Once when discussing how to find my “brand” with a mentor of mine (have I just killed my totally effortless Instagram lifestyle-fashion career by acknowledging the existence of branding?), I brought up uber-popular French girl of the fashion world Jeanne Damas and asked what I suspected was a stupid question: “so I understand that her thing is that she’s French but…isn’t she not the first French girl people have ever heard of?”
In a much kinder and more informative way, this mentor told me that it doesn’t matter. After the très chic one-two punch of Dior’s New Look and a slew of style icons born throughout the French New Wave, Frenchness has buried deep roots into the rich soil of Cool and it hasn’t budged for decades. As a result, most of fashion media has come to a similar conclusion as the most recent GQ article on Ms. Damas, “Jeanne Damas Is the Coolest, Most Beautiful French Girl in France Right Now” (perhaps laying it on a little thick, but maybe the numbers are there).
I have no room to complain. I am French, my last name is French, and I feel no shame in saying that I am crazy about French fashion history, Parisian cinephile culture, and the – I’m not going to say it, I know you know that I know what we both mean, you’re thinking of it but I won’t say it if you won’t – that certain je ne sais quoi of it all, THE JE NE SAIS QUOI OF. IT. ALL —
but what I think I really meant when I asked my question was, “it’s weird that people seem to agree that that’s what being a French girl is, isn’t it? To think that one woman in an admittedly effortless-yet-sensuous outfit is the representation of what French women look like, aim to be, or are?”
There are so many cultural, ethnic, and social facets that make modern-day Frenchness. I wanted to explore the term “French girl” and brush it up a little (in a way that still pays attention to those core characteristics of French-dom) and so I got into contact with blogger and stylish person Neïla Romeyssa. Born in Alger, Algeria and currently living in Paris, Neïla runs TheCoffeeKnafeh on top of writing and editing for HuffPost Maghreb. Together, we discussed style, French-ness, and how the two do or don’t come together in our sort-of-French, sort-of-not lives.
(I’ve provided Neïla’s responses in both English and French for the benefit of her audience. Thank you so much to my friend Swann for translating.)
– How would you describe your style?
N: Well, my style is nothing really concrete for now. I wear what I find beautiful, It’s true that there is almost all the time an oversize piece and that my style is colorful. Most of the time, I only wear a “total black” look when I work out.
En fait, mon style n’a rien de concret pour l’instant. Je porte ce que je trouve beau, c’est vrai qu’il y a toujours une pièce oversize la plupart du temps, et que mon style est souvent assez coloré. Je porte du “total black” seulement durant mes séances de sport en général.
G: I’m attracted to a lot of different styles, and I like how dressing a certain way can change your mood. I would definitely say femininity is a constant in my personal style, but really fashion is like role playing for me. I might say that I’m an evocative dresser.
– Who are your style favorites?
N: I don’t have any favorite brand, but I tend to wear vintage clothes or even clothes without brands that I find in the Parisian thrift shops… I can’t really stuck myself with only one designer or creator, it’s hard because until today I didn’t find any complete collection that inspires me from the beginning to the end.
Aucune marque préférée, j’ai même tendance à porter du vintage, ou des articles sans marques que je chine dans les friperies parisiennes… Je n’arrive pas à me fixer un seul et même créateur ou fashion designer, c’est compliqué car jusqu’à aujourd’hui, il n’y a aucune collection complète qui m’inspire de A à Z.
G: Bianca Jagger has a style I admire because of how versatile she was, and I also really like Miranda Makaroff because her style is both good looking and humorous. In terms of designers/brands, I love Gucci; I love the inspiration Alessandro Michele is pulling from.
– Where do you find fashion inspiration?
N: Mainly on Instagram, but also in the street. And then the magazines and internet. I do not often trust/follow trends.
Surtout sur Instagram, mais aussi dans la rue. Puis viennent les magazines, et internet. Je ne me fie pas vraiment aux tendances.
G: Definitely Instagram (that’s how I found out about Neïla!) but also sites like Man Repeller and the Business of Fashion.
– How would you describe French fashion/style?
N: Personally, when someone says « french fashion » to me, my first thought is Chanel, I see a lot of finesse, allure… French fashion is also the « fake untidy » style (this term doesn’t translate well in English, but you probably know what we’re talking about if you’ve ever seen a picture of a bed-headed Brigitte Bardot). I admire that a lot in Parisian women.
Personnellement, quand on me dit mode française, je pense directement “Chanel”, je vois beaucoup de finesse, de l’allure… La mode française c’est aussi le style “faussement négligé”. J’admire beaucoup cela chez les Parisiennes.
G: My idea of French style is very natural, or trying to stay as natural as possible — kind of the equivalent of the makeup you wear when you want to look like you’re not wearing any makeup, but all your best features are accentuated. I totally agree that French style is fake-messy, the just-rolled-out-of-bed look.
– How “French” would you say that your sense of style is?
N: On a scale of 1 to 10, i’d say that my style is only at the level 4 of the French style because the French pieces still remains basic : like the little black dress, uniform-style clothing, pumps… And I am still pretty young to make this style my own (it’s a bit hard to translate the real meaning i hope you will understand).
Sur une échelle de 1 à 10, je dirai que pour le moment mon style n’est qu’au 4 du style française, car les pièces de la mode française restent quand même très basiques : comme la petite robe noire, les uniformes, les escarpins… Je suis tout de même encore jeune pour m’accaparer ce style.
G: Depending on my mood, there are definitely times where I try to emulate what I would call “French style” (mostly things I’ve seen in French movies I like). I like that the philosophy behind it seems to be the celebration of unique features. The whole “planning to look like I didn’t plan” thing is pretty calculated – but then again, a psychic in New York once told me that I was “calculating as hell,” so I guess my attraction makes sense. I’d say I consider adding elements of the “French look” 40% of the time.
– How is your style different from the “French” sense of fashion?
N: It’s different because I tend to wear patterned clothes. Also, the materials of my clothes are really different from what we see on the French looks. For instance, I wear a lot of jacquard. Also, and as I told before, I do not hesitate to put a colored and oversize touch which prevents me from wearing too much basics like blazers, jeans or pumps.
Il est différent car j’ai tendance à porter des motifs. Les matières de mes vêtements sont quant à elles assez différentes de ce que l’on voit sur les looks français. Je porte beaucoup de jacquard par exemple. De plus, comme je l’ai dit précédemment, je n’hésite pas à ajouter une touche colorée, et oversize, ce qui m’évite de porter des vêtements trop basiques, comme des blazers, des jeans ou des escarpins.
G: Definitely when I get do things like pattern-clashing or going heavy with accessories. Although, I don’t think French fashion is inherently the opposite to that. But in the classic sense of what I consider to be French style, I would say that’s the biggest difference.