La Parisienne has been the object of every fashionistas’ affection for a couple of centuries now. She has reached a mystical status as a fashion figure and has remained in this strong position, even within the context of an increasingly globalised world. But Paris is currently at war with a few other cities, trying to defend its eminent title of fashion capital of the world: New York, London, and Milan have never been this eager to get to the throne (although some would argue that The City Of Light has already been overthrown). As an ex-inhabitant of London and French citizen, I have decided to cautiously delve into the hitherto greatly unchartered waters of London vs. Paris style to offer an insider perspective.
If you ask Google: “comment s’habiller comme une Parisienne?”, you’ll immediately get propelled in a Pinterest world of breton stripes (I know, SHOCKING) and little black dresses. The archetype, usually incarnated by Inès de la Fressange or Jeanne Damas more recently, is usually defined by the perfect combination of natural and sophisticated. She’s neatly neglected: it looks like she’s just woken up and threw some clothes on, but the final result is always meticulously polished.
Some of the essential garments include: a perfecto jacket, ballerinas, jeans, a blazer, a blouse, white sneakers and a mid-length skirt. All quite classic. De la Fressange observes that the secret to the recipe lies in the combinations: the high-end with the inexpensive, the new and the old, the Monoprix t-shirt, the precious bracelet, the Rondini sandals that can only be found in Saint-Tropez. These may seem like simple rules to follow, but there is a whole lot more to the Parisienne. The blogger Garance Doré asked her followers about their opinion upon the matter and the comments were quick: she’s nonchalant but passionate, smokes like chimney but has a flawless complexion, eats irrational amounts of croissants but looks fit as a fiddle. This otherworldly creature is the embodiment of almost every woman’s aspirations: she has achieved balance in every single aspect of her life.
The interesting thing is, la Parisienne is one singular and original character. She’s an idea. It is argued that she can be found in many locations other than Paris and notwithstanding her wide-reaching and international echelon, she remains a sole entity. The London girl, on the other hand, is a fashion schizophrenic.
First of all, the latter usually identifies with one of the cardinal directions: she’s North, South, East or West. You can tell where she lives or which area of the city her heart belongs to by looking at her outfit.
In relation to the North, Camden Town immediately comes to mind. This is where the influence of punk and other anti-conformist styles never died. It’s the perfect place to go look for your Doc Martens, grab some studs for your leather jacket, get a dodgy tattoo, or find a cool gig. You’re allowed to wear pretty much anything, around here – most people do. The neighbourhood is also home to Cyberdog, which may just be the most surreal shop you’ll ever visit (unless you regularly hunt for fluorescent trance dance clothing – in which case it must look fairly standard).
The South is the more student-ey area, where the booze is cheap and your tobacco is rolled. The predominant fashion in this part of the city is therefore urban streetwear (who cares what you wear to uni?): a relaxed sweatshirt, a pair of Nike sneakers or army boots, and you might even dare to wear a snapback – or a beanie, if you are less adventurous.
In the West End, the dominating and all-powerful taste leans towards the elegant and the trendy. The W-postcode girl is the one that approximates la Parisienne the most, as a matter of fact. Skinny jeans, clutch bags and topknot buns would be regular visions in this part of the town. This is also where Oxford Street and Selfridges are located, so you’ll probably get to notice all of the Asian tourists leaving their all-time favourite luxury stores with huge shopping bags and satisfied smiles on their faces (but Heaven forbid you find yourself there around 6PM when all of the tourists and commuters collide and mayhem ensues).
The geography of the East is a complex one, because it is home to a few distinctive styles – all of which could be classified under the all-encompassing yet grossly oversimplified label of “hipster”. Along with the North, this is where the most eccentric and colourful fashions are born, raised, and nurtured. The best vintage shops can be found in Brick Lane, which might give you an idea of how acceptable and welcome double-denim is (very, that is).
But overall, the Londoner is a lot more daring. This may be attributed to the amount of prestigious fashion schools in England, which leads all fashion aficionados to forever strive for originality and creativity. Perhaps this is why some of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s work, for instance, was inspired by the energy of the United Kingdom: “Britain represents iconoclastic creativity, individuality – things that we don’t know so much in France.”
My take on the Parisienne is that she probably won’t disappear. She’s a myth, and a cultivated one, which means that her position has been secured. The Parisian girls, however, aren’t trying to fit the mould as much as they used to anymore. So, yes, Paris might remain the capital for haute-couture fashion, but it definitely comes as no surprise that it has been allegedly dethroned in the prêt-à-porter industry. In a world where the local becomes global and the global becomes local, the endeavour for uniqueness and self-affirmation will hopefully prevail – but classics will always be classics.