Style rites of passage and dressing like a Parisienne
The purpose of that teenage trip to Brittany was ostensibly to learn French. However, that plan was hijacked - grammar went out the window and my journey turned into a month-long fashion adventure, a style-fuelled rite of passage as I was introduced to the foundations of French dressing.
Four weeks later, I returned home armed with aspirations to French-ify my life, and wardrobe. I converted school friends to blue mascara and we scoured Irish stores for navy pea coats and Breton tops - but only the authentic ones where the stripes start on the shoulders. I loved the combination of white jeans or dark denims with 'les tropeziennes,' strappy flat sandals. College, a career and two kids later, many of those fundamental wardrobe pieces I spied back then and logged in my teenager notebook remain core building blocks of a modern, authentic Gallic wardrobe.
The French have an incredibly strong sense of who they are and it intrigues me just how much the French women work the same fashion template and really look after their clothes and accessories, buying well and passing pieces on. On Sunday afternoons in Paris, you can spot three generations of the same family all looking effortlessly chic, working the core values of their modern day national heroine, designer Isabel Marant. Isabel deftly toughens up any look with a hard v soft, masculine v feminine contradiction.
All three generations can work the iconic Chanel jacket, with its edge to edge beauty, and make it hum with age-appropriate originality. A teenager will spin it with jeans, a logo tee, paste jewellery and ballerina flats, while grandmama rocks the tweed jacket with slim skirt, pearls and patent quilted bag.
Mama, meanwhile, will probably work it like style icon Ines de la Fressange, muse for Yves Saint Laurent and whose book, Parisian Chic, features on our fashion special on pages 22-23. Ines is typical of the sassy French woman who teams a wool sweater with a ballgown or leather biker jacket with an LBD. She respects the power of the trench coat and tux jacket and says that navy blue is "risk free", unless you wear it with yellow in which case, she warns, "you are sailing dangerously close to the brand colours of a certain Swedish furniture store".
French brand The Kooples excel at refined tailoring and it has just opened a store at Kildare Village outlet mall. Meanwhile, high street giants Next have launched a new online service for Irish customers. Order by 10pm for free next day delivery on orders. Terms and conditions apply. See nextdirect.com
Paris in the spring
The new Carolyn Donnelly The Edit collection, which has just landed into branches of Dunnes Stores, is ideal for spring breaks away. Carolyn's draped boil wool coat, €159, features a pretty waterfall front and also comes in a cardi style. Both looks are available in cream and a very flattering greyish shade called 'oyster'. The French love their big jumpers, worn baggy over jeans or leather leggings.
The cream cotton Aran-style jumper in The Edit costs €69 and is a good weight, cosy without being too hot and it is also available in silver grey. I have a growing affection for cross body bags and Carolyn's black leather, fold-down style, €119, is pictured here with a white, collarless, cotton shirt, €79, which has an uber-cute bib front in pique - really handy for weekends away as it works equally well by day with jeans or for dinner with glam trousers and chandelier earrings along with a smokey eye. All in all, solid closet building-blocks here from Carolyn Donnelly. dunnesstores.com
Pictures: James Gould