As many of you may know, I recently finished my degree in French and Management at St Andrews, and it’s an area of my life that up until now hasn’t been shared on le blog. I thought it was a shame that the work I spent hours researching and writing would never be seen by anyone but my professors, so I decided to adapt part of my dissertation for today’s blog post. I have always been fascinated by the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of French women’s style and the political implications of fashion. Classes I took during my year abroad in Paris on cultural construction, national identity and modern mythologies also inspired me. I combined the two areas for my dissertation, titled The Fashionable French Woman: France’s Allegory of Liberté, following the image of La Française through the design periods of Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent and into the twenty-first century.
The dawn of the twentieth century, the death of the corset, the allure of Chanel and the ‘années folles’ incarnated the freedom of this new vivacious France. Following years of oppression and occupation in the Second World War, the 1950s brought La Française dressed in Dior’s New Look and armed with the right to vote, creating a renewed liberty of luxury and femininity as France rebuilt itself as a nexus of culture and women’s emancipation. With the sexual revolution, the fashionable French woman’s style and sexual autonomy reflected France’s social progress. Modern France created a modern French woman whose very existence was the epitome of freedom. This is packaged as her ease, her ability to live entirely to her own pleasures. She does not care what society thinks; she is the complete individual, content with herself and free from others’ expectations. A mosaic of style icons, pop culture, brands and books, La Française has ascended to a myth.
On the cusp of the twenty-first century, the fashionable French woman became an allegory of liberté representing France as the country who had mastered the ideal art de vivre. La Française surpassed the boundaries of woman and fashion to symbolize a lifestyle, a philosophy of being in which every element is imbued with liberté. Perfectly imperfect and carefree are the essence of her brand: her tousled hair, her naturally radiant skin, her bohemian home, her breezy relationships, her eponymous style (ever so chic, but does not take herself too seriously). It is a sense of liberté that resists trends, that defies a uniform definition of beauty, that frees one from the need to please others or live up to society’s expectations and paints an image of France as the nation of l’individu. La Française offers consumers a way to make her story of liberté their own, and in doing so, circulates a positive brand image of France. In light of this liberté d’être I thought I would share 3 ways to capture a bit of the myth for yourself.
- Effortless Natural Beauty-while it’s enough to make anyone green with envy, La Française has mastered the natural beauty balance. This is largely owed to the miracles of French skincare. Caudalie’s Vine Night Oil is a particular favourite of mine. As are Clinique’s eye cream, Vichy’s 3 in 1 Cleanser and L’Occitane’s Crème Divine. For makeup, La Française goes for tinted moisturiser over heavy duty foundation, a touch of bronzer and highlighter rather than intense contour, a dash of eyeliner and mascara. For lipstick, she either sticks to nude or throws caution to the wind- because why not?- and irreverently swipes on her signature red. Hair is always just a bit imperfect, chic but slightly messy.
- Style-effortless, at ease with herself, it’s the perfect white t-shirt and jeans under the vintage blazer and worn in loafers, it’s the romantic dress on a bicycle, it’s being barefoot at the end of a night dancing. It’s feminine but nonchalant, Parisian but worldly, retro but modern, alluring but playful, individual but timeless. Some rising star brands that design for La Française include the seasonal capsules of Sezane, Jeanne Damas’s Rouje, and small designer Laura Laval Paris.
- Philosophy- how better to adopt liberté d’être than to peruse the books, films and television shows that illustrate the carefree mindset of La Française. I highly recommend Lou Doillon’s new album Soliloquy, TV show Plan Coeur (2019), films Amelie (2001), I am Not An Easy Man (2018), and books How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are (2014) and Women in Clothes (2014) and checking out the blogs of Garance Doré, Daphne Moreau (Mode & The City), Jodie La Petite Frenchie, Violette (violette_fr), Zoe Bassetto, Scheena Donia, and Nelly of Muses Uniform.
The twenty-first century fashionable French woman as an allegory of liberté is equally celebrated and coveted, she resonates because through her lifestyle she embodies aspirations, through clothes she tells stories about identity, about place, about people.