The Parisian “esprit” is a sort of bourgeoise insolence, an unapologetic frankness, sometimes to the point of being slightly provocative. It’s a self-deprecating sense of humor that comes from being deeply confident in yourself and in your class.
Being neither Parisian nor bourgeoise, I might be wrong, but it was while I was reading the fantastic Betty Catroux interview —she’s primarily known for being Yves Saint Laurent’s muse—in the latest Vogue Paris that the Parisian state of mind popped back into my head.
It reminded me of interviews with Deneuve, Chanel and of course, Françoise Sagan.
Forwardness and audacity, always strike me and I find those qualities very alluring. Not necessarily as an example to follow, more as a way of expressing yourself freely.
So many women think they have to correspond to an ideal, that they absolutely have to want children, that they absolutely have to work, that they absolutely have to love fashion and share their life with someone…
I think it’s a wonderful palate cleanser to hear what Betty Catroux has to say about it:
“I don’t like any of the things a woman is supposed to like. Family, homes, shopping, cooking, gardening, clothes…all that bores me to death. I’ve always dressed like a priest, and I wear practically the same thing every day: it’s a severe look — black, leather. No scarf, and I never carry a purse. When I go out, I just grab a shoe bag and stick my things in it.”
“It’s embarrassing, but I don’t really know what real life is like. I’ve never bought anything, never worked, never paid for anything. One of my wishes in life was to not work.”
When people ask me who my idol is, I always say Françoise Sagan. I don’t know if she’s very well known in the US, I know she used to be — and she’s always the one I turn to for her sense of humor and self-deprecation that both inspire me and crack me up.
She had a life made of books, casinos, friends, alcohol, fast cars and complicated love stories and never apologized about it.
She (almost) always kept her sense of humor, like when she admits she hates to travel.
Yes, there are people who don’t like to travel. So what?
“Traveling makes me blind, deaf, and generally terrorized.”
“The few magazines who, counting on the fresh perspective of a youthful eye, paid to send me off to faraway countries, soon regretted it. To fill up the promised pages, I had to resort to epic stories that readers quickly disregard as nonsense.
I’ve given up on reporting, I don’t know how to travel, I don’t know how to look at things, I’ll end up going back to the same little spot that no one likes over and over just because I can get warm there. When I think about that—that realization of powerlessness, it breaks my heart. My lovely Parisian post with my little neighborhood, and a few trips to the sea, or to Normandy in the summer, and trips to Switzerland in the winter — that’s probably what my life will be like in the future.
Still forty years, maybe. It’s petty and totally comforting.”
We also have Coco Chanel talking about love and companionship, and she didn’t care about being understood or conventional.
“It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone.
It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than I, I’m the one who can’t live with him. … I’m neither smart nor stupid, but I don’t think I’m a run-of-the-mill person.
I’ve been in business without being a businesswoman, I’ve loved without being a woman made only for love. The two men I’ve loved, I think, will remember me, on earth or in heaven, because men always remember a woman who caused them concern and uneasiness. I’ve done my best, in regard to people and to life, without precepts, but with a taste for justice.”
Catherine Deneuve, I’ve always loved her for keeping her life to herself. She does that very simply… And very directly :
“Journalist question (ambitious) : We’ve been wanting to get to know the woman behind the Deneuve legend for a long time, tell us about Catherine Dorléac [her real name]…
Catherine Deneuve (party pooper): I have to warn you, I’m definitely not going to talk about anything personal. I’m just here because I’ve got a film to promote.”
She also talked about things like…
“If I’m not interested in the person that’s in front of me, I don’t go out of my way. And because I am a pretty quiet person, I can look totally cold. Too bad, but I’m not going to change now. I’ve never been able to pretend. That’s the way it is.”
There are so many parisians of this kind. Chic, nonconformist, unapologetic. To me that’s such a critical part of style – a very personal way of thinking, unique and that never goes of style.