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