenomenon which the current discussion of the question whether one should be allowed to make fashion during the war, revealed to me. This question is being seriously posed, without those interested being able to agree on the answer that one should make neither war nor a fashion. The person who posed the question is the Infant Maria de las Xieves de Braganza de Bourbon. This most charitable lady, who was not inspired by the demand to give gold for iron, to make the sacrifice to also lead by example with the gold which is silence, demanded that fashionable ladies should give the wool which they need for their appearances, to the soldiers instead, and give their mite priority over luxury. The question whether the aesthetic continuation of the life of ladies, that is, superfluity, is not in a deeper sense more necessary for humanity than necessity, would take us to a philosophical realm to which it would probably be unprofitable to lead the Infant of Braganza and the patriotism which she represents. One would encounter little understanding, and a great deal of indignation, if one were to maintain that a beautiful woman who still has the courage to dress well, in great times, thus provoking the condemnation of the Infantin, does more for the general good, on which the happy naivety of beauty wastes no thought, than by the sacrifice of unpicking her clothing to make bandages. She does not even have to respond to the purely logical objection that even the Infantin most willing to make sacrifices still contributes too little if she just wears a nurse’s uniform, and does not donate everything she owns to the patriotic cause. On the other hand, public stupidity could not save her from the reply that it would be particularly unpatriotic to forego luxury at this time, because the tailors still have to make a living. She gave the only correct answer, that one should order uniform trousers from the tailor for the same value, and that bakers’ products, similarly, should find their way into the belly of a poor soldier, not, as has so far been the case, that of a beautiful lady. The Infant was quite right to say that both interests could be satisfied in this way, and that it gives the ladies the opportunity to sacrifice themselves for both the fatherland and the economy. In general, you can’t deny that where the Infant is right, she’s right, and that for the money which one spends to preserve the tailors and bakers, one really could buy goods for a good cause, for which, as the Infant again correctly says, the government can really not provide everything. Despite this incontrovertible correctness, Countess Berchtold sticks to her opinion that it would be a crime to relinquish luxury, because the tailoring firms also want to survive. ”I, and with me a lot of other ladies,” says Countess Berchtold, ,”feel an obligation to not abandon our dressmakers and other suppliers at a time in which they have particular need of orders so that they can give employment to their workers. It would be highly irresponsible to not realize that we have to consider the common good, not just our own taste and opinions.” She rejects wide skirts in these great times, because she finds them inappropriate; she would ,,definitely not wear any Parisian models”, but she will not be prevented from ordering costumes to her heart’s content, not to look good, but rather so that the Viennese dressmakers don’t do too badly. So Countess Berchtold, and a total of 84 ladies of the higher aristocracy, are not in the least inclined to do without fashion out of patriotism, but they wear it as social policy. They don’t ask themselves, „How do I look in this?” but rather, “How is my dressmaker doing?” They are all patriotic anyway, when they support the struggling local, not the foreign, firms. “Is it not the first duty of every patriot,“ Countess Berchtold asks herself as she tries on a dress, „to only promote that which benefits the fatherland?” If you are going to get involved in a discussion with the intellectual inadequacy that thinks it can decree a fashion, don’t overlook one thing: that this lack is only a part of that great void, out of which the entire new-German, German-Christian attitude to life springs. We eat so that the landlord has something to eat. We drink so that the wine dealer is intoxicated. We dress ourselves so that the tailors keep warm. We raise our hats to our hatters. We let our suppliers order goods from us. We take a ride because the coachman has not yet had any passengers today. We serve the instruments. We are the subordinates of our bureaucrats. We smoke so that we can give a smoker a light. We are victims of our own charity to an extent which far exceeds the demands of the Infant. We consume so that the producer can consume. We don’t eat to live, we live to eat. We don’t live to eat, we live so that others eat. We die to eat. We don’t eat, so that those who must die have something to eat, so that we have something to eat. We dress ourselves so that those who dress us can dress themselves. We do without wool to live for wool, and so that those who have to die for wool should have wool. You could say that it’s a man’s duty to clothe the tailor and feed the landlord. But is there anything less social than a beautiful woman in front of the mirror? She has nothing in front of her but herself, and the rest of the world is nothing to her but the imagined collective of those who will admire her. No! She does it for charity. She makes herself up as a matter of social policy. She must give business to the supplier, whose workers would otherwise earn nothing. It may well be necessary to deny the meaning of life as a matter of strategy; you can declare that a woman cannot be beautiful as long as they are still fighting in the trenches. But to demand that she be patriotic in front of the mirror is high treason against beauty, and makes patriotism ugly. Is it not desperately sad that even this is an example of my conviction that the means of life have made a prisoner of the meaning of life? Another quick layer of make-up so that Rosa Schaffer[2] looks good! But have you caught me ordering another coffee while I have been developing these ideas for you, with the generous motivation, to please the coffee roaster? In none of the many currently divided cultures do the people so raise the conditions of life to its contents, or do they so much serve their servants, or be so much the slave of their slaves, or dive so head-first into serfdom, and still retain the intellectual freedom to despise the culture of the Muscovites. But is there a more shameful serfdom than that under which we live, in which even the female body, to avoid bowing to the yoke of Parisian fashion, subjects itself to the requirements of the Viennese dress-makers? Thank God I can’t prove it macro-economically, but I don’t believe that the seamstresses would suffer distress if the ladies didn’t feel obliged to care for them. It says here, „Art in the service of the businessman“, which means that it is just the contemptible ornament of his business. Beauty is at the service of the dress-maker. No, life itself is at the service of foodstuffs, and we eaters are feeding them. The shopkeeper doesn’t satisfy our needs, we satisfy his. It’s from this kind of mental configuration that a world war arises, from the deep immorality of a life which passes in a hopeless mixture of feelings and consumption, without having the courage of its own needs. It’s from this, not the problems of Alsace or Galicia, do you not finally see that? Few are as well-placed as you to understand. In the debate which is the reason for your talk, I recommend the introduction of a triple madness, to your attention. We ought to design a fashion: that is just the national support for a lack of taste which has become megalomaniac. We should wear nothing so that the soldiers, who are sacrificed for wool, are kept warm: that is the postulate of a severe overstimulation of the nerves due to the great times. We should buy beautiful clothes, so that the dressmaker can dress well: that is an uncurable case; that is the state of our thinking! That such gorgeous absurdity be uttered under the patronage of noble ladies might convince you that our contemporary society provides no protection from the enemy who threatens to destroy instinct and culture, even on its most inaccessible front. I can’t see anything which speaks for the endeavours of slavery. For myself, I take the liberty of preferring one lady who openly lusts after Parisian fashion, who proudly refuses to submit to a costume examination of her selflessness, and who does not let her decision to be beautiful depend either on whether a state which wants to go to war can adequately supply its soldiers, or the well-being of her suppliers, to 84 self-sacrificing, patriotic or business-friendly ladies, whose station of birth has not protected them from attending Herr Feigl’s production!

Your K.


[1] Adolf Loos, architect and friend of Kraus. Opponent of ornamentation.

[2] Cosmetic company, like Chanel or Esthe Lauder

Author: Karl Kraus

Published in: Die Fackel Die Fackel KrausWeltgericht1 Kraus Judgement Day I

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