La vie en orange: coloured French fashion

MyFrenchLife™ - french fashionColour.

It’s been everywhere for the past year, bright, bold and brazen. At Gucci, models strutted down the runway in hot orange blouses paired with bright turquoise skirts and violet satin pumps, a colour combination most women have renounced by the time they reach junior high.

But there was nothing girlish about the striking contrasts. Whether retro-inspired or ultra-modern, the tailoring of these bright new fashions made it obvious that they were designed with women who mean business in mind.

Many fashionistas rose to this challenge, pairing their best red pumps with bright blouses and contrasting skirts. But I shrank back, horrified by the garishness of these new styles. ‘How can anyone possibly think these styles will work in every day life?’, I wondered. I secretly suspected people might think I was losing my grip if I started wearing orange at all, never mind pairing it with purple. I have spent years developing a wardrobe of simple, classic pieces in well-tailored cuts and neutral colours.

My style ethos is simple: look as French as possible at all times.

MyFrenchLife™ - french fashion

Les Parisiennes, they wear black. They pair it with brown and navy, gray and white, occasionally accent it with bright red or soft pink. They are not trend followers or bandwagon jumpers.

I grant, you will often see Parisian girls experimenting with usual fabrics or silhouettes. But this experimentation is most often done in the name of fun, not in an attempt to replicate a style seen in a magazine. (And equally often, you will see the neighbourhood biddies scoffing at these experiments. I made a particular scene on rue de Clignancourt this past winter when I – gasp! – wore a pale pink tulle skirt out of season.)

They embody the philosophy of dressing for oneself, a thing that is easier said than done in North America, where we are constantly overwhelmed with enough competing fashion choices to make our heads spin.

Orange is the new black

It makes sense, given what we known about how Parisians approach the art of getting dressed, that a collective gasp rippled through the fashion world when Parisian gamines arrived at Haute Couture week this spring dressed in colours. Yes, colours, because it wasn’t just one. Women known for their black and navy ensembles appeared in lime green, yellow and purple; orange, pink and turquoise.

The wildest ensembles were worn by style mavens from the wider world; Margherita Missoni piled on clashing prints, while Olivia Palermo and Miroslava Duma matched their citrus-hued dresses with equally flamboyant shoes.

MyFrenchLife™ - French fashion - colourful fashionAt first, I tried not to let it faze me- after all, for every vivacious, flash-in-the-pan Schiaparelli there is a timeless Chanel with enduring style. But it was all over when Julia Restoin Roitfeld, the daughter of former Vogue France editor Carine Roitfeld, known for her elegant aesthetic and penchant for neutral shades, showed up in rich burgundy mini dress with delicate lace sleeves and a pleated skirt. Julia has worn bright dresses all over the world, but until then had rarely, if ever, been seen in anything other than black and white in her stylish hometown.

A few hours after I saw a photo of Julia wearing burgundy in Paris, I pulled the long ignored orange blouse out of my closet and tucked it into a turquoise miniskirt. The day that Parisians stormed the streets of their city in a swath of vibrant reds and brilliant blues; the day that this was a fashion moment to be celebrated, not scandalized, was the day that mismatched bright colours ceased to be a trend.

If there is a world of fashion, then it is one we all live in; when the landscape changes, we learn to walk new paths and avoid pitfalls. I’m not suggesting that I’m about to replace all of the black sweaters in my extensive collection with orange ones. But if girls in Paris are wearing orange, I’m willing to try it, too. You never know- it might make me look more French!

What french fashion style do you like the most? Share with us in the comments below!

Image credits:
1. Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, July 2011 by Tommy Ton via
2. Light coloured tulle skirt © Cee Fardoe

3. Colourblock trend © Cee Fardoe 

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Cee Fardoe

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  1. Richelle Valenzuela Sep 16, 2011 at 7:57 PM - Reply

    I think it’s depressing seeing Parisian ladies restricting their wardrobe colour palette to black, grey and navy. Taking the metro and walking around the streets everyday I can’t help but think that there’s no innovation, no daring; everybody blindly follows one another. To wear something a bit colourful or with a bit of sparkle for example will get you disapproving looks because you haven’t followed ‘the code.’ This is really sad; I have lived in other large cities (such as London) and there is not this attitude of ‘fall in line.’ I always chuckle to myself when I think of something a French girlfriend said to me years ago, jokingly mocking a Parisienne: “Yesterday I wore my black coat. Today I wore my black coat. But tomorrow I’m going to be a bit crazy and daring and wear my brown coat!” Seven years later we still re-tell the joke. 😉

  2. Cee Fardoe Sep 17, 2011 at 12:33 AM - Reply

    You’re absolutely right, Richelle. The scandal I referred to in my article was a very real one; I’m sure the news of the girl in the tutu floated all through Montmartre that day. As much as I love the neutral colours that make Parisian style so easily definable (particularly for girls like me, who sadly don’t get to like there), what I saw at fashion week made me think there really is a sea change coming in the world of Parisian fashion. It will probably be slow, and there will likely be a lot of protest, but someday I think Parisian girls will feel like going out in a brown coat isn’t being daring 🙂 Thanks so much for reading.

  3. Laura Griffin Sep 20, 2011 at 11:48 AM - Reply

    Hey Cee,

    Judy and I were just talking about how we love your fashion articles. They combine commentary on current trends and your own fashion experience and advice. You have a great voice, writing style and photographs.

    Melbourne, like Paris, LOVES black; our family does twice as many loads of black washing than any other colour. But yesterday, we had an unseasonally hot day, and all the young people were in bright colours and florals. I’m not sure if it was the clothing or the weather, but people seemed friendly around the city and even on the train.

    Today it is overcast and raining, so its back to black!

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