I was sitting at the Opéra-Comique in Paris looking forward to the Mozart concertos. Next to me perched a lady dressed in a chinchilla hat, chinchilla cape and wearing a huge JAR brooch. The scent of Giorgio Beverly Hills walloped me in the nose. Nearby stood her security man, who was guarding the brooch like a hawk its eyas. The lady pointed to me and whispered to her husband, “I know that woman. She’s a real plouc.”
Plouc? Was ist das, plouc? So I started my investigation, beginning with the Académie Française, the guardian of the French language. It says the word dates back to the 19th century but only entered the academy’s dictionary in 2009. It defines a plouc as a boor, a rube or someone who’s uncouth. The Larousse dictionary says the name might come from villages in Brittany, many of which begin with Plou.
This story first appeared in the March 18, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It was beginning to sink in what a plouc is. I suppose one of the first times I saw a plouc was when I stepped into the office of The Donald with a distinguished French count. Trump, his long platinum hair almost covering his nose, greeted us warmly. He said, “I want you people to know that this is my private office and it’s constructed of the finest marble from an entire quarry in Italy.”
The count said, “Oh? Which quarry?”
“I don’t remember,” Trump harrumphed.
So who else?
Let’s begin with more money men. Take Stephen Schwarzman, who graciously gives $100 million to the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue but insists they carve his name into the facade. Why don’t they simply put a third statue of a lion in front with his face on it?
Then there’s the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, who’s a brilliant investor but why the Cherry Coke and his unquenchable thirst for publicity? He can’t stay out of the press.
Dear Warren has charitably pledged to give his billions away before he dies, but he doesn’t seem to have any problem with paying William Johnson, the chief executive of H.J. Heinz, a golden parachute of $200 million once Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital buy the ketchup company. Of course they say Johnson deserves the millions because of the great job he did running Heinz — but I’ll bet my schnitzel he was pretty well paid while he was there too. How much are Heinz workers getting?
British banking scion Nat Rothschild’s behavior in the Bumi mining company affair certainly qualifies. First he tried to fire the entire board — and then they fired him. One plouc deserves another, no?
Rothschild joins a gaggle of plouc bankers like Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Richard Fuld and Charles Holliday who all seem to make millions even while the economy and housing market burn.
I don’t mean to sully the rich — who doesn’t want to be one of them, after all? Not all of them are ploucs, just like not all politicians are. Still, most politicians seem pretty plouc-y these days. Take that Italian funny man Beppe Grillo as the prime example — he may be a clown, but his sect is a force to be reckoned with. Or Mayor Bloomberg, who’s spending a fortune to build two towers in the City of London (maybe he’ll move there after his third term expires?). Bloomberg might be worth $22 billion, but all he eats in Manhattan’s finest restaurants is steamed green beans and raspberries — and then complains he can’t afford the bill.
Then there’s Washington. It’s hard to pick just one plouc out of that lot in the dreary House of Representatives, but Nancy Pelosi certainly fits the bill — she is said to get her hair done every morning and is immaculately dressed, an elected official desperately trying to be chic. How about just worrying about getting things done in the Never-Never Land of the nation’s capital?
Where else is plouc-y? Well, Vegas, naturally, but also Palm Beach, Acapulco, Saint Moritz, Monaco and the Grimaldis (how Princess Grace is missed; the place has lost all allure), and even England, which is gradually moving to Ploucville. The poor Queen. And let’s not forget Hollywood, which they may as well call Ploucywood. Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and all their ilk are talented but definitely plouc-ized. And Gerard Depardieu and Russell Crowe show that it isn’t only American celebrities who are ploucs.
The more I thought about it, the more things I discovered. Designers tripping over their own egos when they should realize they’re simply designing body coverings — and have to sell them. Lawyers — just look at the Martha Stewart trial involving Macy’s and Penney’s. It’s the battle of the retail ploucs.
There are plouc flowers, like the Phalaeonopsis orchid that makes every house look like a Seventh Avenue showroom; foods, such as mounds of caviar; restaurants, like Michael’s in New York, where people are more interested in being seen than the food — and which is so loud it’s like a high school cafeteria; behavior, including superiority and entitlement, and toys — yachts and private planes, for instance. An Arab prince has a golden throne in his (and I don’t mean in the bathroom). (Speaking of Arab princes, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is definitely a plouc for complaining that Forbes underestimated his wealth on its billionaires list — they think he’s worth $20 billion and he claims it’s $29.6 billion. Really, what’s a billion here or a billion there?)
Maybe the strong foehn coming down from the Swiss Alps and melting the winter’s snow was affecting me, but I came to the realization that ploucs are all around.
Even I’m one — and proud of it.
Are you a plouc?