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French dressing: Getting the Paris look

Paris has long been the undisputed capital of style. As Uniqlo launches a collection with a Gallic accent, Emma Akbareian examines the essence of the bon chic, bon genre look

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s greatest style icons, past and present, are French; think Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Marion Cotillard.

While France is known for many things – great wine and even better food – above all else it’s the long-reigning sovereign of style.

That Paris is the fashion capital of the world is a fact hard to dispute if you happen to find yourself there during fashion week. The combined effect of the world’s biggest fashion houses and the muses, models, celebrity friends, press and fans that gather around the show venues, makes for a very stylish spectacle.

While the presence of many of the biggest and best known fashion houses, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton, doesn’t hurt the country’s style kudos, the behemoths that these labels have now become are based on an inherent sense of style that makes the French way of dressing so admired.

Inès de la Fressange is one such icon of Parisian style who has this look nailed, her most recent endeavour is a collaboration with the high-street store Uniqlo. Her collection is made up of everyday staples; tailored shirts, chinos, slim-cut jeans.

“I love the navy blue jacket from old sailor times,” says de la Fressange. “It’s the jacket for when you wake up on a bad day, tired and lazy but you put it on and you look good and it makes you feel good.”

Instead of following fly-by-night trends, the essential components of the quintessentially French look are relatively easy, perhaps because many of them are derived from menswear: “You need simple easy pieces you can throw on without thinking about it and still look good” says de la Fressange.

A smart jacket over a tailored shirt, or Breton stripes and flat ballet pumps, make up the standard “bon chic, bon genre” uniform that defines classic Parisian style. Not forgetting immaculate skin and artfully tousled hair.

It may sound easy enough to achieve, but the careful carelessness of this style of dressing can be tricky to create, with fit and fabric playing an important part in getting the look just right.


The Breton stripe

They might be a bit of a cliché but that doesn’t stop Breton stripes from being enduringly stylish. Originally devised as uniform for the French navy 150 years ago, it wasn’t until 1917 when Coco Chanel utilised the marine inspired design in her collections, that it became universally fashionable. Since then, stripes have never quite left the scene.

Most typically, the style comes as a white cotton top with navy horizontal stripes, but the remit has now expanded to include dresses, skirts, jumpers and accessories. Those trusty stripes can be relied upon to preserve a sense of style, but boulangerie Paul has taken it even further – giving its éclairs a Breton-striped makeover in honour of Jean Paul Gaultier’s retrospective at the Barbican.

The accessories

When it comes to accessories, there are two buzz words to keep in mind – practicality and minimalism. It’s no coincidence that one of the most famous bags in the world, namely the Hermes’ Birkin, is French. The design came about following a conversation between the Hermes chief executive and Jane Birkin who was bemoaning the difficulty in finding a practical leather weekend bag. The result is an iconic accessory, simple in shape and style, but indisputably practical and classic.

French women are a fairly practical bunch because when it comes to shoes, there’s rarely a tottering heel in sight. Instead, the staple footwear of choice is a ballerina pump. For an authentic French pair, try Repetto.

The jacket

As the focal point of a Gallic-inspired look, the jacket is key. It can be a classic blazer, perennial favourite the biker jacket, or even a little Chanel-inspired tweed number. This is where it is worth splashing a little cash given the timeless nature of such a garment. Think of it as a long-term sartorial investment, comfortably outlasting all trends and that can be dressed up or down.

The black leather jacket from Freja Beha Erichsen’s debut collection for punky French brand Zadig & Voltaire is a great statement piece. Although Danish, Erichsen’s collection, and this jacket, is a masterful example of the je ne sais quoi of French insouciance.

The beauty

Any Francophile worth her croissants will have paid a visit to a French pharmacy. Unlike the outposts this side of the Channel, French versions are hotbeds of under-the-radar beauty buys.

Luckily, you don’t need to resort to a Eurostar ticket to get your fill as many of the very best are now available here, too. Bioderma, and more specifically its make-up removing Micellar Water, is a cult favourite since its arrival in the UK last year to a frenzied reception from its extensive fanbase.

Other French dressing-table favourites include Avene’s skin-cooling mist Eau Thermale and Klorane’s dry shampoo.