CW: discussions of dieting and disordered eating.
Three words or a short sentence to describe your style?
“Discreet charm of bourgeoisie.”
You can’t leave home without…?
(Interview with Melinda Triana, Please! Magazine)
Melinda Triana is a documentary director based in Paris. She is branded as young, chic, and the ultimate Parisienne – even more so because she offers an air of self-awareness, having made documentaries about herself. Triana is the ‘it’ girl of the Parisienne aesthetic. In her interview with Please! Magazine, she answers questions with short, sharp quips and a vaguely dismissive air. Nonetheless, the five words she’s given us above offer an insight into the lifestyle of Paris’ icons – including why they exist in the first place.
Theoretically, the Parisienne is impossible. She is perfectly made up with no effort nor care, she is slim although her diet involves regular indulgences of rich French food at expensive restaurants, and she has access to bountiful money and friends despite putting no work into either venture. Some of this image has eroded since its production in the 20th century – it is now generally accepted, for example, that the Parisienne smokes as much for appetite suppression as she does for hedonistic thrill or to create an alluring veil through which she can be admired by passers-by. However, this reality check has done little to erase the idealised image of chic effortlessness which continues to infiltrate beauty magazines and runways.
The Parisienne industry
Despite her characteristic look being only Chanel Number Five and a dash of red lipstick, the beauty industry has turned a significant profit off the Parisienne. The rise of ‘no makeup’ makeup looks, which have in no way reduced cosmetic use nor the overall profit of the cosmetics industry, can be in part attributed to her carefully curated so-called ‘effortlessness’. Perfume and lipstick adverts alike use her image to offer a lifestyle more than they offer a product.
Notice: the Parisienne in a men’s shirt and careful red lip, laughing in front of the Eiffel Tower. She’s selling you perfume. Screenshot from YouTube: MISS DIOR – The new Eau de parfum.
This, of course, is a complete myth. French women are in fact the leading consumers of anti-wrinkle cream in Europe, suggesting that their natural look is highly curated with the help of a fair few Euros.
The myth of Parisienne activism
The Parisienne laughs about her many love affairs while sitting in a men’s shirt and leather jacket. To some, this is the absolute image of female freedom. The realities of what she represents are much more complex.
The Parisienne should be given some credit – she is self-curated owing to her brand of independence. This means she is both the art and the artist, and female artists aren’t usually as platformed as she is. Nonetheless, what the Parisienne performs can come across as a progressive attempt at liberation. In answer to Please!’s question, ‘What is your style?’, Melinda Triana replied, “I’d love to only wear men’s outfits, especially jackets. The materials are great, the cuts are unfussy, I never feel ridiculous.”
Indeed, a woman discarding the impractical and badly made clothing advertised to her gender can take on a convincing scent of rebellion. Both she and the fashion industry profit off that scent. Parisienne influencers offer an energy of freedom, in part fuelled by the exorbitant prices they can pay taking skiing trips and jetting off to see runways across the world. This is often funded by and includes the advertising of expensive brands on thin bodies. The abundant freedom that the Parisienne seems to have is conditional on her staying young, slim, and attractive to those who want to be her.
The Parisienne threatens nobody and certainly no power order. Her red lipstick, for example, ensures that she never quite threatens the masculinity of the man in the room whose suit she’s matching. She never gets close to androgyny, either – she may wear men’s trousers but she maintains the image of a highly feminine person. The Parisienne is playing a game of gender performance but ensuring that those in power continue to win… and continue to be attracted to her. Caroline de Maigrat, in the book ‘How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are’, claims that one of the rules of the Parisienne is to ‘always be fuckable’. Without being ‘fuckable’, the Parisienne loses her power and freedom.
A defence of the Parisienne
This is not to say, however, that drinking a black coffee while smoking a cigarette and wistfully tugging on your leather jacket is an evil thing to do. The Parisienne aesthetic is both beautiful and practical – if you can afford it – and there’s nothing wrong with aiming for the cool, calm, and collected nature she embodies. Your humble writer has certainly written a fair section of this article in a button-up shirt and a claw clip, lipstick in hand. The Parisienne’s wardrobe holds power, and she is right that men’s jackets are much better made.
It is not the Parisienne herself who should be demonised, it is the industry and power order which has given the term ‘elegance’ the necessary conditions of being wealthy, white and thin. She is simply the product of this. I strongly believe that romanticised things always deserve a heavy second look before they are idealised and doing so for the Parisienne has revealed the role her image plays in profit and power.