Existing Member?

Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Spring sprung in chic Paris

FRANCE | Thursday, 4 June 2009 | Views [1918] | Comments [2]

RECENTLY we have been concerned with the question of ‘chicness’. As in the age-old dilemma of whether the French actually are more chic than anyone else, or is it one of those self-fulfilling prophecies?

Certainly the chap strolling the Marais area in front of us earlier this week was the epitome of someone who thought he had nailed ‘chic’ but had unwittingly hit his thumb with the hammer. It was proof that not even a Frenchman can pull off a light grey suit and brown suede shoes. Especially if the jacket’s too short and sports those double vents my father used to call “fart flaps”.

He wasn’t right about much, my old man, but he was right about that. A suit should have one vent or none. Anything else just makes your arse look big/bigger (delete as appropriate).

Mind you, this from a middle-aged man wearing beige shorts, a canary yellow Australian soccer shirt, black Adidas socks and trainers. Might just as well have “Tourist” tattooed on my forehead.

But one question remains. Are French women chic or do we assign chicness to them merely because they are French?

To this end I took a turn around Notre Dame. Paris has, in the past few weeks, blossomed in more ways than one. The parks are full of people and flowers and the trees, so naked when we arrived in February, are bursting with life. Indeed there is a tree in the rue de Rivoli splattering large plump blackberry-like fruit all over the pavement – it’s as if a cloud of Sydney bats have been through there, shat, and shoved off again.

The big clue that Paris is opening up for spring, though, could be seen in the cafes as they folded back their windows and flooded the pavements with tables and chairs. It has been like watching a field of flowers unfold and spread their petals, allowing the tourist bees to flit from one to another, pollinating them with their Euros.

Notre Dame was a wipeout. Why I went there looking for chic is beyond me. Tourists are a scruffy lot on the whole (the exception being around the Place des Vosges where the dress code is expensively wrinkled linen suits in pale pastels and a jaunty sun hat – and that’s just the men).

Mostly, we tourists look like the survivors of an explosion in K-Mart, staggering out into the sun wrapped in whatever the blast landed us with. This isn’t strictly fair of course – surely even the French look like tourists in Lakemba or Louisiana. Don’t they?

Ado and Carla, two friends here recently from Sydney, had no doubts – French women really do have that ‘je ne sais quoi’. “They just seem to glide along,” explained Ado. So there you go, it’s because French birds are on wheels.

And they often are. Sitting at Le Pick-Clops cafe in the Marais today I conducted an experiment – avec  la permission de La Bubblehead, naturellement – which involved drinking coffee in the sun for several hours while watching women go by.  I know, I know, the things I do in pursuit of The Truth . . .

Anyway, many, many beautiful women passed by on bicycles, scooters, motorbikes, Jimmy Choos, you name it. One memorable instance involved a woman in a short skirt and a pair of silver high-heels that truly deserved the word stiletto - even ninjas don’t have shit like that, I tell ya. And she was on a Vespa! Probably because  she couldn’t walk in those things.

Anyway, after two hours of hard perving there is only one conclusion to come to; they ARE more chic. Sit on a corner like this in New York, Sydney, London, Dublin, Glasgow, Cape Town, Accra, or Woop-Woop and you will not see this many stylish women (though, the men need a bit of work).

But there IS a secret to it, and I believe it is hair. They all, whatever age, have marvellously well kept hair. This surprised me because I cannot say Paris is hideously well supplied with salons – though I could be wrong given that I haven’t been in one for a good 10 years (Popsi Bubblehead doing the honours for me with a combination of hedge clippers and a blowtorch).

I suspect there is some sort of underground salon society that makes the Da Vinci Code look like a boy scout meeting - the Tong Tong Macoute perhaps – and that only French women are allowed to join. There they keep the world’s top hairdressers chained to their sinks and, thus, stay one Prada-clad step ahead of the rest of the world’s women.

One thing, though, the cigarettes will never be a good look, girls ...

HERE’S another important fashion question: sandals on men – are they ever right? I think not.

TRUE story: Sydneysider in Paris refuses to enter ‘Australian’ restaurant – he hadn’t come all this way to eat scoff he could get at home. What did it? The sign saying ‘Restaurant aussi a l’etage’ – restaurant ALSO on first floor.

Tags: chic, fashion, jimmy choo, notre dame, paris, popsi bubblehead, scooters, spring, stiletto, tourists



Hey keith_austin,

We liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others could enjoy it too!

Happy travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Jun 22, 2009 12:49 PM


Hi Keith, You didn't have to sit and drink coffee, and watch french women to discover that they are the most beautiful in the world, I could have told you,I'm one of them! It's not the way we dress, it's the way we walk! We could be wearing a paperbag, and look better than everyone else, we french people call it " charmante"!! The "charme" makes us stand out, I can spot a french woman anywhere in the world!!

  Marie=Louise May 7, 2010 10:02 PM



Travel Answers about France

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.