Sometimes, on Friday mornings, I like to grab a coffee at Café Charlot with my beautiful, Parisian friend, Nathalie Moncorger. Both of us are stylists, moms, and entrepreneurs. And both of us have been around fashion and beauty for more than half of our lives. As such, we have both seen that there are more layers to beauty than meets the eye. Beauty clichés and stereotypes, consciously or unconsciously, have become our beliefs – whether they are true or not.
Last Friday, I was reflecting on the many books written about Parisian women, claiming that they never get fat, that their children are better behaved, and that they all seem to posses a certain je ne sais quoi, rendering them perpetually chic and perfect. I asked Nathalie, that day, to share her impression of la New Yorkaise, and this was her reply:
“For me, my dear Michelle , La New Yorkaise is an independent woman. She is never tired or sick. Her hair and makeup is never out of place, and her nails are always perfectly polished. Et bien sur, she is expensively and impeccably dressed.”
To us, la New Yorkaise is a superwoman. From the moment she leaves chez elle, she begins her marathon day, sneakers on her feet, rushing to work with a coffee in hand. At the office, she slips into her stilletos and becomes invincible – no softness, her energy – masculine, because after all, she lives in New York to succeed!
All her time is accounted for… A family? We’ll see tomorrow! A man? OK, for sex! She has no time to be in love… And, financial dependence is out of the question! She keeps her eye on the top and uses her lunch break to hit the gym, because after all… she has to maintain her toned physique, and work off all the pressure of being absolument parfaite!
But, I imagine, every now and then, once a week or two, she goes out with the girls to a trendy place, sexily dressed, with her feminine side set free. Finally relaxing, she may drink a little or a lot, and unwind with her tribe, gossiping and exchanging their opinions of the latest fitness trends and must-have addresses. If a beautiful male catches her eye, she might flirt with him too.”
At this, I laugh!
Nathalie smiles and continues: “The Big Apple is where tout est possible. A great life for anyone who dreams of success. But you, Michelle, have moved to Paris. What is it that drew you here?Does la New Yorkaise sometimes dream of a quieter life – a greener one, in which she can take the time to enjoy a glass of wine at a terrasse with her man’s arm draped over her shoulder? Does she dream of a life, like we have here in Paris?”
Nathalie pauses with a sigh, “Mais finalement, you Michelle, the New Yorker in Paris, and I, the Parisienne, who dreams of New York, both know that Paris is not really that care-free and casual. So please, tell me how you see la Parisienne.”
Hmmm, where do I begin? First of all, I always laugh when you refer to my style as New Yorkaise. I have dreamt of Paris since I was a child, and my style is inspired by what I thought Paris would be before I moved here: pretty dresses, vintage sunglasses, ballerina slippers or brogues, a wide brimmed hat… and my happy place is on my bicycle!
In New York, I looked “oh so French,” and here, you say I look so New York… c’est la vie!
What I see here is contradiction brilliantly at play. Masculine pieces worn with the utmost femininity. On la Parisienne, jeans and Stan Smith sneakers look polished, as do the biker jacket and Burberry trench coat. Both worn with such natural ease, that I find it funny to know that these pieces – the American Jacket and English Trench – were not made with la Parisienne in mind!
Parisians have made these items iconic to the world at large; and this is an ability not many others can claim. The Perfecto (biker jacket) on many women here, for example, is simplement parfait. And if I didn’t know otherwise, it wouldn’t seem like a lie to say that classic English trench coat was of French design as well.
There appears to be a uniform for the woman of the Marais: Her hair is perfectly imperfect, tousled and upswept with soft curls framing her face. She wears a big scarf, and red lips adorn her otherwise bare face. Many women smoke, and curb their appetite with a cigarette. And, surprising to me, more women seem at ease on a scooter than on a bicycle!
A few may seem rude to strangers and entitled to this behaviour. And, from my perspective, too many Parisians seem perpetually stressed about one thing or another.
Black, beige, navy and white seem to be the preferred colors. A masculine uniform – but on la Parisienne, it is oh so feminine. Yes, I agree, there is a certain ‘je ne sais quoi to the way the Parisian woman carries herself, if you will.
As relaxed and polite as la vie Parisienne might imply, I often find Parisians more competitive and unwelcoming than I would’ve imagined. Meetups for women to support one another, for example, is relatively new here, and was made popular by les Americaines.
That said, I love my life here. I love the farmer’s markets, the small restaurant portions, sitting at a sidewalk cafe and never being asked to leave, even if I had ordered just one café. I love being a mom here, the health care system, and drinking rosé on a sunny day. I miss the American gyms, but I love the brocantes and the many fêtes that grace each year with tradition.
So many Parisians love New York, and I personally know more than a few New Yorkers who love Paris. Do we see ourselves as we are seen by our sisters across the pond – who is to say? Alas, even these descriptions here, real or otherwise, are they not like the clichés?