Well-Kept Secrets Of The French BCBG, Or, “Bon Chic, Bon Genre”


Today we have a gem of a guest post. Tish from A Femme d’Un Certain Age – known for her deft touch and affectionate voice – brings to life that rarefied species, the French “Bon chic, bon genre.”  or “BCBG.”  Tish’s dear friend, Jeanne-Aelia* of Through the French Eye of Design, introduces us to Grandpère, Grandmère, Papa, Maman, and the children, via her illustrations. About which all I will say is they made my jaw drop in astonishment and delight. Tish, you and Jeanne-Aelia have enriched our delicate examination of style, culture, and class, and I thank you. Note: This post may load slowly, as it is heavy with images. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

***

Nous sommes ravies, absolument ravies, de prendre un verre avec vous, très chère Lisa, en ce merveilleux moment de Noël. Jeanne-Aelia et moi are delighted you invited us along with our BCBG friends, comme d’habitude c’est exceedingly gracious on your part.

Grandpere by Jeanne-AeliaCharles-Henri, le grandpère

I believe you have introduced everyone properly, ma chère, after all they are part of your extended family so to speak: Charles-Henri, Marie-Hélène, Arnaud, Anne-Charlotte, Sigismond (aka as Siquet, pronounced “C.K.”) and la petite Clementine.

Grandmere by Jeanne-AeliaMarie-Hélène, la grandmère

Being a member of the BCBG tribe, or bon chic, bon genre, is of course the French equivalent of a Preppy or an English Sloane, or more aptly a high WASP if such a creature existed in France (one cannot after all be Anglo-Saxon and French, although one could be Protestant and many are Catholic of course). Nevertheless, you are most certainly in your element.

As in all things French, defining bon chic, bon genre beyond the façade and a few key indicators, is complicated. Or, ce n’est pas a piece of cake if you will.

For the sake of expediency, I shall give you the abridged version herewith and perhaps on another occasion — if you would be so kind as to indulge us — we could delve deeper.

Pere by Jeanne=AeliaArnaud, le père

Let me translate. One might think simply understanding the words, “bon chic, bon genre,” would be sufficient. It most certainly is not. BCBG is defined as those who: have a classic and elegant style, with an excellent éducation (that means impeccable manners in French), emanating from a long, long line – the longer, the better – of aristocratic or haute bourgeoisie ancestors.

La Mere BCBG by Jeanne=AeliaAnne-Charlotte, la mère

As one might expect, there are pretenders to the title, but the true blues recognize them by a misused word; an untoward gesture; the slightest allusion to money; or, worst of all, referring to their country house as “nôtre château.” Such ostentation screams, nouveau riche (!) which of course is très amusant, but really means, not one of “us”. (Being a High WASP, Lisa, you know what I’m talking about.)

It’s true they have their uniforms, which allow them to recognize others of their kind (genre), but clothes alone do not make the man (or woman or child for that matter). Children’s names, clubs, Parisian arrondissements (the Seventh, 16th or 17th traditionally), schools, locations of country homes, vacation destinations, and more, define a BCBG.

Le fils BCBG, by Jeanne-AeliaSiquet, le fils

For example, Anne-Charlotte and Arnaud, parents of Clementine and Sigismond, have plans to add to their family. BCBGs often reproduce at hallucinating rates thus causing havoc among siblings when divvying up the Louis XV furniture, St. Louis crystal, Louis XVI silver, and let’s not even talk about the jewelry. . . at the inevitable moment of inheritance. (No one speaks about money, but one observes a pronounced affinity for “things” of value – sentimental and otherwise.)

La petite fille BCBG, by Jeanne-AeliaClementine, la petite fille

As I was saying, children’s names, these would be a few examples of some that would be considered for the future progenitors: Albane, Aude, Bérangère, Capucine, Hortense, Mathilde, or Delphine for the girls and perhaps Alexandre, Augustin, Baudouin, Edouard, Gonzague, Guillaume, Wenceslas or Xavier for the boys.

However, we are here to have a pre-Noël celebration with you. As you can see, we’ve been shopping – wearing, as always, some of our favorite vestments.

(One cannot accurately say “fashion” or “mode” when describing a BCBG wardrobe, since the terms are irrelevant. A BCBG is rarely, if ever, a fashion victim though happily on occasion a family can produce an eccentric.)

Do let me briefly describe some of the de rigueur BCBG dressing details Jeanne-Aelia has so perfectly captured in her drawings:

Charles-Henri is wearing his – what else? — Loden coat, which he has been donning in various sizes since he could walk, and his snappy Celine Robert chapeau.

Marie-Hélène is comfortably correct in her classic – which, as she would say, j’adore, — tweedy suit from Old England, her enormous Hermès cashmere shawl (a gift from Charles-Henri) and her Roger Viviers from the 60s.

(BCBGs respect their clothes and take very good care of them, and, since they stay at more or less the same weight throughout their lives they give new meaning to the concept, “investment dressing.”)

  • Arnaud is unspeakably BCBG with his Charvet shirt and pochette, slouchy tweed jacket from Cordings in Piccadilly, London, plaid cashmere scarf from Brummel, sweater from Berteil, Ray-Bans, and moccasins from J.M. Weston suede brogues.
  • Anne-Charlotte is demonstrating that soupçon of whimsy so prevalent – and appreciated — in the younger generation and has turned one of her Hermès scarves into a saucy bandana. Naturally, she absolutely lives in her Burberry and Repetto ballerinas. Her charm bracelet, started by her parents when she was 18 and added to every year by Arnaud to mark either the birth of a child, or another major event, dangles precious medallions from Arthus-Bertrand.
  • Sigismond, despite the responsibilities that weigh heavily on his young shoulders as the first-born son, is experiencing a moment of mild rebellion, but is nonetheless wearing a cashmere cap and scarf from Bompard and Geox boots. A certain degree of revolt is acceptable and considered healthy, assuming at no time and at no age does one forget his (or her) manners. Exquisite etiquette is non-negotiable.
  • Clementine is all dressed up in a sweetly smocked dress from Bonpoint and a coat from Cyrillus. (She will break out of this mold in the next couple of years, but for the moment she accepts what her mother has chosen for her, as have her friends. Rebellion has not yet occurred to her.)

You are no doubt wondering just what would they give one another for Noel. Surely you are, n’est-ce pas?

What is so comforting in the world of BCBG gift giving is the fact that, with rare exceptions, more of the same is more than appreciated.

Frankly, can anyone have too many Hermès scarves, Charvet cufflinks, Chaumet bijoux, Arthus-Bertrand charms, Chanel accessories, obscure objets for one’s collection of precious whatevers? Obviously not.

Sigismond may or may not receive the latest iPhone he covets. It will no doubt depend upon whether he was accepted into the exclusive, private (is that redundant?) Ecole des Roches prep school next fall.

But, we are citing frivolous details, the accumulation of material objects of no importance. What is true, meaningful and eternal is the family, the continuation of one’s beliefs, standards and traditions.

In that esprit then, we wish you and all those you hold near and chers, a très Joyeux Noël.

***

Again, I thank you Tish, both for this post and for the continued pleasure of A Femme d’Un Certain Age.

Bio for Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, of Through the French Eye of Design
The United States have been my country of adoption for the last 24 years. I left Paris and a career in fashion and found a brand new professional life in the world of interior design. I “earned” the right to attend Le Studio Bercot, a Paris fashion design school, by surviving 4 years of interpreter school. I have also had the privilege to live the life of a nomad. It was a very comfortable nomadic life, certainly, but a life with a lot of moving away from “there” to discover a new “here”. I encountered new cultures, new colors, new life styles, even new “weathers”. I have loved it all and I am convinced this travel rich life has very much determined the choices I make today. But certainly, being French is a big component as well.

Pour Monsieur
1.
Cashmere turtleneck
2. Cufflinks
3. Lab puppy — if one is lucky, the SPCA. (Any reputable breeder. I cannot
find my original source.)
4. Pour Monsieur de Chanel
5. Chapeau
6. Wax sealing stamp

Pour Madame:
1. Scarf
2. Shalimar
3. Medallion
4. Evening minaudière
5. Rings
6. Gloves
7. Headband

34 Comments

  • 12/20/10
    8:14 am

    Reply

    deja pseu said...

    What an absolutely delightful post by Tish and Jeanne-Aelia! I feel as though I understand les mysteres des BCBG’s a bit better now.

    Fabulous!!

  • 12/20/10
    8:26 am

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    Hill House Ramblings said...

    I’m new to the term “B.C.B.G.”…how fascinating and what an entertaining read. The illustrations are an absolute delight too. Adore the gift lists (yes, can one have too many Chanel accesssories?? I think not!). Merci Tish and Jeanne-Aelia!

    H.H.

  • 12/20/10
    8:41 am

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    Karena said...

    Wonderful posting by Tish, I adore her site. Lisa thank you so much for featuring her!

    Joyeaux Noel!

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

  • 12/20/10
    8:47 am

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    Jeanne-Aelia said...

    What a feat! I enjoyed every word from Tish and every line and image from you. No surprise there. So much fun! I linked to you on my blog, of course. Bravo and thank you for inviting me. I am very flattered and relieved that my contribution was of the artistic kind and not literary…you both always set the bar so high.

  • 12/20/10
    8:55 am

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    hostessofthehumblebungalow said...

    Wonderful post…love the descriptions, they are vivid and clever.
    The gift ideas are lush looking…and classic.

  • 12/20/10
    10:05 am

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    metscan said...

    What a great post. I will have to go through it properly with good time!

  • 12/20/10
    10:15 am

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    James said...

    What a great score for your delightful blog to have Tish Jett guest for you.Her sense of style and good taste are beyond reproach.

  • 12/20/10
    10:18 am

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    Sue said...

    Thank you so much for this most interesting post.

  • 12/20/10
    10:57 am

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    tishjettt@yahoo.com said...

    Dearest Lisa,

    Yes, let’s talk Privilege, shall we? What a Privilege to be invited into your remarkably creative space and joined with my dear friend, Jeanne-Aelia.

    She’s remarkable isn’t she? In such stellar company — you made it come alive, Jeanne-Aelia’s artwork captured the spirit with such a delightfully deft hand — it was a pleasure and an honor.

    Mille merci. We’re linked today (with a little luck, for life.)

    xo,
    Tish

  • 12/20/10
    11:49 am

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    Patsy said...

    Thank you Tish and Jeanne-Aelia for bring this charming family to life! The illustrations are simply fantastic.

  • 12/20/10
    1:08 pm

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    Candy Dye said...

    What a delightful post!
    Merci Beaucoup!!!

  • 12/20/10
    2:50 pm

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    materfamiliasknits said...

    Très charmant, merci! We were in a Hermès store this morning where there was the most darling rabbit-trimmed child’s coat — perhaps if I were BCBG, I might have bought it for my granddaughter. . . I can dream. . .

  • 12/20/10
    2:54 pm

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    Belle de Ville said...

    Wonderful post!!!
    I love the BCBG look. I am loving all of these guest posts all over the place.

  • 12/20/10
    4:23 pm

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    QueenBeeSwain said...

    buy once and buy as nice as you can afford! MoMo has the cherub medallion- actually, DMM does now, but I LOVED looking at that when I was little :)

    xoox

    kHm

  • 12/20/10
    6:05 pm

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    Susan said...

    Wonderful drawings. I will have to go and see her blog.

  • 12/20/10
    6:11 pm

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    The Preppy Princess said...

    Tish and Jeanne-Aelia are brilliant individually, even more so as a duo. This is delightful Miss Privilege, the descriptions, the art, all of it.

    Sending you a smile for the week to come,
    tp

  • 12/20/10
    6:32 pm

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    Town and Country Mom said...

    Charmed!

  • 12/21/10
    7:38 am

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    meg said...

    A French friend of mine once explained an intriguing practice–French women find a design that suits them, (for example, for me that might be a longer, fitted v necked jacket or top, with 3/4 sleeves, a-line dress or skirt)keep the pattern and, when new clothes are needed choose fabric and have their trusted seamstress make it. Since I love fabric and don’t sew, I found this very appealing.
    Meg

  • 12/21/10
    8:50 am

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    Allie von Summersverb said...

    Squeeeaaal…XXOO

    ps…was just wishing for a pair of elbow length, leather dress gloves this past weekend!

  • 12/21/10
    9:19 am

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    Lisa said...

    Deja – Yes, I felt both a click of recognition, and that sense of reveal. Aha! Now we understand what might have passed us on the streets of Paris.

    Hill House – Merci a vous aussi!

    Karena – Joyeaux Noel!

    Jeanne-Aelia – Thank you again. So much.

    Hostess – Don’t you just love Tish’s writing? So gentle but so witty.

  • 12/21/10
    9:23 am

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    Lisa said...

    Metscan – I am curious whether there is a similar group in Finland.

    James – I know! How fortunate am I!

    Sue – You are very welcome.

    Tish – Bisous! Bisous! (I have no idea if that is polite:))

    Patsy – So glad you enjoyed it.

  • 12/21/10
    9:26 am

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Candy – De rien! Thank you for commenting.

    Mater – Oh, your grandaughter is charmante without ornamentation but I can absolutely imagine the temptation.

    Belle – Collaboration is so much fun. And this post is just genius.

    QBS – You have this medallion in your family? How fun!

    Susan – So glad you liked it.

  • 12/21/10
    9:31 am

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    Lisa said...

    TPP – And smiles back to you.

    T&C – Perfect response! Enchanté!

    Meg – I find at this point I do that virtually, buying the same silhouette over and over again. If I had a good seamstress, and trusted source of good fabrics, I’d love to use that strategy.

    Allie – I was THINKING about you! Have you gone to Paris yet?

  • 12/21/10
    8:25 pm

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    La Belette Rouge said...

    J’adore this post!!! And I am mad for the drawings. What a treat this is! Merci!!
    xoxo

  • 12/22/10
    5:19 am

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    Colleen said...

    Charmed & delighted – beautiful images.
    Merry Christmas!
    Colleen

  • 12/22/10
    11:46 am

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    Dana said...

    Stupéfiant. Tish, Jeanne-Aelia et Lisa : le beau style et le bel arrêt-en-vos pistes qui écrivent. , Remercie comme toujours pour partager et Noël heureux. Dana

  • 12/22/10
    4:14 pm

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    David said...

    I love the photos!

  • 12/23/10
    7:33 am

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    class factotum said...

    I love the jaunty scarves that the men are wearing. We noticed an abundance of jaunty scarves on men when we were in Paris last month. I have not noticed the same here, even though it is far colder in Wisconsin than it is in Paris. Wisconsin men! Jaunty scarves will help keep you warm!

  • 12/23/10
    7:57 am

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    La Belette – Thank you! I have a hankering to print those drawings out on photo paper and frame them. I can imagine them all hung together on a wall.

    Colleen – Merry Christmas!

    Dana – Merci beacoup à vous aussi:).

    David – :).

    class factotum – Ha! Hear that men of Wisconsin?

  • 12/26/10
    2:54 am

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    La Victorienne said...

    Lol I felt a click of recognition while reading about the Wasps!! Lovely drawings.
    All of this is soooo true like the importance of “the” school. btw BCBG tend to dream a lot about Harvard, Yale,… and the younger ones tend to dress more preppy (red pants, polo shirts )which adds a lot of colour (acid green, hot pink aren’t traditional bcbg colours)
    I have to admit that I do copy pattern of clothes I like (like my sister’s dress). As a don’t have a seamstress I try to make the best of it myself.

    I love your blog.

    ps: Sorry for my English, it’s the day after Chrismas ;-)

  • 12/26/10
    2:57 am

    Reply

    La Victorienne said...

    btw about the colours I find your post about navy blue reassuring. (in French bleu marine: official bcbg colour along with loden-green, white, and a touch of red)

  • 12/26/10
    6:58 pm

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    Susan said...

    Just blogging around this evening. Your sketches are amazing, thank you for letting me visit.
    Susan
    http://amazingcouponanddiscountdeals.blogspot.com
    http://joininandgogreen.blogspot.com

  • 12/26/10
    10:27 pm

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    Worthy said...

    Amazingly, my Grandmama wanted to be called Grandmere but was told that people in our small town would not “get it”. Well, some people wouldn’t… so she went with Grandmama instead.

    She has worn Shalimar since my Grandpapa brought it to her to their home on base in Salina, Kansas during the Korean War after he flew over to Paris while in the Air Force. And obvs, she collects Hermes scarfs (like her Herend pieces).

    And she dresses exactly like that!

    Love. It. To. Pieces.

    XO

  • 09/25/12
    3:27 pm

    Reply

    Walker said...

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