Is there really a French Je ne sais quoi?
As a French woman born in Paris, I would find it difficult to answer this question.
However, I can talk about myself, not that my life is of any particular interest, but rather to give an example, that of an average French woman whose experiences have educated her in style.
I was born in the seventies, shortly after the war with its horrors and traumas, a time when technology was still in the Middle Ages compared to what it has become. we lived through matter and materiality, whether it was concrete or spiritual. At school, we were studying literature, and God knows that French literature is great and inspiring. I loved immersing myself in words, in this universe that allowed us to dream without needing to turn on any screen. Elsewhere was present, everywhere, and it accompanied me.
Then I became a student in architecture, and there again, materiality was very present. A potential materiality, a matter to come, but whose reality would happen one day. Concrete, solids, but also voids: dreams. Never could the power of thought, which is said to be creative, have been as evident as in those nights spent imagining projects, drawing them, knowing that from those lines could emerge buildings and cities.
I was going to the Beaux-Arts every day, taking the train and then the bus that left me in the Left Bank, and thus spent my days in one of the most wonderful districts of Paris. So many things had happened here, and the buildings spoke for themselves. Poets, writers, and filmmakers like those of the New Wave had their habits in this district. The greatest American jazzmen had played in the cellars of the Latin Quarter.
Every morning, as I crossed the Seine, I observed the Vert-Galant, and I fed on this vision, which I believe I appreciated the chance of and which I keep a slightly emotional memory of. For it seems to me that this Paris I knew no longer exists.
But that's not the subject of this email, obviously. The subject is this constant confrontation with beauty, from morning to night, and the rest of the time because entering architecture school is like entering a seminary, you become a kind of follower of this strange religion. You eat architecture, you sleep architecture, you travel architecture. Will you believe me if I tell you that for our honeymoon, my husband and I went to Rotterdam to see buildings by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas?
There were drawing classes, and classes given to us by a famous contemporary artist, hours spent studying, and there were shops.
It was through an encounter that I became completely fascinated by fashion. A friend who was studying architecture with us, who will perhaps recognize herself if she reads this, whose appearance was studied every day down to the smallest detail. I think it wasn't elegance that I liked, but style, this thing that declares that everything is in its place.
And at I.'s, everything was in its place. There was neither too much nor too little. From her emanated this thing that I then began to seek. This quiet balance.
I continued to study architecture, then with my husband we set up our agency and built dozens of buildings in Paris and elsewhere, and I continued to pursue my quest for style.
I quickly understood that when you present yourself to the world with a studied appearance, you act on others by acting on yourself. People are sensitive to beauty. You can try it out.
Start dressing a little more stylishly, without overdoing it of course, but choose your pieces well, find the right balance, the one that says, for example, that it's better to wear jeans if you have a dressy top or jewelry. You will quickly notice that people will try to imitate you. You will in a way inspire them to strive higher. The point is not to become an influencer. The point is to think that the world will be more beautiful for it. And that people aspire to beauty. But they don't always know how to achieve it, or simply they are not even aware of it.
So, coming back to this "French Je ne sais quoi," what can I say? The Parisian is elegant. Not all Parisians, of course, but in Paris one often comes across women who possess that right balance I mentioned earlier. It's actually quite discreet if you think about it. These women are not ostentatious, on the contrary. They may wear eye-catching pieces or colors, but everything about them expresses a form of effacement, carefully studied, or maybe not anymore, because it has become second nature to them. Beauty, you see, is a form of politeness.
And France is the country of good manners.