Some women are simply elegant. I mean, they could be wearing shorts, jeans, or a towel on their heads, and somehow, they still look chic. Do you know women like that? Grace Kelly was one of those women, as was the it girl herself, Audrey Hepburn.
I have a large collection of antique and vintage etiquette and beauty books, they are my favorite things to read on a rainy day in Oregon (which, as you probably know, means countless days). I recently grabbed a book off of my shelf that I hadn't looked at in a while - it's a signed first edition of the book Elegance, A Complete Guide for Every Woman Who Wants To Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. It was written in 1964 and covers everything you need to know about elegance from A (accessories) to Z (zippers).
Madame Dariaux was the directice of Nina Ricci so she knew a little something about elegant women. She had originally opened her own fashion house before going to Nina Ricci.
What I love about this book, is that it is always honest, at times funny, sometimes timeless, and it's full of fabulous pieces of advice on elegance and style. In the "C" chapter, there is a section on CHIC. When trying to describe the essence of chic, Madame Dariaux says;
"The essence of casual refinement, chic, is a little less studied than elegance and a little more intellectual....It is a gift of the gods and has no relationship to beauty nor to wealth. .. The Kennedy family has chic; but the Truman family doesn't. The late Queen Mary of England had chic, but Queen Juliana of the Netherlands didn't. Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo have chic, but Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor, in spite of their beauty, their sumptuous clothes and jewels, do not."
In the "D" chapter, there is a section on Designers, and Madame Dariaux tells us the dream wardrobe she would compose from all of the Paris designers. This is one of my favorite chapters! I have inserted the images of vintage outfits that fit the descriptions on her list from the 16 designers. I've tried to choose those from the 1960's in most cases. I think she chose the perfect things for this hypothetical designer wardrobe!
1. From Balenciaga: A little black dress, or a very formal evening dress and coat..as a matter of fact, everything (except for certain "experiments")
2. From Balmain: A regal gown fit for a queen
3. From Pierre Cardin: A wool suit
4. From Castillo: Evening ensembles, long or short
5. From Chanel: A tweed Suit
6. From Courreges: A sports Coat
7. From Dior: A cocktail or dinner dress
8. From Givenchy: A wool or Silk coat
9. From Gres: A draped jersey dress or an extreme sports coat (if I were very tall).
10. From Jacques Griffe: A little black dress, or a good suit
11. From Jacques Heim: My daughter's first ball gown
12. From Lanvin: A sophisticated kind of evening dress that Crahay alone knows how to make.
13. From Guy Laroche: A short beaded evening dress
14. From Nina Ricci: (now the most youthful house in Paris, thanks to Geraud Pipart) A striking, unconventional ensemble.
15. From Yves Saint Laurent: An elegant afternoon outfit
16. From Venet: A wool Sports Coat
There are countless gems of elegant wisdom in this book - including a list of quality accessories that can "add prestige to an entire ensemble"
- a lovely umbrellla
- a cashmere sweater
- a really good mink ascot or two skin mink scarf
- a fur hat of excellent quality and design
- a fine pair of black glace kidskin gloves
Though we may laugh a little at the mink ascot or glace kidskin gloves, her main emphasis is repeatedly quality over quantity and on that point, I agree wholeheartedly. Our closets are too big - we need smaller closets, and better made clothing! What's interesting about Madame Dariaux's list is that I think I would wear everything on it today!
If you get a chance to pick up a copy of her book - I can guarantee that you will love it! I know it has been re-printed, so you can find an more affordable copy than mine! Let me know your thoughts on elegance and chic - I'd love to see photographs of people you know who exemplify those qualities!
I was sad that the photos were no longer accessible, but loved the article. Thank you.
Thank you so much for the beautiful photos. I have loved this book since I found it about 14 years ago. These photos really bring it to life.
I truly enjoyed your short story on Mme. Dariaux, I’ve enjoyed her books for years and am glad that another appreciates her wit, writing skills, humor, and timeless advice and ideas. I would love to learn more of this fascinating woman, I wish that she had a biography written on her life.