On the eve of Bastille Day, I was delighted to be interviewed by the AFR'S fashion editor, Lauren Sams. I hope you enjoy the read.
French style is all about je ne sais quoi. What does that mean?
Lauren Sams Fashion Editor The Australian Financial Review
Effortless chic is much admired, but pinning it down is the tricky part for those of us who aspire to emulate it.
When Coco Chanel said elegance is refusal, she defined – in a wonderfully apt, three-word mantra – French style.
Reams have been written about what exactly constitutes that certain je ne sais quoi that is the French sense of dressing, but ultimately, it boils down, like a fine bouillabaisse, to those three words: elegance is refusal. But of what, exactly?
“To me, French dressing is about refusing to take part in trends, or wear clothing that simply does not suit you,” says Claudia Stahl. Stahl – while not French herself – lived in Paris for four years, before returning to her hometown of Sydney to found a French language école in her home in the eastern suburbs. “French women dress in a way that is quite timeless,” says Stahl. “It’s about not bowing to this season or that one. It is knowing what looks good on you, and developing your own sense of style.”
The notion of French style has been exhaustively explored and oft-mimicked, but remains somewhat opaque. The French themselves speak of je ne sais quoi when it comes to style, giving few hints as to what, exactly their brand of sartorial magic is. Words such as “timeless” and “classic” are oft-used – but how exactly does one dress like the French? And is it even possible for those outside France to do so?
Stahl thinks so. She ran her language school for more than a decade, where the likes of Bettina Hemmes, Sarah Murdoch and Erica Packer came to learn French and feast on pastries (made by Stahl herself, a self-taught pâtissière).
More recently, she founded Jac Cadeaux, an Australian fashion label with a decidedly Gallic flair. She came to the idea while promoting her language classes. “I wanted to give something out to people so they would remember the school,” she says. “And what is more French than a Breton striped top?”
For Stahl, dressing well is dressing like the French. “There is this way of dressing that is about mixing various bits and pieces in a very nonchalant way,” she says. “So they might wear a Breton stripe top at night, with fantastic jeans and heels.” Stahl herself is “very much a blazer and jeans, Chanel ballet flats kind of woman”.