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May 8, 2011

Dueling Style Books

Parisian Chic VS. How To Be A Man

<p>Two examples of Parisian chic from Ines de la Fressange’s new book.</p>

Two examples of Parisian chic from Ines de la Fressange’s new book.

By Nancy Staab

  • Parisian Chic photos by Benoit Peverll. All images courtesy of Flammarion/Rizzoli

It’s a she said / he said face-off as model and muse Ines de la Fressange goes up against clotheshorse, wit and renaissance man Glenn O’Brien

Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange  (Flammarion/Rizzoli)

Author Credentials:  

French style icon, model, muse, former face of Chanel and brand consultant for fashionable Parisian shoemaker Roger Vivier, Ines de la Fressange epitomizes effortless French elegance. Now she’s poured all her practical style tips into one handy cheat sheet for chic: from how to dress with a certain je ne sais quoi or throw a no-fuss dinner party, to her little black book of favorite Parisian boutiques, bistros, hotels and hidden museums so you can literally follow in her stiletto-shod footsteps.

The author and her book The author and her book


The French fashion pantheon is filled with iconic names like Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg,  Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve. De la Fressange dissects the French flair for style in chapter one: “Dress Like a Parisian.” She opines,

“The Parisian follows a few golden rules, but she likes to transgress, too. It’s part of her style.”

So, it’s au revoir to bling, the slavish following of runway trends, and quelle dommage, anything matchy-match. Instead the quintessential Gallic woman likes to mix high and low, shop in the men’s department of H& M, layer two scarves on top of one another, dares to pair black with navy, slips a little wool sweater over her ball gown (because “stoles are so kitsch”) and in general, relentlessly pursues an ideal of “offbeat chic.”

Chapter Two outlines the “Not-So-Basics” including the “hall of fame” YSL tuxedo jacket with nothing but a lacy bra underneath, the little black dress (as much a “concept” as item of clothing), and other “magnificent seven” pieces that every Parisian woman must own:   a men’s blazer, trench coat, navy sweater, tank top, jeans, and leather jacket. As for beauty: red lips, bien sur, (no pink lip gloss, please), and short manicured nails and good grooming are paramount in Le Paris.

Ines' Little Black Book of Parisian Chic:


Marie-Héle`ene de Taillas  for cabochon rings

Pierre Barboza for romantic pieces from the 1830’s


58M: for shoes and bags by cutting edge designers like Lanvin and Alex Mabille

Roger Vivier: for must-have ballet flats with buckles a la Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour.


Gabriel Sentou:  Paris’ top shop for Deco statement pieces


La Closerie des Lilas for steak tartare

Chez Georges for belle époque atmosphere

Le Chateubriand for nouveau cuisine such as raw cepes in coffee oil

Ralph’s at Ralph Lauren on the Left Bank for American crab cakes and burgers

Le Water Bar de Colette: for a “fashion food” lunch, post "le shopping" at the iconic boutique Colette.

Le Salon du Cinéma du Panthéon for afternoon tea

Hot Spot:

La Société for fashionable people watching with a décor by Christian Liaigre and restaurant by the Costes group 


Hotel de l’Abbaye: a Saint-Germaine domicile that oozes charm alongside its floral wallpapers, giltwood mirrors and marble baths in the grand style

L’Hôtel:  With décor by Jacques Garcia (think lots of red velvet) and noted pedigree: this building was once the Paris residence of the notorious Queen Margot and later Oscar Wilde stayed here, who wouldn’t want to check into this storied “haute-tel?”

Take-Away Lesson: 

“Nothing looks worse than a girl tottering about on unimaginable heels! The key to sex appeal is a feline walk, not a precarious wobble.”

How To Be A Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Man by Glenn O’Brien with illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme (Rizzoli)

Author Credentials: 

Wit, stylist, author, perennial cool guy and self-described “bon vivant,” Glenn O’Brien, knows whereof he speaks. He’s worked for Andy Warhol and Hugh Hefner; served as creative director for Calvin Klein and Island Records; penned pieces on art, style and music for GQ, Interview and Art Forum; and pals around with Debbie Harry, Kate Moss, Richard Prince, David Byrne and Madonna. Klein calls him ‘’The Socrates of popular culture” and Moss blurbs “If more men read Glenn, women wouldn’t have so much explaining to do.” Nuff said.

The author and his book The author and his book


Droll, verbose, opinionated, charming and unapologetically old-school, O’Brien offers an urbane style and manners etiquette for the modern man that runs the gamut from dress and social networking to culture, wisdom, décor, dandyism and even “how to have a vice.”  Put your smart cap on because O’Brien sprinkles hipster pop culture references like Miles Davis next to classical allusions like Marcus Aurelius more liberally than George Clooney’s use of hair gel!

O’Brien Quotables:

On Manners:

We live in a rude age in which social life has descended from elegant private balls and intimate dinners to hog-wild corporate blowouts….We must strike back….Our weapons will not be broadsword, mace, and cudgel; they will be wit, satire, mockery, and chiding. Not the longbow but the bon mot.

 On Dressing:

…that’s exactly what I love about the tie: its sheer, almost transcendental uselessness. The tie’s only function is beauty, a quality of man that seems at low ebb in this benighted age.

The tie is a prime location for deviant self-expression. A knot should almost always be asymmetrical. I like a tie that looks like it was tied without looking.

Matching the shirt was a favorite Fred Astaire tactic, but socks can also match your sweater or your eyes or your 1969 911 Targa.

Once you get your look perfect, it’s time to f**k it up. Add some charming defects, mannerisms, and discrepancies. If you look at photos of the dashing majordomo of early twentieth-century bohemia, Ezra Pound, his dandy look often features one shirt collar up and one shirt collar down. This is one of my personal favorite affectations, Ezra-ing the chemise.

On Cursing:

…Consider the allure of an insult that not only sounds bad but is also more specific and possibly foreign to the recipient, who may, upon hearing it, feel even more stupid. Confusion over arcane terms of contumely can only help drive the point home to a lickspittle, toady, stumblebum, rube, bounder, middlebrow, mythomaniac, charlatan, yokel, lout, or schmendrick. And those words just feel good on the tongue.

On Décor:

One’s home should manifest one’s tastes, interests, obsessions, and even peccadilloes. In my house you’ll find a lot of art; Swedish modern furniture; R&B and reggae on vinyl; baseballs autographed by knuckleball pitchers; modern first editions; African masks and witch-doctor whistles…

On Twittering:

As the digital landscape of social networks grows, Twittering minute by minute toward some critical mass, people make assumptions about strangers that seem destined to result in disappointment….The wise man reserves his friendship for those who have proved worthy of it. Friendship is about quality, not quantity.

On Taste:
Bad taste is often preferable to good taste because it may possess certain virtues, such as daring and exuberance. Good taste tends toward fascism and monotony...

On Maturity:

Just say no to youth. Let’s get old and enjoy the hell out of it. Let’s make maturity cool again. It is time to bring back the suit, the tie, and the hat as emblems of manhood….We men must start acting like men again. Wear vested suits, white shirts, and ties, smoke pipes, drive station wagons, drink Manhattans, and call the wife “honey.” In short, grow up.

Miscellaneous Tips:

Business cards don’t cost much and they indicate you’re a serious person. It’s very hip to have a Japanese translation or Braille on the flip side. When boring people give you business cards, save them in your wallet to use as aliases when you meet other boring people.

If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, don’t talk about it. Instead, listen to Sinatra’s No One Cares, including “I Can’t Get Started,” “Just Friends,” and “I’ll Never Smile Again.” It’ll fix you right up.

When somebody looks good, tell them. They will remember you.

If you have only one thing in the refrigerator, make it Champagne. You’ll be ready to celebrate or seduce at all times. And if you don’t drink anything else you probably won’t get a hangover.

Take-away lesson: 

 “Style is the opposite of fashion…Fashion is imitative. It’s about belonging, being in with the in crowd. Style is about setting yourself apart, being unique and authentic….That professional paragon of style Noël Coward said, ‘I have never felt the necessity of being with it. I’m all for staying in my place.’ ”