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“There’s a reason why Parisians wear black – it’s comforting”: unveiling the secret to French style

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Editor-at-large of Stylist France, Audrey Diwan reveals the secret to becoming a little more French

Audrey Diwan

The classic fashion image of my home city is made up of 50 shades of black: a woman wearing a black jacket with a black bag and a (black) espresso sits in a cafe, sipping her coffee before heading off to work. To the eyes of a tourist, Parisian women seem to be eternally in mourning. But they are mistaken. Because in France, this colour is celebrated, admired and applauded.

First of all, black is a “colour” in France. I’m not the first to state this – the artist Henri Matisse made the case in an essay in 1946. It is also a powerful colour, because it can change the silhouette of the body like a sketch, so that you can’t make out the contours. Ask Coco Chanel – she who spent her entire life wearing dark dresses. It’s worth noting that in the most famous photo of her, she wears a long black dress, a dark hat and has a cigarette holder in her mouth. What’s more, she has strung a long pearl necklace around her neck. And this is a key lesson on how to dress more French: black allows, by the effect of contrast, to enhance the radiance of anything that isn’t black. Vermillion lips, blue shoes, a large gold belt. It’s up to the individual to choose which detail to accentuate. Some people may say that constantly wearing black is dull. But I disagree. I could write a 10-page essay in defence of this sombre style.

Colour me noir

Among other things, black has an additional advantage: it’s genderless. I hate the idea of gendered colours – pink for girls, blue for boys and all these silly ideas that we put in the heads of children that require years of re-education to restore some sort of equality between men and women. The day Yves Saint Laurent created ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo, he made something that was equal and gender neutral. It was a political act, and his watermark. Black also doesn’t belong to any social class. Any girl who starts her outfit with black has no need for a manual explaining how to put together this most common of uniforms and can easily blend in with the crowd.

But now I must also tell you the truth. I will begin this confession with an audit of my own wardrobe. It is every bit as good as that of James Bond or Morticia, for older readers who remember The Addams Family (this was way before Netflix, sorry young people). Me, I have never had a great sense of fashion and each time I’ve experimented with something new it has ended in catastrophe. That was until the day I finally understood that I was taking unnecessary risks.

However this sombre addiction has another hidden meaning: black hides fear. In the shadows of this style is the refusal to face up to the fear of setting a foot wrong in a world where people never stop peering at you out of the corner of their eye, where people never seem to stop criticising. To be chic and relaxed here in France, I give you the indisputable recipe: black, black and more black.


Photography: Chris Floyd

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