Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Je ne sais what?

It is a bad time to be commenting on 'style' - whatever that is - after Britain fell in love with French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and the bevy of glamorous French Mesdames ministers who traipsed to London last week. As one newspaper commentator, commenting on the Gallic charm offensive, commented: "Since when did Britain become such an easy lay."

When I first came to Paris I refused to buy the cliché that French women are keepers of some mysterious 'Je ne sais quoi' that bestows on them more inherent style and elegance than the rest of us. It was not jealousy; to my just-off-the-ferry eye the majority of them looked no different to the majority of us. It was, I decided, a clever and self-fulfilling trompe d'oeil by our Gallic sisters. We believe they are so much more stylish and elegant than we are and, since looking good is also about confidence, quelle surprise they are.

I have only two things to say here about the three main women hailed as French style icons during the London visit; Carla Bruni is Italian, the glamorous justice minister Rachida Dati is the child of Moroccan/Algerian parents and Rama Yade, the beautiful secretary of state for human rights was born in Senegal. So, if they have some innate, as opposed to acquired, ability to be chic it has curiously little to do with France. Secondly, how could they fail to look good? They were dressed in Dior. You would have to be pretty set on looking like a bag lady to ruin a designer classic.

Still, this 'Je ne sais quoi business' has got me thinking because, let us face it if there is some secret to looking good we want to know what it is. Plus, after Channel hopping for a few months, I have noticed a difference between the appearance of British and French women. Frustratingly, I cannot put my finger on it, which I suppose makes it a genuine 'Je ne sais quoi' for me.

I am still tempted to dismiss it as a figment of British imaginations: the majority of my clothes were bought in London; my hair is cut in London; my 'style' such as it is, and it is nothing to write home about, is according to French friends "So British". (As far as I can see this conclusion is based ont the fact I am a "Pale Anglaise" who wears hats.) If anything I make less effort with my appearance than I did when I worked in an office in London. Then I come to London and my English friends say: "Oh you look so French." I say: "Kensington High Street. Actually."

Does it matter? Not unless you are a rainforest.


Dumdad said...

And the men carry handbags over here. Or so I was told but I haven't seen much evidence of it. I try to show that the British male can be chic as well by wearing flares and funky jackets. I think I've succeeded....

Parisgirl said...

...and Noddy Holder yellow platforms as well, I hope. You must be the very epitome of sartorial elegance, Dumdad.

Working mum said...

You say they cannot fail to look good dressed by Dior. Well, there was an Englishwoman at those state functions, dressed in couture: three words - Duchess of Cornwall!

Parisgirl said...

Working Mum, somehow I don't think the 'dead-bird on the head' hat was Dior!