Iconic supermodel writes the book on Parisian style
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, Ines de la Fressange would like to point out that you cannot just spend your way into becoming a Parisian.
"I do think it's a state of mind," says the original French supermodel turned designer and fashion consultant -- and, more recently, and much to her surprise, best-selling style book author.
"There are people who want to buy a lot. I'm the one saying, 'Don't buy a lot -- buy the good things'."
Since it came out in France last fall, "La Parisienne" has sold well over 100,000 copies, entertaining readers with its chummy, cheery prose and prompting an English version -- "Parisian Chic" -- for an Anglo-Saxon market crowded with finger-wagging what-not-to-wear guides.
"I didn't write it to be a best-seller," said De La Fressange, 53, who last October reappeared on the pret-a-porter runway for Chanel, where she attained iconic status as Karl Lagerfeld's androgynous muse in the 1980s.
"French women generally say they're not really interested in fashion, so when I was told that it had sold more than Harry Potter or Keith Richard's autobiography... it certainly was a surprise."
Conceived like a Moleskine notebook with a burgundy cover, it draws on De La Fressange's lifetime in fashion -- and her habit of making lists for advice-seeing friends -- to explain what it takes to truly look Parisian.
To hear her tell it, it's effortless.
Six rules apply: Mix styles and never coordinate. Reject bling. Explore new labels. If it feels right, wear it. Worship no fashion idols. Beware good taste.
Then stock your closet with a blazer ("belt it!"), trench coat (Burberry if possible, but not necessarily), navy sweater ("more sophisticated than a plain black sweater") and tank top ("a classy supporting act").
Not to forget a little black dress ("not simply an item of clothing, it's a concept"), the "perfect" jeans ("like salt, they go with everything") and finally a leather jacket ("guaranteed to save any overly-conventional look").
From those basics, accessorise as you wish. Keep your wardrobe minimal and regularly clear out what you no longer wear. Oh, and smile. "You can carry off anything with a smile," she writes.
Being of a certain age herself, De La Fressange devotes a few pages to those over 40.
"Never neglect yourself," she writes. Don't get stuck in a style you wore in your 30s, otherwise "it will age you instantly." And for those over 50, steer well clear of fur, unless you want that "wrinkled trophy wife" look.
Ironically for a style consultant at Roger Vivier, the Parisian accessories house whose eponymous founder invented the stiletto shoe, De La Fressange favours flats over heels, and raves about Converse sneakers.
"There are a lot of women who think it's not possible to go out without high heels," she told AFP in an telephone interview from Normandy, where she was on a pre-Easter break.
"It's incredible... If they put on high heels just because they think they are too short, well, nobody cares that much."
For shopping, De La Fressange namechecks Monoprix, an unassuming French department store chain not unlike K-Mart or Marks and Spencer.
She also recommends venturing into the menswear department -- "it's usually very good, or sometimes too much for men but perfect for us" -- or dabbling in the children's section.
"I'm a shopaholic but I know you don't need that much to look good," she explained. "It's better to invest in some pieces like a nice handbag and nice shoes. For clothes, you can manage with cheaper things."
De La Fressange is the first to admit that her vision of Parisian style "totally, absolutely" reflects the well-heeled, intellectual Saint Germain des Pres neighbourhood where she lives.
But she concedes that if she lived in any other city, her signature look would no doubt be different: "Personally, if I'd lived in London, for instance, I'm sure I would have a much more crazy style."
To model the looks in "La Parisienne" in paparazzi-like telephoto sidewalk scenes, De La Fressange conscripted her look-alike daughter Nine d'Urso, 17, a high-school senior more interested in Ancient Greek than runways.
"She thought I asked her only because I didn't have money to pay a real model," said the clearly proud mum, whose own mother was a model as well. "Being a model doesn't interest her at all."
De La Fressange herself is making a return to modelling, having walked for Jean Paul Gaultier during the spring-summer 2009 haute couture collections and then reappearing for Chanel.
While holding down her day job at Roger Vivier, she is also featuring in bus-stop posters for a major Parisian department store -- it's not Monoprix -- and signed a contract with L'Oreal.
"It looks like a joke but it's not," said De La Frassange, who feels happier today than she did in her heyday on the runway. "I told them, do you want to be politically correct and have an old lady, and they said not at all."
© 2011 AFP