On my first trip to Paris at the age of 14, I saw an unmistakably French woman on the street wearing an orange bowler hat. It did not look out of place or ridiculous; on the contrary, it looked absolutely perfect. And this is the infuriating thing about French women: they can pull off pretty much anything and they do it with great panache.
As the people of France celebrated their fête nationale earlier this week – known as Bastille Day in English – Green Stilettos takes a look at the five French fashion staples that took the world by storm as well as sustainable versions of these classics.
Universally admired for being equally comfortable and chic, ballet flats trace their roots back to the 16th century, but it wasn’t until Rose Repetto hand-stitched a pair for her son, renowned dancer and choreographer Roland Petit in 1947, that the ballet flats achieved their iconic status as the footwear of choice of celebrities including Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn.
In 2007, on the 60th anniversary of the brand, Jean-Marc Gaucher, Repetto’s CEO, created the foundation ‘Danse pour la Vie’ with the goal to provide support to dance schools from all over the world which encourage the education and rehabilitation of children through artistic expression.
Bourgeois Bohème, a British brand with a French vibe, offers a wide selection of vegan shoes, including ballet flats. BoBo footwear is produced in Portugal from the finest quality Italian faux leathers and eco-friendly natural materials.
The Breton stripe
Introduced in 1858 as the uniform for the French navy, the Breton stripe did not have any association with fashion until—after a trip to the coast—Coco Chanel incorporated them into her 1917 nautical collection. By the 1930s, the Breton stripe had become a popular choice for fashionable upper class ladies. Today Breton stripes are worn by everyone—be they rock stars or royalty—a truly enduring and versatile fashion staple.
If you are looking for sustainable Breton stripes, British luxury ready-to-wear brand Chinti and Parker offers a great selection of organic cotton, carbon neutral tops. Alternatively, you may choose the Danish brand Jackpot which works together with MADE-BY, an umbrella organization of socially and ethically committed fashion labels.
No longer reserved for fashionable older ladies, le carré (literally, ‘the square’ in French) is making a comeback. Hermès, the luxury house synonymous with its intricately designed silk scarves, has recently put its carrés to work by supporting a worthy cause. All proceeds from its limited-edition Circuit 24 Faubourg Hermès scarf go towards the Imagine Institute, a research center for genetic diseases. Now that’s accessorizing with a difference.
La petite robe noire
Another legacy of legendary Coco Chanel, the little black dress (‘la petite robe noire’ in French) is a wardrobe staple – proving right Vogue magazine’s prediction back in 1926 that the LBD would become “a sort of uniform for all women of taste”. There is hardly a fashion brand that has not produced its own version of the LBD over the years, such is the popularity of this simple and elegant design.
One green-and-glam LBD that caught my eye is by Paris-based designer Johanna Riplinger. Her eco-luxury brand is known for stylish and elegant clothes made from exquisite natural fibers such as silk, linen, organic cotton and cashmere coloured using 100% natural dyes.
Ultimately, France is the birthplace of ‘haute couture’–today a protected term that can be used only by designers and fashion houses that meet certain well-defined standards. Haute couture is an expression of wearable art. Indeed, haute couture fashion pieces were not originally made for sale. Rather, they were designed and constructed for the runway, much like an art exhibition.
Among modern-day couturiers, French designer Lionel Morin knows how to blend style and sustainability. Whether using scraps of luxury fabrics or organic materials, his nature-inspired creations won him the 2014 Young Talent Award from the luxury group LVMH. Here is his winning ‘Deep Sea’ gown made from discarded LVMH fabric.
As we celebrate the French national day, let us raise a glass for these and other fabulous fashion creations France had given us. Vive le costume national!