Paris. It’s the city of fashion, non? Yes, there are the three other traditional catwalk capitals – London, Milan and New York, not to mention fabulously chic new style cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Sydney and Mumbai, but Paris, well, it’s just the original when it comes to haute couture, legendary design houses and the very essence of chic. But, what’s it really like when it comes to style? As part of our Style around the World series (read our first on Sydney, Australia here) we’ve asked Sarah Pearce, a British lawyer who has recently returned to London after 4 years living and working in the City of Lights to spill the beans on French dressing. Are Parisians really as chic as reputation says they are? Do French women eat? Just how do they have such great skin? We asked her all this and more…
How long did you live in Paris?
This time was the third time I’ve lived in Paris. I was there for the last 4 years, although I’ve lived at various points in my life in the city for nearly 7 years in total. This last time, I moved to Paris because of work, and also because I love the city. I used to live in the 7th arrondissement, which means the Eiffel Tower and Orsay Museum to most foreigners. Basically, a great area, which is really well located for getting everywhere easily.
How would you describe Parisian style?
Understated, classy, chic.
What differences have you noticed between the ways Parisians dress and the way British women dress?
Black – way more black! Then there’s the general coordination and more classic style.
Does style change from neighbourhood to neighbourhood as it does in London?
A little yes, but not as dramatically as in London. For example, you see more Chanel, Louboutins and conservative dress in the 8th and 16th arrondissements. The 18th and 20th are more “arty” as is the Marais, but there are far more tourists there – much like St Germain, which means it’s a mix of everything and anything in those two areas!
Do you think that Parisian women are led by trends or do they tend to be more classic?
Definitely more classic. The younger generations are “guided” by trends but tend nonetheless to adopt them “reasonably”. There is, generally speaking, more of a sense of what suits and “classicism” that runs strong throughout, even for trends.
How has your style changed from living in Paris?
I wear more black! But it’s a colour that I’ve always loved and that suits me, so I am grateful for the increased choice in black clothes. I also now wear ballerinas on the way to work, never trainers as I did in London (not a good look with a suit!). Plus, even in the legal world in which I work, suits are seen very little, particularly on women. It is more smart casual, mixing non-matching jackets with trousers, skirts or dresses. The major difference is the length of skirts in the office – you can go much shorter in Paris than London!
Are there any big ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to style in Paris?
Trainers…never…anywhere except the gym. Unless, perhaps if they are of the Converse variety, worn (and looking worn!) and “battered” with jeans on the weekend. Too much make-up is another no-no. It’s all very “au naturel” in Paris.
What do you think is lacking when it comes to style in Paris?
Sequins and sparkles. French friends have said to me that they love London because of the freedom to dress up and really go to town.
Is there more, less or just as much pressure to look good in Paris as there is in London?
Less – although it depends on the crowd and the environment. I think there is more in the “international” crowd of the 8th and16th where botox and plastic surgery are “de rigeur”, but generally amongst most French, it is a more natural approach and unless you are naturally attractive, there is no point in trying kind of attitude!
When going out for dinner or drinks do women get more or less dressed up than they do in London?
Women generally tend to get less dressed-up (with perhaps a slight exception for the foreign (largely Russian…) contingent of certain arrondissements.
What would you wear on a relaxed Saturday?
Skinny jeans, ballerinas or converse with a sweater.
Did you discover any amazing French labels when living in Paris?
Where do Parisian women go for basics?
J Brand for jeans, department stores and otherwise, Uniqlo and Zara. Well-heeled women in the 8th and 16th would probably head to Le Bon Marché whereas other women would be likely to go to Galeries Lafayette. When it comes to lingerie, again it depends on who you talk to. It can range from La Perla to Aubade or Wonderbra. Cordelia on la rue Cambon is a great lingerie boutique with fabulous stock and a great size range. Lingerie is where French women spend noticeably – more so than British women do. Eres is also good, but known more for swimwear.
Where are your favourite shopping areas in Paris and why?
Opéra for the great choice of department stores as well as boutiques such as La Piscine, which basically sells marked down designer clothes. I ended up getting a few bits there including two pairs of beautiful Jimmy Choos…for the price of one! There are a couple of branches all over the city. St Germain is great for shopping with friends because of the boutiques and great eateries, and the Marais on Sundays because the shops are open and it is the perfect pastime after a great brunch! (Ed’s note – the majority of shops are closed in France on Sundays) The Maje in the Marais is my favourite and they have the nicest Zadig & Voltaire in my opinion (although I always think their clothes are overpriced…).
Rather unusually for me (I don’t usually shop in 8th), I like the Montaigne Market for “leche-vitrine” (window-shopping) mainly…it’s pricey but a lovely design store. And, as far as concept stores are concerned, I love Merci in the Marais and Colette, of course (particularly for a girly mid-week lunch)!
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Do Parisian women place more or less emphasis on beauty than British women?
Less in my view. I realised that soon after I moved here by the prices for such treatments! There is the need and pressure to be well-groomed, but it is not talked about and the general idea is that you do whatever beauty treatments you need at home or at least “in private”. In other words, more women have manicures than they will admit to! Facials though and other treatments, far far less.
As a rule do Parisian women wear more or less make-up than British women?
Less, far less. Far more women wear little or no make-up, particularly in the work place, which, in the corporate/legal world I work in is quite something.
Did you use any amazing French brands whilst living there?
I discovered (and still love) Carita – although you have to take a mortgage out to have a facial, but they are amazing! I restricted myself to one (or max, two) a year. I also use their products all year round. Another favourite is Uriage – it’s a brand that I found in a pharmacy on the recommendation of a dermatologist. It’s perfect for sensitive skin and is such a large range. The pharmacies are great and I stock up on Uriage, Nuxe, Avena and Bioderma when I’m in Paris (although the latter three are available in the UK they are cheaper in France!).
What is the Parisian attitude to the body? Is it important to be in shape?
The women are ULTRA body conscious but exercise far less…or at least they don’t admit to doing so! There is constant talk at the dinner table about bodies and weight but also there’s a general enjoyment of food and dining together – far more than in London. It took me a while to find a gym for example, but the idea slowly seems to be taking off. I think the majority of French women struggle currently with enjoying food and eating what they want. They currently just associate being thin with not doing that and constantly complain about their weight – it is all about re-education which is happening..but slowly
What is the Parisian attitude to eating? Is it stricter or more relaxed than British women’s?
More relaxed generally, with women appreciating food and eating more than they do in the UK. In a country where the food is so good and eating a part of the culture it would be hard to be or think anything else!
SHOP THE PARISIAN LOOK IN THE UK…
While designer labels such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent have long been available in the UK, it’s brands such as The Kooples, Maje, Iro and Sandro that have recently been making waves over here. Factor in designers such as the could-she-be-any-more-hip Isabel Marant, Carven and Vanessa Bruno and you have a true taste of Parisian style available here.