Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose


I don't know if I'm alone in thinking this but whilst I accept that everyone says the French are eternally chic, is this the case? My early experience was no. The French (and to be fair, German) exchanges that used to come to my school were about ten years behind in style (and this was in the 90s making my peers and I 11ish and we STILL noticed, bitchy girls school that it was), had scrotty teeth, on occasion b.o and the only national stereotype they stuck to was being moody and loafing about looking superior or depressed whilst sneaking off for fags behind the sports hall. Albeit this was school and we've all made sartorial errors but as time passes I can't say I've ever gone to Paris and been paralysed by the amount of style, grooming etc. There are of course people you stop and gawp at, wonderfully flung together outfits that have a certain je ne sais quoi but I have seen that in every great city in the world and yet that whole Gallic myth of chic persists.

We can all single out famous French beauties, Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel leading the pack, Bardot, Deneuve etc and the new crew aren't too shabby either (Vanessa Paradis, the Gainsbourgs) but I don't think it represents the general population of the country as a whole.  We might as well say British style is epitomised by Vivienne Westwood meets Christopher Kane meets Dame Judi Dench meets Lily Allen. Gosh, the mind boggles!  The inspiration for this post was three-fold, recently seeing the film L'arnacoeur (Heartbreaker to the uninitiated) starring Vanessa Paradis and Romain Duris, getting super excited about the forthcoming Gainsbourg bio-pic and the realisation that my go-to Summer style revolves around two breton tops (navy with white and white with navy stripes) accessorised with various scarfs, skirts and denim to bring variety but STILL!

The title of this post comes from an epigram by Jean- Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”). Literally “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” Or "the more things change, the more they stay the same" if you like.  The big French fashion houses have changed immeasurably over the past few decades, yes they still produce some 'classics' (Chanel tweed and ballet pumps for example) but would these idols we hold up like Coco and Mr Dior recognise them? Do we just cling on to the old ideas they introduced? I think we do.

French style is still perceived as classic..navy blue, Breton stripes, an artfully placed beret and there's nothing wrong with that but just 'being French' is enough to be a bit cool and do you know what? I don't think it's the style, it's the language, something ingrained.  Heartbreaker, if done in English, would have been a schmaltzy cheese-fest but instead was champagne frothy and fun.  The girl who's just as hot as you at the gym but is French (even though she speaks perfect English), the boys will go for her...I did a mini survey about this amongst the boys I know and apparently a French girl is always an extra ten points (so is a Swedish one interestingly).

Sure you can move to Paris, bang on about how much you love Isabel Marant and nibble your way round Laduree but you still won't make it.  I'm always comfortable in Breton tops because everyone thinks they're classic and they are easy peasy.  They are the die hard opposite of the try-hard trendy so can inspire you to play around with your accessories a bit more.  Coco Chanel first elevated the humble striped top to style status. In the 1930s she designed and wore a striped top with palazzo pants - a look she had adopted from French sailors- but I'm never going to be French, even if I wear 100 of them. In conclusion, there's nothing wrong with aspiring to a bit of Gallic chic but I think they could learn a little from us too so let's not be so hard on ourselves. This might be easier said than done after you've check out these hotties..
Charlotte Gainsbourg shot for Paris Vogue 2007

Another image from that shoot because I LOVE the suspenders
Audrey Tatou (the boy loves her)
Vanessa Paradis for Chanel
My ultimate French style icon..Marie Antoinette

And as potrayed in the gorgeous Sophia Coppola film...sigh...


  1. haha, you're right. loved this post! i have a lot of family and friends in paris and not all of them are as chic as the myth, but the majority knows how to dress up and look nice for every occasion.

  2. "Vanessa Paradis [pout, breathe, pout]" The French do have a certain...I don't know what. But they can be so French at times.

  3. Vanessa Paradis is always so stunning in Chanel ads. I like a bit of that mythical french chic. And I think I'm about the only person in the fashion internet world that thought Marie Antoinette was 2 hours of my life that I'm not getting back. lol!


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