The fashion star, who’s dressed Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, on French girl style and love and lust, post Harvey Weinstein
Quelle surprise, the French really do think they do it better.
That’s an implied message of “Une Femme Française: The Seductive Style of French Women,” a recently published read from fashion designer Catherine Malandrino. The 54-year-old Grenoble native has spent much of the past two decades in New York, where she worked for Diane von Furstenberg before setting up her eponymous label, which has outfitted the likes of Kristen Stewart, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys.
“It is the little way we put things together, more enchanting than the American woman,” Malandrino, who now splits her time between New York and France, tells Moneyish. “There’s a lightness and joie de vivre that n’existe pas here.”
Hence her breezy tome, which is part-memoir, part manual to how French women (and more specifically the Parisiennes that hang around the tony 16th and 8th arrondissements) get it done. Interspersed among dictums like “Wear a pair [of red stilettos] and cross your legs. Every man will catch the movement” and “Being seductive is being a woman. The first person any woman has to seduce is herself”– the secret is to find the right clothes and hairstyle– are illustrations like a heart comprised of repeated “Je t’aimes.”
Malandrino wrote her book before the wave of sexual harassment revelations that emerged after the Harvey Weinstein scandal. While “Une Femme Française” is an unapologetic paean to the romance of seduction, she’s keen to highlight there’s a “huge gap” between that and harassment. “It’s not a fine line,” she insists. “Harassment is linked with violence, abuse and humiliation. It’s totally unacceptable.”
While the #MeToo movement was initiated on English-speaking social media, a similar hashtag, #BalanceTonPorc (roughly, “squeal on your pig”) has emerged in France. Marlène Schiappa, a French feminist who currently serves as gender equality minister, has also proposed an anti-catcalling law. “Men are now conscious of how much harassment can hurt women and they’re going to be very careful,” Malandrino says approvingly.
But she adds that mature adults shouldn’t shy away from seduction. “I don’t want to create a dry society. It’s fabulous to feel desired and that has nothing to do with sex or violence, but rather is subtle in the details,” Malandrino says. “Men looking at women in the eye and smiling, or offering flowers and champagne on the terrace can change your day and your perspective. I encourage American men to bring more of this attention to women.”
Malandrino, of course, is hardly the first person to try and profitably translate the French girl myth. Just witness how au courant labels like Maje and Sandro, whose parent company was last year sold to a Chinese firm for $1.5 billion, are taking over storefronts in cool neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the dominance of French It girls like Jeanne Damas and Violette on social media, or how books like “French Women Don’t Get Fat” are eternal bestseller list fixtures.
“It started with women like Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, and we now have a revival with Carla Bruni, Léa Seydoux and Marion Cotillard. It’s a rich new generation that perpetuates the idea of the French myth,” Malandrino says.
The designer however, isn’t just a fresh-faced France transplant to the Anglo Saxon world but someone with an abiding affection for it. After all, it was stateside that Malandrino founded her business— subsequently sold, but still mired in legal wrangling— and received some measure of fame as a dresser to the stars and “Project Runway” guest judge.
As an entrepreneur herself, she’s also a big fan of American dynamism—the vision and achievements of Steve Jobs, Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg are referenced favorably in her book. “What made me successful was finding men and women of talent and building a team around me,” she says. “I surrounded myself with people who shared my values of serenity, strength, seduction and power. All the things I wanted to bring to women.”
And Malandrino declines to diss the American dress sense. “It’s a misconception to think that Americans don’t have style. We have so much weight to carry as French women while Americans are way more fresh and are willing to try anything,” she says.
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