Fashion is...

"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." - Coco Chanel.

This blog looks at fashion in its many incarnations, from the haute designers to the high street and from the trend-setters to the avid fashion followers. For this blogger, fashion is far more than the shirt on your back; it is communication, art, culture, anti-fashion, gender, revolution and resistance. It can instantly define or defy your identity. It is one of the most personal and unique things about you...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Bon Chic, Bon Genre

There is something so enviable about the French’s easy elegance when it comes to fashion. Parisians’ in particular exude an inherent aloofness, as though they decided what to wear as they lit their morning cigarette and managed to dress with it hanging carelessly from their lips. Au contraire, this expert sense of ‘undoneness’ is deliberate in its nonchalance and though it appears uncontrived there are some guidelines to looking guideless. The French are meticulous about their fit and proportions and have an inherent sense of shape; the word ‘silhouette’ is after all descendent from French history. Their clothes have a uniquely tailored appearance and it is unlikely that you would ever see a mademoiselle stuffed à la saucisson into too small jeans; love handles do not exist in the city of love.

Two wardrobe essentials that are commonly overlooked elsewhere yet are paramount to the French are footwear and outerwear. An overcoat is never an afterthought to keep warm; it is the pièce de résistance of an ensemble. An unfussy outfit of jeans and a t-shirt are injected with instant chic when teamed with a well-fitting jacket and the right accessories. In fact, the French are renowned for their beautiful scarves and luxurious handbags, which can add a colour pop and an air of distinction to an otherwise plain palette. In regard to footwear, the motto is to never sacrifice elegance over comfort. Perhaps in respect to their refined surroundings, sports shoes are considered inappropriate anywhere but the gym. Finally, jewellery is essential but not ostentatious.

Though Paris is considered a style capital, it would never be termed ‘trendy’. There always appears to be a ubiquitous vogue in the air—as though it was delicately whispered to each other in the streets—yet unlike other trend-centric capitals, there is never a homogenous uniform. Classic French basics are simply given a modern twist. Here lies the essence of French style: it is not based on a slavish devotion to achieving the latest ‘look’, it is grounded in the reasoning that to look your best you must dress for yourself. It is this aesthetic that garners seemingly-careless, Parisian panache easy to achieve. The art of nuance lies in the ability to not obsess over it. What’s important is to have the poise to feel stylish yet slightly off-beat, polished but not glitzy, and self-confident enough to understand that the true meaning of chic is being individual.

One French designer who wholly conveys this certain “je ne sais quoi” is Isabel Marant. Though she has been designing for the past twenty-one years, Marant took to fashion at her own pace and has maintained a relatively low profile. It was an organic process; she launched an oversized jewelry line in 1889, then by 1994 she had branched into clothing and her eponymous label was born. Now, at forty years old, the designer’s mini-empire comprises three boutiques in Paris, nine in Asia and on April 9th she opened her first New York boutique in the stylish Soho district. Unlike some of her megabrand neighbors such as Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, whose styles have been strongly influenced by the geographical diversity of their creative directors (German, British, American and Spanish respectively), her style embodies the very essence of Parisian couture. The Marant Mademoiselle is tall and willowy, wearing loose little dresses or slouchy pants with boyish jackets and bohemian knits, accessorized with a scarf, tousled hair and minimal make-up. Her laissez-faire attitude is also reflected in her refusal to use show-stopping theatrics on the catwalk and splashy editorial spreads, favored by high fashion. Yet, Marant is far from mundane. She makes real clothes which are accessible but infused with just the right amount of edginess. Her S/S 2010 collection saw very tailored jackets paired with dainty ruffled dresses and boho fringed boots. She doesn’t design according to trends and is not inspired by fictious or artificial muses; her collections draw on her childhood travels to Africa, Asia, India and the Caribbean.

Despite the fashion industry’s insistent pressure to expand, Marant is happy to stay small. She fears that she would lose her soul if the business got too big for her. Though designing is clearly an intrinsic part of her everyday life, fashion is not her sole raison d'être. Keeping her business small and manageable grants her the freedom to spend many tranquil weekends in her ultra-rustic log cabin (no electricity or running water), 30 miles outside of Paris with her husband (French handbag designer Jerome Dreyfuss) and four-year-old son, Tal. Marant’s carefree attitude brings to life the wonderful French phrase “Je voudrais flâner avec toi,” which roughly translated means “I want to stroll aimlessly without a plan.” This in turn sums up the French approach to style: it should be cool, classic and not too contrived.

Remember, life is a journey not a race, and in that journey there will no doubt be countless fashion faux pas, but remain calm- c’est la vie!

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