I have a confession to make. Prior to writing this article, my insight on Brigitte Macron was limited to the following data: She had been President Emmanuel Macron’s drama teacher; she is 24 years his senior; and she can do justice to a Louis Vuitton mini. Perhaps it had all seemed too unfamiliar, too French for comfort, because I never bothered to gather any additional intel on the woman who, as of May of this year, has become emblematic of the French culture and fashion industry. And yet, given that many of us are nostalgic for the White House’s long-lost morals and our own beloved former First Lady Michelle Obama, maybe it’s time we start seeking inspiration from another presidential residence. With this in mind, I resolve to find out how French women feel about their First Lady, both on a personal and sartorial level.
Those seeking a metaphor for the slightly, um, over-the-top attitudes that define our country, need to look no further than Halloween. On the one hand, you have those who spend the entire month of October assembling theatrical Marie Antoinette getups or crafting human-size versions of their favorite tacos. On the other, you have the “sexy” costume for every occupation under the sun, which generally results in a parade of seminude firefighters, doctors, and police officers on the street come October 31. But where does this leave the rest of us, those who still want to be part of the festivities but have long retired DIY projects or packaged pleather? Curious, I decided to source some tips from a people who historically pride themselves on taking a more measured approach to just about everything—food, politics, design—the French.
“Antithesis” is a strong word, usually reserved for grand concepts and ideas. And yet, it is the only word that adequately sums up my personal relationship with the phenomenon that is Kim Kardashian West.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Kim. (Can I call her Kim? Has she officially reached mononymous fame?) In fact, all evidence suggests that she is a lovely person, all poise and grace and manners. Blame it on years spent writing about effortless French style, but I simply have a hard time relating to her unapologetic brand of sex appeal, with its accompanying lifestyle so vastly different from my own. Where Kim enjoys luxury vacation by private jet, I go for adventurous travel by plane-train-bus triathlons. Where Kim’s makeup routine consists of something like 50 steps, mine tallies up to five at max. Where she is comfortable “owning her sexuality” (whatever that even means), I am constantly trying to downplay mine. And yet, wasn’t it Neale Donald Walsch who once said that life begins at the end of one’s comfort zone? Curious to see what was in store for me on the other side, I decided to test out a Kim K.–inspired outfit—on a date, no less.
When I look back to my early grad school days in Paris, one scene in particular stands out. It was the morning after a very, shall we say, jovial midweek post-exam celebration and my new beau, an artistic and opinionated French classmate, had just slept over for the first time. With the day’s first lecture only 40 minutes away, he walked over to my tiny closet, evaluated its components, and asked me if he could borrow something to wear. Barely waiting for my stupefied nod of consent, he reached for my beloved oversize black Helmut Lang blazer, paired it with his own T-shirt and slim-cut jeans from the night before, and pronounced himself ready to roll.
In retrospect, that morning set a precedent for our short-lived—yet exceptionally fun and fashion-centric—liaison. There was the psychedelic Henrik Vibskov jacket (his) that I wore to celebrate every non-failed exam; the clear-framed Oliver Peoples sunglasses (mine) that were used to deter the rare rays of sun while sharing a 3 euro bottle of rosé by the Seine; the vintage velvet Sonia Rykiel leopard skirtsuit that we discovered at a thrift store during a school trip to Belgium, with him quickly claiming custody over the coveted Keith Richards–worthy jacket while offering to me the more impractical pencil skirt. We were probably destined for a pretty enviable joint wardrobe, but, alas, other obstacles got in the way.
My biggest fear during the 29th year of my life was that it would be my last summer of wearing cutoff jean shorts. In retrospect, I assume (or at least hope) that my frivolous concern had more to do with symbolism rather than vanity. After having spent my early 20s on an ever-swinging pendulum between who I should be and who I want to be, I had only recently grown entirely okay with my real self: my offbeat personality, my often unstable career as a freelance writer, and a style so basics-driven that I could easily get dressed in the dark. Denim shorts, worn not as weekend gear, but almost as a warm-weather uniform, paired with linen button-downs and Converse sneakers, felt like an emblem of this self-acceptance, which made the thought of retiring them at the age of 30 feel hasty, unnecessary, just flat-out wrong.
I realize that there is no longer a rule that dictates a cutoff age for cutoff denim—or any other youthful clothing item, for that matter. I’m aware, technically, that 30 is about coming into your true self, about having amazing sex, about blossoming into a real woman in the best sense of the word. And yet, sometimes all it takes is yet another profile of an over-accomplished young mother-slash-entrepreneur-slash-style-icon showing off her impossibly chic existence (as satirized in this brilliant Julie Houts illustration) to experience an urgent call-to-action to grow up in every realm of life. Or is this mindset a result of living in America, in a culture driven (and often, misled) by quantitative results? Are Europeans, particularly the French, who are known to celebrate the process of getting older, less fixated on age as the barometer of one’s life (and wardrobe)?
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Five decades after the first women’s rights activists burned their bras in a brave statement against female oppression, a new feminist wave has risen. From comedians like Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham creating bold female-centric content, to actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence and Emmy Rossum spearheading the fight for equal pay, to designers including Maria Grazia Chiuri and Miuccia Prada sending feminist-theme collections down the runway, this is a fight that has been brewing for years. Women have never been more resolved to equilibrate the ground we stand on once and for all, a quest that saw the fruits of its labor when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in November.
And yet the path to success is never linear. Despite all the attained growth, the recent Electoral College victory of an unabashed male chauvinist to America’s highest office of power has pivoted us back to a battlefield we thought we had left behind. “I think before the election, misogyny was very prevalent but it was more insidious. Now it’s in your face and blatant,” says Observer sex columnist Jasmine Lobe. “When [Donald] Trump said, ‘grab ’em by the pussy,’ he validated men’s bad behavior. I felt this new sense of danger and lawlessness.” In Trump’s America, misogyny is not only commonplace, it’s condoned.
Read on HERE!