I’m mildly obsessed with all things Parisian chic. Parisian women just seem to naturally be on life’s catwalk, in an effortless, oh this old thing, moi? elegant, dazzling way. When I was at university I got my hands on a copy of ‘A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions’, by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. This pretty little book has been in and out of print for donkey’s years, being reprinted most recently in 2005. You can still buy new for about £13 from Amazon.
The lady herself lived in Paris, before retiring to the South of France. She obviously had an eye for detail and a passion for fashion, as she opened her own fashion house, eventually leading to the foundation of Nina Ricci, where she was director for many years.
The book! Well I went through a phase of buying beauty bibles, how to be adored type, fashion, makeup and beauty books a long time ago and came across this gem. It had been reprinted due to the success of Kathleen Tessaro’s ‘Elegance’, which references this book heavily, and is a really wonderful read. It’s almost like a manual of how to be elegant, what to wear to which occasion, from a weekend in the county, to lingerie, to the selection of ones engagement ring!
Madame’s style is instructional, with a flair for witticism somewhat lost in recent times! You have to remember this book was written sixty years ago now when you pick it up. But who wouldn’t want to act, dress and look like the Hollywood stars of the fifties? The advice is extremely permeable to the modern woman, especially if you are not keen on looking like something out of a hip hop video!
There are lots of utter pearls crystallised for a modern audience, for example on the subject of accessories Madame recommends ‘a complete set of accessories in black and, if possible, another in brown, plus a pair of beige shoes and a beige straw handbag for summer’. Well that makes perfect sense, the elegant wear a simple pair of bald heels with black stockings, and beige heels with a bare leg and pretty much nothing else is needed really is it? There is none of this crazy you are either body type pear, pineapple, kumquat etc etc you are either an I or and O and Madame will explain how to dress for either. Perfection!
I’m in love with this little book. I’d love to say I live my life by it, have thrown out all my pink heels, would never be caught dead in an ugly pair of shorts and a spaghetti strap top (as I lay like a beached whale in my garden this summer!), I can’t obviously. Periodically I dip into this book, absorb some elegant wisdom, reinvent a look for an outing and as a result feel thoroughly polished. Elegant moi?
It doesnt matter what age you are, where you are or how your life works, this book is a welcome addition to anyone’s life. In Madame’s own words:
“If I may be permitted to use a high sounding word for such a minor art, I would say that to transform a plain woman into an elegant one was, and still is, my mission in life.”