PARIS - The cheeky humor of the 1930 and 40s actress and model Arletty, the new-look silhouette of Christian Dior, the red pouting lips of a René Gruau fashion ilustration…all sum up the legendary figure of the Parisian girl, or Parisienne. But where is this epitome of chic to be found, what does her dressing room look like, what kind of life does she lead?

Top French department store Galeries Lafayette is paying homage to the myth of the chic Parisienne throughout the month of April with former top model Inès de la Fressange acting as an ambassadress for the event.  De la Fressange has recently joined forces with journalist Sophie Gachet to produce the best-selling style guide La Parisienne (Flammarion, 2010), detailing the chicest shops and eateries that Paris has to offer. Published last fall, it has already been translated into English and Italian and soon, Japanese.

"I've invited writers such as Marc Lambron and fashion designers such as Fifi Chachnil and Vanessa Bruno to give their vision of the Parisienne on a web-TV channel," explains the beautiful former Chanel muse, now in her fifties, who was also a model for the official bust of Marianne, the national emblem of France, in 1989. "I'll also reveal my favorite finds in terms of clothes and accessories, though real chic is a matter of spirit and attitude, rather than beauty, age or wardrobe. French women don't feel obliged to choose between the intellectual and the childish, and that's their strength!"

As part of the event, the windows of Galerie Lafayette's flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann have been dressed to illustrate different areas of the French capital such as the Luxembourg Gardens or the Pompidou Centre. There will also be hair and beauty demonstrations and mini fashion shows. This temple of fashion was opened at the end of the 19th century, duplicating the chic "haute couture" trends at a cheaper price.

Back then, long before the sleek, sophisticated silhouettes of fashion illustrator Kiraz, Parisian women were already forging a reputation for their clothes. Books and songs pay homage to the seamstress, the working-class girl and the sales girls, these young, well-turned-out workers who spent their days with needles in their hand. "For at least four centuries," wrote Alain Rustenholz, in Parisiennes, "fashion has been made in Paris, and the Parisienne has been the model. For her, ready-to-wear is made-to-measure: adjusted to her size, cut to her form. She is fashionable by default because fashion is based on her. And as a backdrop, there is Paris, with the Seine as its sash, its lace made of stones, the Eiffel Tower as its fishnet stockings."

The Parisienne does not need to have been born in Paris to channel its seduction; just breathing its air is enough. Model Farida Khelfa, who is from the southeastern city of Lyons and of Algerian origin - parading on the catwalk of Jean Paul Gaultier this January, as she did at Azzedine Alaïa's fashion shows in the 90s – is the perfect incarnation of this elegant and mischievous creature.

"For me, the ultimate Parisienne is the Alaïa woman, and that explains the major influence of this Tunisian tailor on today's ready-to-wear collections," says Loïc Prigent, fashion documentary maker, whose work includes the famous The day before. "This form of elegance mixed with a touch of madness is also present in Balenciaga clothes: during the designer's latest runway show, you could actually see a beautiful row of "real" Parisiennes: Fanny Ardant, Catherine Deneuve or Géraldine Nakache..."

Elegant and cutting, the Parisienne plays a hidden sexual game. She gives the impression that she is not trying too hard, in jeans and a t-shirt under a Chanel jacket, Charlotte Gainsbourg style, or a mini-skirt above Converse trainers, like many girls in the street. But she plays with her legs, enhanced by stilettos, or bats her eyelids under a lock of hair. "She irritates all other women in the world," believes Loïc Prigent, "because she seduces without that hair neurosis of the New Yorker or the Roman."

It was to dress this fantasy woman that Australian designer Martin Grant moved to Paris, like the German Karl Lagerfeld or Algerian Yves Saint Laurent before him. "When I arrived in Paris I was struck by the effortless chic of its citizens, compared to the labored look of the English and Americans," confides Grant, who opened his fashion house in 1996. "The Parisienne seems naturally charming and bubbly, even if she has spent hours blow-drying her hair to give the impression of just getting out of bed and she has skillfully made herself up to achieve a 'nude' look," Grant says jokingly.

We will have to await the release of the film Midnight in Paris, in May, to discover the Parisienne as seen through the eyes of an American who loves all women, Woody Allen. The film features a certain Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Marion Cotillard, who the American public adored as Edith Piaf, the original female Parisian street urchin.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Tibchris