The young French brand Officine Générale (2012) under direction of designer / creative director Pierre Mahéo remarkably seems to sell more product in the United States than in France and is currently opening up its second store in Paris. It prides itself therefore in the collections on what is considered the typical French, look, style, and quality and of course inevitably the question will then be raised what exactly is considered as ‘French’ in the sartorial arts.
Well, we all know it when we see it, when we recognize it but let’s try to define it. Take a good look at the collection below in the slideshow and you ask yourself why what you see is so very French; then try to define what you see or what you think. It is,frankly, easier said than done, but Best Dressed Man will give it a try here.
Of course ‘French’ style means a certain degree of elegance – or rather élégance – the phonetics themselves defining the meaning of the very word by difference of the accents with which it is pronounced. A certain aspiration to chic, or class, or good style, or good taste, but WITHOUT being BCBG (bon chic bon genre, like let’s say, Tommy or Ralph Lauren etc.).
It clearly also means a certain ‘decontraction’ of style – a casualness in dressing up – as in casual wear or as in the word ‘décontracté’ – like loosely wearing your shirt hanging out of your pants for example – and Pierre Mahéo in a recent GQ interview makes the interesting comment that indeed this liberty of style does not only belong to women but certainly also to men; and that when this freedom of wearing the things the way you want is applied also to men that this is so very French.
What is even more interesting is the point made by Mahéo that casualness is really not so much about the clothes themselves that you are wearing but that it has everything to do with the way you wear them which makes the look French (Le Look anyone?). As an example the designer gives the idea that older and used shirts and sweaters are often much better in wear, because of the wrinkles that give a natural look – so that one may look very ‘décontracté or casual indeed. No need to buy stonewashed or pre-shrunk or faded clothes therefore. For that is NEW.
No, above all, to look and feel French in your menswear, you need that globally branded French attitude well-known in pop culture which simply is called ‘nonchalance’, a the-devil-may-care or casual I-don’t-care attitude – and you don’t even need to be pretending to be chain smoking unlit cigarettes loosely dangling from your bottom lip in order to obtain it.
For here is the Best Dressed Man on the Planet guide of tips on how to look positively French:
- Unbutton your collar or wrinkle or flap it halfway up (think: Eric Cantona) and whatever you do, do not straighten it
- NEVER wear a tie
- Wear a T–shirt, turtle neck or V–neck sweater under your jacket and NO shirt
- Knot your favorite neck scarf or foulard tightly around your neck
- Do wear clean wrinkled-up or old clothes – in other words, don’t fold your clothes too crisply, and wear them out but not completely
- Often buy something elegant or a little chic and NOT too poppy or sporty, like something made by Officine Générale for instance
- Make sure your belt misses the buckle, or that your shirt, jacket, or coat misses a button here or there (and pretend you never noticed or are too lazy to fix it)
- When choosing colors go against the grain, be very contraire (wear light colors in winter and dark colors in summer) but never disagreeable
- Wear ‘baskets’ (hmm Converse) or other types of old timer sneakers under an elegant two piece suit or beautiful alpaca sweater
- Always dress down gently and never dress up
Since indeed the theme of this Officine Générale AW 17 collection is the French look, Pierre Mahéo defines for us in the press release what he considers to be typical French style icons for men:
“This «French style» seems to exist. Roger Vadim, Maurice Ronet, Francois Truffaut, Jonas Bloquet, Louis Garrel, Jacques Dutronc, Tahar Rahim, Jean-Michel Frank, Benjamin Biolay, Nicolas Godin… a few names from a list that will never be entirely exhaustive.”
Finally, so as to end this essay while leaving it ambiguously open to multiple interpretations, it’s said that Napoleon was once asked about who was the better soldier, the Englishman or a Frenchman!? His answer, as history shows, is both pointed and telling when applied to men’s fashion, and may perhaps explain the last thing that you may want to know before buying (and trying) your first item at Officine Générale so as to create a French look for men:
“An Englishman is proud, and proud people make good soldiers; but … a Frenchman, he is vain, and a vain man – he can or will do anything.”
Word by Sandro and photos from Officine Générale.