Un Original


If you’ve ever imitated the fashion choices of a friend or a celebrity, you’ve had a style mentor. Mentors in business are very in, and for the same good reasons that they make sense for the important choices we make when we present ourselves to the world each day.  The Style Mentors: Women Who Define the Art of Dressing Today, by fashion historian Elyssa Dimant, is organized around eight fashion types: the Maverick, the Icon, the Gamine, the Siren, the Rocker, the Minimalist, and the Classicist. The idea is to find yourself in one of these categories, then follow the hallmarks of each style as decoded by Dinant to avoid the guesswork and the cost of mistakes. Naturally, French women, or those who made France a second home, are well-represented among the mentors.

elsa-schiaparelliThere are the Mavericks. If you dance to your inner drummer, like Elsa Schiaparelli and Diana Vreeland, you, too, may be a Maverick.  I have a colleague who is a Maverick down to the toes of her turquoise cowboy boots. The Maverick’s hallmarks include wearable art, elaborate jewelry, and a statement hat.

Next come the Icons. These are the women like Marie Antoinette and Jackie Kennedy who adopt certain silhouettes that work for them and then they stick with them. They buy top quality and follow fashion closely. If you see yourself as an Icon, you should invest in “a killer dress, oversized sunglasses, a signature perfume, an ‘It’ bag, and status shoes,” like those of Christian Louboutin. Icons apparently wouldn’t ever wear last year’s fashion. That’s not so fine by me. I still wear a blouse I bought on my honeymoon 27 years ago.

audrey_tatouI’d like to be a Gamine, because it’s quintessentially French, but I’m just not the physical type for this one. Waifish child-women like Audrey Hepburn, Jean Seberg of À bout de souffle, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Audrey Tautou are your mentors for this look. Gamines should wear a Tuxedo, capri pants, an Armor-Lux-style striped tee, and a comfortable, chic shoe – but not at the same time!

Sultry Sirens are another group, easily identified with sex symbols Brigitte Bardot and Josephine Baker. A Siren must-have a sexy black dress, cleavage-enhancing undergarments, and red lipstick. I’m not a Siren, never was, never will be.

The Rocker was the only category that had no French mentor. Think Madonna and Cher. Their go-to staples are the corset, extreme footwear, and spandex pants or leggings. I’ll pass on this one.

FressangeThen there’s the Minimalist. She wears a few keys basics with little pattern or detailing. Inès de la Fressange and Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacourt of Harry Potter fame) are your French mentors. A minimalist must own a fitted blazer, a fashion tee, basic pump, box bag, and a sheath dress. I find some of these elements appealing, but I’d miss my embroidered and beaded pieces.

Bohemians have a lot in common with Mavericks. They, too, do their own thing, but are inspired by hippie-style.  Loulou de la Falaise, the daughter of a French marquis, and friend and creative collaborator of Yves Saint Laurent was the quintessential bohémienne. These days, another French woman is the epitome of the look, Lou Doillon, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s half-sister. The pieces that define this style are baby-doll dresses, “heaps of jewelry, offbeat headwear,” and a messenger bag. I’m SO not a Bohemian.

Carla_Bruni-SarkozyFinally, there’s the Classicist. The key words are quality, traditional, and conservative. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy adopted this look when she was France’s First Lady. Her style mentor may well have been Catherine Deneuve. I see myself most in this style, except I find the suggested key pieces a little dull: a white shirt, a trench coat, and a simple clutch. While I own all three, they’re not the mainstays of my wardrobe, or even my favorite pieces.

So maybe I’m not a Classicist after all. Maybe I’m a hybrid – half Icon, half Classicist. That might make me une iconoclaste, or “a rebel.” Or maybe I’m an Original. In French, however, un original (uhn or-ij-in-al) means “an oddball” or “a character.” Well, if the shoe fits, wear it, especially if it’s red.

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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