Gaddafi, Fashion Icon: Power Politics & Cool Couture

Frederic Monneyron, fashion sociologist, explains how Gaddafi uses his extravagant style as political propaganda.

Mehdi Atmani

March 10, 2011: Draped in a brown velvet robe, Gaddafi threatens the West on national TV. This latest threat triggers anger among Western leaders, but also this remark by Shimon Peres: "Who needs this Gaddafi person? He should go work for Dior instead."

The Libyan leader is not going to replace Dior designer John Galliano, but his love of extravagant clothes is well-known. In 2007 at the Chateau de Versailles, Gaddafi wore a bomber jacket and a chapka military cap to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his classic suit. Two years later in Rome, he paraded in a well-adorned colonel's uniform next to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. For more than 40 years, he has used his clothes as a prop for his persona, but also to support his political agenda.

Le Temps spoke with Frederic Monneyron, a prominent French sociologist of fashion to better understand the meaning behind the Libyan leader's ever changing wardrobe.

What is Gaddafi's style? His clothes are a means of political propaganda. Gaddafi always refers to black Africa and the Arab world through the colors he wears, as well as the prints. The fits are often inspired by what African kings wore. He plays off Islamic green and contrasts. Since he came to power, he's always had a conquering and pompous posture. The French anthropologist Gilbert Durand distinguishes three categories of outfits: mystical, heroic and synthetic. Gaddafi is clearly in the heroic category, and it's never a good thing when one category clearly dominates your wardrobe. Among people who favor heroic outfits, you find many schizophrenic and paranoid personalities who constantly feel persecuted. Gaddafi's outfit is that of Prometheus. And it won't change.

But has wardrobe his evolved over the past 42 years? His outfits have changed alongside political events. There are three eras. His early years, when he wore military outfits next to Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Syria's Hafez al Assad. At the time, he wanted to show he was a secular and revolutionary officer as well as a young rebel. He had style and the type of class that people who slightly stray away from fashion norms have. In the 1980's, during the Lockerbie bombing, he showed his support for terrorism wearing a white suit and a black shirt, the Italian mob look. In 2009, during the G8 summit, as Gaddafi was trying to be recognized as a mainstream international leader by his counterparts, he turned to a more traditional look, wearing a suit, but a white one without a tie to keep his originality. Today, to put it simply, his outfits express his megalomania. Gaddafi no longer dresses like a political leader but struts about like a king above all kings.

You say his clothes show that he belongs to Africa. What do they say about his relationship with the West? The businessman/politician suit still imposes its code all over the world. From China to the US, the suit-and-tie still prevails in leaders' wardrobes. They have all turned to western style. Gaddafi, on the other hand, has always rejected traditional power. His outfits show he rejects traditional codes, so he doesn't follow fashion norms either. And that includes those from the Arab world. Besides some emirs, all heads of state from the Maghreb and the Middle East wear suits and ties. Even Saddam Hussein put aside his military clothes when he was on official visits! Former presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia had adopted this form of traditionalism. But not Gaddafi. He dictates his own rules as a leader just like he does with his style. Whether wearing a colonel uniform or draped in velvet, he has always differentiated himself with perfectionism, by his love of details and accessories. This interest in his appearance seems extreme considering the people he deals with.

Gaddafi isn't the only leader who cares about his style. Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy do too, don't they? Western clothes, especially the suit-and-tie, don't say much about the level of interest leaders have in their style. They can in some cases show a certain class, but that's it. Berlusconi, Putin, Obama and Sarkozy all have their style. But let's not forget that clothes, no matter how well they're cut, fit over a body. And that's one thing you cannot choose.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Open Democracy

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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