Once upon a time France seemed to offer very few fashion options for young women. Sure, France may have been the international leader in women’s’ fashion for over a hundred of years, but keeping the title didn’t always offer much freedom. Liberty, fraternity and equality might sound great as theory, but it didn’t necessarily apply to public personas for the fashionable female. French girls seemed to graduate directly from suitably overpriced jeans and sweatshirts into the same wardrobes as their famously chic mothers.
Then, in the 1990’s, something new and interesting started to happen. There was a sudden blossoming of an impendent twenty-something fashion scene for younger French women. In a country that had largely ignored the kind of generational rebellion against looking like one’s parents played out during punk in the UK, USA and other countries, younger French women suddenly started to develop their own style. Not the officially sanctioned look of the BCBG, there was something new. France finally saw the mushrooming of styles, brands and stores that were very much about younger women making their own statements about fashion; marking their own territory.
As is only sensible, this hardly involved turning one’s back on classic French style. Au contraire, if one’s already got an advantage, why discard it? Rather, the world looked on and saw a new hybrid emerging: aspects of classicism and traditional luxury synonymous with French fashion combined with the cheeky designs of younger brands and the occasional nod to counterculture. In many ways, it had far less to do with the clothing being vastly in opposition to what came before and much more to do with lifestyle, behaviour and presentation.
The bilingual title Blanche is a good example of a magazine that speaks to women who inhabit this space between girlhood and unquestionable maturity that finally opened up within French fashion cultures less than two decades ago. It’s target readership are clearly drawn from the ranks of fashionable women in their twenties and thirties that are entirely happy with their adulthood, but not wanting to give up the playful carefree thinking of youth; the freedom to not be tied down to being boring and respectable.
As with its counterparts in other regions of the world, the title often profiles a from-the-hip direct style of presentation in which the faux-documentary approach is often evident. When it first emerged, this approach to fashion direction felt like a strong reaction to what came before. It seemed to be striving for some kind of return to authenticity and a rejection of the artifice that had become so synonymous with the previous generation of fashion directors. And ever since its first appearance, it has remained a strongly attractive aesthetic to those in their twenties, as if it somehow expressed their attitudes to living life without all the baggage of their older sisters. Sexuality, for example, was no longer a battlefield of strongly delineated opposing sides. This younger generation of women saw no reason to not combine the benefits of the battles won by feminism with traditional notions of female sexuality. If gender was performative, as many feminists had postulated, then why shouldn’t a woman be free to perform as many roles she wanted? Wasn’t that a lady’s prerogative?
Mari Sarai’s fashion story ‘C’est Blanche Style! La Fausse ingénue’ in the current issue, styled by Nobuko Tannawa, perfectly captures the spirit of the generation. Dutch model Valerie Van Der Graaf struts her stuff in an overtly domestic interior, a young woman having fun and experimenting with a Bardot-esque sexuality that is anything but naïve. Speaking to a generation who know that they have the right to be both rocket scientists and sex kittens, it offers the perfect platform for showcasing exactly the kinds of clothes that might appeal. Top names like Sonia Rykiel, Ann Sofie Back and Issey Miyake share the space with bijou little cult brands. It’s fashion for a generation that happily shares enough with its mothers whilst also making its own way in the world.