The French call it chic, Brits would call it smart. But somehow the term ‘chic’ has been adopted for sounding ever so chic actually. It is a love affair and fascination with all aspects of French style that has been keeping the world busy persuing style in the name of ‘chic’. But recently the term chic has been so plagiarised that anything with a hint of style is being described as such. So I would like to start my own Country Lane campaign to safeguard this very specific French word.
My own introduction to French chic started as a small girl when I was taken by my French mother to Paris where we met her friend for lunch. This was the first time I can recall meeting this lady who would play a big part in my childhood and would come to define my understanding of French chic. I can remember her wearing a Mackintosh raincoat, could have been Burberry or Aquascutum, she was also wearing a Scottish kilt no doubt from The Scotch House (sadly no longer in operation but was the must go to destination shop for all Europeans wanting their own British ‘chic’), no doubt a cashmere sweater, her handbag had an Hermes scarf tied to the strap. Forgive me the rest is a bit sketchy. Suffice to say she made a huge impression on me because she dressed unlike any English ladies back home. As I grew up I would stay with her every time I went to Paris and her style remained constant despite the ebbs and flows of the ever evolving fashions that hit the world in the seventies, eighties and nineties. She was my first introduction and eventual benchmark of French chic. So how did she define this for me? She wore classic but elegant clothing that always had a nod to current trends. Her clothes always fitted her beautifully, this is key to defining French chic. My mother will always say that everything has to be well cut and tailored, otherwise ‘pret-a-porter’ altered to fit correctly. She was very faithfull to the same pieces of jewellery that she wore with everything. She often wore an Hermes scarf folded and tied at the neck. She had great deportment. Her perfume was unique to her but no doubt from one of the great French perfume houses. But her innate sense of chic was not just apparent in her dress style but also in her lifestyle. Her elegance was evident in all she did and in her home. She was a great cook and would entertain frequently and it was always a treat to be a guest at her table.
My other great source of chic observation was my late grand-mother’s neighbourhood in Paris. She lived in the ‘6eme’ St Germain-des-Pres, round the corner from two of the greatest cafes in Paris: Le Cafe Flore and Les Deux Magots, to walk by was to observe Parisians young and old all exuding style and chic. Sadly this is not so much the case today: I would suggest a trip to Bordeaux where to my delight I recently saw French ladies exuding the same chic and style that I remembered from my childhood visits to Paris.
Ines de la Fressange, in my eyes the perfect example of a modern chic Parisian, has recently published her book with the English edition due out April 6th: Parisian Chic Look Book: What Should I wear Today? Reading this is a reassuring joy as it shows how contemporary women can claim fashion and importantly dress for the everyday and for special occasions but with a heavy dose of Parisian flair and chic. There are no controversial edgy looks (keep this for the complete fashionistas she might say), but easy to wear effortless looks with a nod to contemporary fashion and with added style. The book presents six chapters with different dress dilemmas or recipes as Ines de la Fressange calls it ranging from what to wear to meet your bank manager to discuss your overdraft to what to wear on your first Tinder date, all underlined with great humour and fashion advice. I also love her top twenty fashion mistakes and no-nos: no designer head to toe look which would condemn any true Parisian as this requires sacrificing your own style. How true! No over revealing of flesh otherwise you stray into reality tv territory and many other style advice gems. So thank you Ines de la Fressange for your book and all your charming advice, order your copy now I say.
So Country Lane’s guide to modern chic:
- classic but never boring
- requires refinement and flair, not always a given but crucial
- buying the best quality within personal budget, no frivolous shopping but careful thought out purchases
- effortless and presentable, no scruffiness
- knowing how to best dress your body: highlighting the advantages and covering up the perceived flaws
- making sure that clothes always fit properly
- not slavishly following fashion, being stylish or a die- hard fashionista does not equate chic
- confident in making personal style choices
- outfits are beautifully coordinated with all elements of an outfit complimenting
- accessories are carefully chosen, simple and of the best quality
- the devil is always in the detail: no scuffed shoes, grooming simple and polished, clothes pressed
- chic also is an attitude that carries over into personal lifestyle
- deportment and good manners go hand in hand with true chic
- have an understanding of culture; most Parisian women are up to date on all cultural matters and can you give the low down on the must see art exhibitions, films, theatre and books to read
Chic icons include: Diana Vreeland, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, C.Z. Guest, Wallis Simpson, Catherine Deneuve, Coco Chanel, Carolyn Bessett-Kennedy, Nan Kempner
Modern chic icons include: Ines de la Fressange, Anna Wintour, Emmanuelle Alt, Nathalie Massenet
Modern chic icon in the making: Alexa Chung for having her own unique style and so looking forward to seeing how her style evolves as she gets older.
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All images courtesy of Pinterest.