Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oh la la Bean

Sometimes, I just want to be like, New York Times, enough with the French stuff. Is France really that great? I mean, congratulations, Inès de la Fressange, for being "almost 6 feet tall, about 125 pounds and hipless." She will teach us, oh, she will, the essence of being a Parisienne. Might it involve wine, cigarettes, and scarves? A certain insouciance? A certain je ne sais quoi?

What she can't do, alas, is teach you how to wear the boring clothes you already own, yet look ... what creative word could we use here?... chic: "One of her uniforms — a navy crew-neck sweater, rolled-up jeans and brown loafers — makes her look elegant-casual; most anyone else would look like the L. L. Bean catalog."*

So I was delighted to read Jon Caramanica's "Critical Shopper" column about a new Agnes B. store/gallery that's opened in Soho/Chinatown. In the very same Style section as brought us the Fressange profile, Caramanica really gets at the heart of commodified Frenchness as marketed at suggestible Americans:

"[Agnès B.] specialized in, essentially, up-market basics with minor flourishes, one of them being an air of Gallic impossibility that made a white button-up shirt so much more than just a white button-up shirt. After the brand peaked in the 1990s, its mantle was picked up by A.P.C. and, to some degree, Isabel Marant. Like Agnès B., both companies promise more than they deliver, if you’re counting only the tangibles. The clothes are fine, the pose is better. "


"[...] that would probably cost one-third as much at Uniqlo [...]"

Yes to that! And!

"Agnès B. made the original fancy French basics, pawned off on thin American bodies that didn’t know better. Globalization has rendered it more or less obsolete, but it’s still trying."

*Speaking as one who goes around Paris with brown loafers that honest-to-goodness are from the L. L. Bean catalogue (well, the online version), I will attest to the fact that pairing those with jeans and a sweater, as a mere mortal, a hip-possessing one at that, has not made me the toast of this town. The street-style photographers are not exactly lining up. Nor are the cat-callers who apparently make life impossible for the young women of Paris. It would be possible to walk stark naked down the street in Paris with those loafers on and get no reaction. (Man-repeller blogger, consider the not-refined loafer, and turn your blog, which was a brilliant idea, into what it's meant to be.)


Anonymous said...

Is it relevant that, according to Wikipedia, the iconic Parisienne's grandfather was Jewish?

Phoebe said...

Relevant only insofar as that I hadn't known this is evidence that I'm so tired of the OMG French women Style articles that I had not gotten around to looking up the hipless wonder.

Britta said...

Since when is having "no hips" all that attractive? Doesn't that also mean having no waist either? I thought we were all supposed to have a 0.7 waist/hip ratio.

Phoebe said...


Hipless means, I think, in this context, that she never has the thing where jeans/underwear/bikini bottoms dig into the flesh, a situation women sometimes interpret as evidence not that whatever it is doesn't fit/is cut strangely, but that they're fat.

Flavia said...

Britta: having no hips means that certain things--pencil skirts, shift dresses, and some straight, skinny pants--are extremely flattering, and tend to fit much better (i.e., make one look skinnier) than they do on women with hips. And my sense is that the Parisian style favors boyish bodies. But as you suggest, having no hips means having no hip/waist differential, which makes other kinds of clothing look hideously unflattering.

I speak from experience: I have very narrow hips--but fairly broad shoulders, and bosoms--and it took me years to figure out what I looked good in, or why, when I wore such a small size, I looked like a cow in your basic sundress or A-line skirt.

Lesson: hips are desirable--unless you have them, in which case they're undesirable! And every woman can find clothing that convinces her she's fat.

Phoebe said...


I think you accurately describe what hipless means in general. In this context, though, my sense is she's also '-less' every other part of a woman's body that could possibly protrude, and this was the writer's way of indicating that, despite being of a certain age, she had kept her figure from her modeling days. There's probably some kind of style-writer thesaurus consisting entirely of ways to restate "thin."