March 28, 1990 12:00 PM

A Roguish Way to Express Rage

France’s Robin des Bois rouses with fun, not fury

It’s not Babar Goes to the Left Bank, but it seems almost as entertaining. With an unerring sense of theater, the papier-mâché pachyderms of Robin des Bois are kicking up dust along the boulevards of Paris. They have tusk-tusked heedless shoppers at ivory-purveying jewelry boutiques, trumpeted their opposition to a proposed damming of the Loire and herded together to support a trunkful of other ecological causes-even dispatching a delegate to Prince William Sound to survey the oil slick left by the Exxon Valdez.

Robin des Bois answers not so much to the Napoleonic Code as to the gallant, if roguish, example of its namesake, Robin Hood. When an ivory merchant could not be dissuaded from plying his trade, the group repeatedly padlocked his front door. Members stole public documents arguing the merits of an animal experimentation center and then saturated a replacement set with black ink. Says co-founder Marlene Kanas, 27: “[Robin Hood] did not always act legally, but he always acted legitimately.”

Until now eco activism has worn a dire face: Earth Firsters accused of driving chain saw-chewing spikes into 300-year-old redwoods, Greenpeace jousting on the high seas with missile-firing submarines. In five years Robin des Bois has grown to 2,000 Gauls who hold that stagecraft and style can project the message better than taunts and terrorism, that wit is the soul of protest. When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species added the elephant to its protected list in Lausanne, Switzerland, last year, three masked observers mounted the podium holding a sign that said simply THANK YOU. “We don’t want to depress people with pictures of slaughtered elephants,” says Kanas, “because depressed people don’t have energy, and they need energy to help our cause.”

Indeed, the planet enters the new decade under a cloud of despair: There is a sense that we have already ignited a chain reaction to ruin. But even as Armaged-donists point to the perils of global warming, an army of concerned citizens is mobilizing across the U.S. and around the world to turn down the thermostat. The environmental movement has descended from the rostrums to the streets, the riverbanks, the corridors of city hall. Billion-dollar food companies are retooling their packaging, cities are recycling trash, and Hollywood, whose air, after all, has been fouled for years, is taking the message prime time. In America, where 75 percent of the population considers itself environmentalist, eco chic has become eco shout.

Meanwhile, Robin des Bois keeps searching for what its president, Jacky Bonnemains, 43, calls “positive alternatives.” Its Paris boutique offers rejuvenated thrift-shop jackets, coats with faux-fur collars and trinkets made of tagua, a South American palm whose plum-size seed passes for ivory. Not haute couture, but just wait. Recent visitors included Christian Lacroix and Chanel model Inès de la Fressange.

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