French Connection

Review of Parisian Chic – A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange

Over this past Memorial Day Weekend, I was sitting on my terrace, clad in my nautical and very French inspired summer uniform of striped Breton bateau, white jeans, and ankle tied espadrilles (which could not be more timely since it was also Fleet Week and I had a good view of the boats). While enjoying my French Roast coffee (after finishing off a plate of French Fries), I was alternately keeping my eye on the action at the French Open and reading ‘Parisian Chic’, A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange in collaboration with French Elle fashion journalist Sophie Gachet.

Ines de la Fressange on the red carpet

I guess you can say I’m a true Francophile. And I guess you can say I have always been a huge fan of Ines de la Fressange, the fabulously iconic French mannequin who was the first model to sign an exclusive modeling contract with an haute couture fashion house, Chanel, by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, and subsequently became his muse.  In 1989, Lagerfeld and De la Fressange had an argument and parted company, which has been attributed to her decision to lend her likeness to a bust of Marianne, the ubiquitous symbol of the French Republic. Lagerfeld reputedly condemned her decision, saying that Marianne was the embodiment of “everything that is boring, bourgeois, and provincial” and that he would not dress up historic monuments.

Ines de la Fressange is blessed with great natural beauty, a huge wallop of true innate taste, and more than her share of individual style. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking anything but fantastic (regardless of the occasion), and in the same way as the late Babe Paley, she has truly never had “one un-chic moment in her entire life” (albeit a comparatively short one thus far).

I completely relate to and totally appreciate her particular unfussy aesthetic which could not be more relevant and to my eyes is thoroughly modern, intelligent, and predicated on timeworn basics (with a touch of preppy and more than a wink and nod to the inherent chic which defines the ‘uniforms’ long favored by men). She is the furthest thing from a fashion victim, is always age appropriate while infusing a youthful verve, manages to look sexy AND elegant (no, that is not a contradiction in terms), and you would never find this fab gal looking uncomfortable or wearing any sort of footwear that borders on tacky (such as those ubiquitous and atrocious ‘street walker’, over the top designs that nonetheless still seem to be all the ‘rage’).

In fact, her shoe collection could best be described as the chicest of the chic, which is not at all surprising when you consider that she is the official ‘ambassador’ for Roger Vivier, one of the most iconic and chicest shoe labels on the planet. (If I could only buy one shoe brand, it would be Vivier). Speaking of which, it also doesn’t hurt, that nobody but nobody looks better in Roger Vivier (high heels, mid heels, sandals, flats) than Ines and quite frankly, at an enviable 6 feet tall, nobody looks better in flats. This was exemplified by her recent red carpet appearance at Cannes, clad in a custom made asymmetrical black draped jersey Carven gown, accessorized with flat black Vivier sandals with signature square buckle and matching Vivier clutch.

When I heard months ago, that she had penned a book about style, offering her own personal insights into the “secrets of the chic Parisian”, I knew I’d want to pick up a copy. Everything about it: the chic deep red leather cover printed with gold, her captivating illustrations, her insightful and informative lists, tips, observations, ‘rules’, favorite sources (for everything), and especially, the fashion photographs of her 16 year old doppelganger daughter, Nine d’Urso, is a delight (even for this ‘jaded’ editor). Plus, it has authenticity, soul, and a sense of humor (in talking about one beloved jewelry store, she notes “Send your husband there – even if he has terrible taste, he won’t find anything ugly!”)

Among her startlingly simple, seemingly obvious, yet constantly overlooked pronouncements that I kept nodding my head in agreement with:

Fashion should be fun.

If it feels good- wear it!

Teaming a vintage It bag with a basic cashmere sweater takes more flair than slavishly copying the latest runway styles.

The perfect wardrobe is a clever mix of cheap and affordable buys, holiday purchases, and a handful of luxury pieces.

Beware of good taste..Who knew that black and navy were made for each other?

Wear a little wool sweater with your ball gown. Stoles are so kitsch- really avoid them at all costs..The same goes for bolero jackets.

Wear a parka over a little chiffon dress.

Wear two scarves one on top of the other (the same can be said of t shirts, blazers, even two belts)…turn the spotlight onto the most basic elements of your wardrobe.

When you’re bored with your clothes, dye them navy blue for a new lease on life.

Wear velvet riding jackets a couple of sizes too small.
Cinch everything with a big well worn man’s belt- tie the excess length in a loose knot.

Brilliant basics are key to a great look.

Many women think they look better in heels but this is quite wrong. Just ask any man. No man would ever say “I’d love you more if you were four inches taller!” Nothing looks worse than a girl tottering about on unmanageable heels! The key to sex appeal is a feline walk, not a precarious wobble!

(Fashion faux pas at 50+):

1- An ill advised print dress can age a woman ten years! Always go for rejuvenating looks, which are just as effective as an anti-wrinkle injection – and so much more fun.

2- Ethnic print tunics and dresses in African batik prints. Past a certain age they look like costumes.

3- Furs. Instant Cruella (the wrinkled trophy wife” look can be very aging) (Anna Wintour, are you listening?)

4- Neon colors. too readily associated with teen fashion

5- Change your style. Never allow yourself to get stuck a style adopted at a particular age: it will age you instantly!

6- Never follow convention. Never be bland. Never neglect yourself.

7- Anything from a surplus store worn with vintage costume jewelry is good.

8- Wear your teenage son’s shirt with a push-up bra underneath (and don’t try to hide it!)

9- Don’t go bankrupt buying expensive face creams – the best beauty parlor is your local dentist. An attractive smile and great teeth are the best way to forgive and forget the rest!

But Ines will be the first to admit that rules are ‘made to be broken’, including the ‘rules’ in her book (Iris Apfel seems to break all the rules all the time, and she is still the coolest cat in any room, regardless!). So with this in mind, I have a few more observations about some of her suggestions.

Regarding her list of “The Magnificent 7”: a man’s blazer, a trench coat, a navy sweater, a tank top, and a little black dress, jeans, and a leather jacket. I would have to add three more: a perfectly fitted black turtleneck, a crisp white cotton shirt, a black or navy pea jacket.

As for her ‘perfect shoe collection’: ballet flats, open toes sandals, black heels, penny loafers, and riding boots. D’accord! But what about a pair of flat Wellies (maybe in a fun color like red), a pair of urban chic rain boots that don’t look like rain boots (perhaps with a heel), and since it’s almost summer, a pair of espadrilles (a must have in the summer and on holiday).

The 4000 year old and yet completely timeless espadrille is 100% natural, molds itself to the shape of the foot, and allows the skin to breathe, and the simplicity of the design (for both young and old, men and women alike) makes it extremely versatile and easy to wear. While its roots are undeniably Spanish, it is nothing if not completely international, and the one can just as easily associate it with the French seaside (‘think’ St. Tropez and Cannes). Once again, you can credit the French with putting their own stamp on it. In the 60’s, Yves Saint Laurent, put in a special order for the normally flat rope soled shoe, requesting a heel which had never been done before. While I love a flat espadrille, and I also love the look of a high heeled espadrille, it bothers me that there are so few companies that make a great looking espadrille on a very low wedge.

Ralph Lauren “Uma” espadrille

Two years ago, Ralph Lauren came out with THE PERFECT version (called ‘Uma’), which was available in black, white, navy, red, or orange. It had a closed toe and sling back, and featured a great looking but easy to walk on three inch rope sole. It originally sold for about $300 but it eventually got marked down to $99 (luckily for moi…I found the black and red in my size!) They are my “go to” shoes all summer and I can honestly say that whenever I wear them (particularly the red pair), women compliment me and ask where I got them. In fact, the other day, a woman literally followed me down the street and asked where I got them because she said they were so perfect, and I could see the disappointment on her face when I told her they were several years old! So, Ralph, if you’re reading this, please revive this style! Merci beaucoup!

And as for her pronouncement that “outfits are out, coordination is a crime- mix it up”. While I completely agree with the idea, and use that as my ‘mantra’, I also think there are exceptions to the rule and there are times when you may want to buy the entire outfit (if you can). Two good examples: a Chanel suit – especially if it’s vintage tweed; a pantsuit (tuxedo or white pantsuit). You can always mix up the pieces as you desire, but you also have the option of wearing it as an ‘ensemble’ which is highly distinctive and tres chic!

Prabal Gurung for J. Crew

In my opinion, nothing is chicer than a crisp white pantsuit in the summer, and my new favorite is the white denim version designed by 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up and 2011 CFDA nominee Prabal Gurung for J. Crew,

Fashion ‘darling’ Prabal, who is up for the Swarovski Award for Womenswear, (to be given out Monday evening) has designed a tightly edited, well priced, limited edition capsule collection for J. Crew (the moderate priced powerhouse has wisely continued on with these brilliant design ‘collaborations’ where the Gap left off – up next are Eddie Borgo and Billy Reid). The collection is replete with striking details and as such, may not be for everyone, especially if you are a minimalist. That said, this particular pantsuit (the ‘Bow-dacious’ tuxedo jacket is $400 and the ‘strong seamed’ pants are $295), is a unique take on the traditional tuxedo, complete with satin label; each piece is distinctive enough to be worn separately and paired with other items; and is a great find – if you can find it that is (it was sold out online weeks ago and is in only available at select stores).

Marais USA Collection

In the meantime, while I’m on the topic of Parisian Chic and the notion of ‘chic’, comfortable shoes one can actually walk in (gee…what a novel idea! especially in the summertime!) I could not agree more with IDF that one cannot look one’s best if she is uncomfortable and I can never understand the appeal of wearing shoes with heels so towering and unwieldy, that a woman actually has to lean on her companion in order to navigate the streets. And what could be chicer and more French of course, than a distinctive flat? Well, not everyone can afford Chanel or Roger Vivier, but everyone can afford Marais USA (

Co-founded by Catherine Chen and Haley Boyd, the two women, who wanted to bridge a gap in the ‘modern’ market, with modern basics, took their inspiration from a summer spent in “Le Marais,” naming their company after Paris’ most eclectic district. “From flamboyant transvestites to traditional rabbis, there is just about something for everyone” and that is precisely the philosophy at Marais USA. While there’s lots to love, my personal favorite style has to be the unabashedly ‘Chanel inspired’ double ankle strap cap toe flat (white or nude with black cap toe) which features a ¾ inch black platform. If you can’t decide between the two equally terrific options, at $99 a pair, why not get both?

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Such a nice footwear which make a modern Parisian style. Indeed such a great sandal which Ines de la Fressange wear. Thanks a lot for sharing this article

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