Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How To Dress Like A Parisian (It's Kind of Like Dressing Like a New Yorker)

Ines de la Fressange. (New York Times)

Personally, the idea of dressing "like a Parisian" comes across at first as a little out of date to me. The cross pollination of cultures goes way back. To me, modern style dictates that you mix it up. H+M with Hermes. Some little cotton thing with a great jacket or wrap and jeans, and some killer shoes. A simple shirt with amazing jewelry. I like the combination of all cultures and styles. Straight Euro is far too stuffy. In my opinion, great American designers have the freshest looks, the French are the most sophisticated and have the most skill, and the Italians have the most beautiful fabrics and cuts, so there it is...what you really need is balance. Current designers borrow from the same resources that drive anyone in fashion... #1, and the most important- history, followed by the great couturiers, and most definitely, Levi Strauss. (There does not exist a designer of note who does not make, appreciate, or wear blue jeans.)

The French and Italians were influenced greatly by the Asian cultures since back in the early 1700's, when beautiful silks, cuts, and colors were introduced via the the expansion of the shipping trade. I love the casual look which people like India Hicks ( have brought forward in the combination of British upper crust, (which usually shows the ease of things slightly worn in), and the wonderful lightness of the colonial islands- linen, cotton, colors- think India and Africa mixed with Mustique.)

Designers were influenced, primarily via a shift in culture, though film and music, to more earthy influences in the late 50's to late 60's. Americans invented "hip". There is no hip without reference to Elvis Presley's leather, Audrey's capris, the counter culture, hippies, Easy Rider and Woodstock. What was on the street went onto the screen, and to design houses. They are still there.

Back to history: Look at the success of Ralph Lauren. He sells a romanticized idea of what he envisions American upper class should look like. It is a culmination of studying the English and their weekend hunts, African safari (usually intended for the very wealthy), mixed with movie stars of the 20's and 30's in biased cut satin gowns and black tie, the Great Gatsby, and the American cowboy.

Every time I go into a costume house to look for historical costume ideas, there is a rack of clothes on hold for Ralph Lauren or some other designer. They are renting costumes from films made from the early 20's through the 70's, waiting to be knocked off. So, at the end of the day, millions of consumers are wearing a copy of a piece originally designed by an uncredited costume designer from early Hollywood, who had studied world history to create the perfect piece. One of the most influential people on fashion in the past 30 years is someone you have probably never heard of. The brilliant Milena Canonero. She did possibly the most important costumes, in terms of broad public trends, EVER. They were for the beautiful film, Out of Africa. Suddenly, everyone was out there in pale linen, gauzy lace, and fine beige cotton. In reverse, then; to do the film Evita, a large amount of the French designer clothes, (Dior, etc., for Madonna/Eva Peron), were rented or copied from Palace Costume in West Hollywood, a virtual museum of fine historical clothing. You see? It's all a circle.

But, I digress. Back to the Parisian...

Ines de la Fressange understands great style. She knows how to mix it up, she lives it, and she has done a book on it. This is a short video by Ms. Fressange, an ex model who used to be the face of Chanel. I always felt it was because she really looked like Coco Chanel. She also has the look of a someone with a bit of mischief in her. She, like Chanel, is very outspoken. Karl Lagerfeld came along, putting everything in the accessories closet on her all at once. A term I am now coining- Exhalted Vulgarity. He made biker boots. (Breathe, Coco, breathe!) They were actually pretty cool. He made his mark, she became famous, and then he dropped her. Two strong egos, one podium. C'est la vie.

Ines in classic Chanel

After the (unfortunate) gilding of the lily

Ines has more than moved on. She's now in her 50's. Happy and unapologetic about it. She is the embodiment of French style, and was awarded the Legion d"Honneur because of it. The link below shows a bit from her new little red book. Simple classics, but always useful. It is a base for one's imagination. Anybody can do it for any amount of money, but the basics have to be there.

Of course, the best piece of advice for great style is to smile and not take any of it too seriously. That is the key to everything.

La Fressange seems to understand that very well.