It seems to follow a clear pattern that in any given language, words are created because they are required by people using that language. Thus, in Australia we have the word daggy, while Italians created the word diva. The French, of course, invented chic.
I attended a Francophilic fundraising trivia night last night — perhaps inspired by last week’s Bastille Day or the recent Tour De France — which invited guests to dress to the theme. The result was largely a sea of stripes and berets. The winner of the costume award wore an outlandish contraption, including cork headdress, designed to transform her into a bottle of Moet et Chandon Champagne. Many points for originality and effort, not to mention discomfort! (For the record, I hinted at a film character by pinning a photobooth film strip and a Zorro mask to my blouse as brooches. Can you guess?).
Given the French reputation for classic, smart styling, it’s amazing the unfashionable stereotypes that we draw upon when attempting to conjure the true “mode” of France.
French women, in particular, seem to be stylish by default. Historical figures or contemporary stars: they know what to wear and how to wear it (and “it” is rarely a striped t-shirt, it seems).
But “chic” is not a formulaic style, have you noticed? The way French women dress is occasionally quirky, often simple and sometimes whimsical. And this difficulty in pinning it down, I think, is the reason why we struggle so much to imitate it, whether for a fancy-dress occasion or in day-to-day life.
It’s also the reason why they have developed in France a lovely saying to describe this intangible quality. Because when it comes to French women, they have a certain something… I don’t know what….
(Sadly, I don’t have many details about the images of chic women in my photos. The two women in Paris at top were photographed by legendary photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, and the picture of Charlotte Gainsbourg appeared in Elle magazine).