Chic, the enfant terrible of fashion jargon, is an adjective often used incorrectly. It’s not beautiful, pretty, elegant, understated, suave, flashy, and it’s not a la mode or debonair, so, zut alors what in blazes is it?
Well the French language is chic and so is Paris. In fact the City of Lights has always been the world capital of chic so it might be a good idea to start there in our search for clues.
One often hears references to the chic parisien and one of the most chic of all Parisians was Jean Gabin, a possessor of quintessential chic. He left Paris in his youth to pursue a lady friend to Los Angeles. The lady friend was called, Marlene Dietrich. So birds of a feather do Normandie together.
Marlene Dietrich had chic in every pore down to the molecular level and what a couple they must have made strolling down Sunset Boulevard arm in arm. Well the idea of Sunset Boulevard extinguishes any glimmer of chic imagery. Even William Holden, who was immutably handsome, lacked chic.
So what did Gabin have that Holden lacked? Gabin had a face that only a mother or a Dietrich could love. He was not six two though he did have eyes of blue. And he was a bit stout. Holden was a masculine 10. There is a lot of great news in this discovery: you don’t have to be tall or handsome to be chic.
Gabin didn’t always play the hero and even though he was often cast as the good guy, he was always pretty much a bad boy as well. Mae West would have appreciated Gabin’s rugged looks and would probably have noted that when he was good he was good but by being chic he could afford to be bad. In any case, it’s a relief to know one can be good and bad at the same time as long as one behaves with chic.
At one point in his career Gabin was not convinced he could make enough money to support and assure the security of his family, so he bought a farm in Normandy and tilled the land to feed his kin. Not having to be rich is an attractive feature of chic. But courage and class are clearly required.
In his many roles in cinema and the theatre, Gabin was outfitted in every manner of dress imaginable and he always looked chic. I hate to disappoint the fashionistas, but chic has little to do with clothes.
Confidence and charm were the principal assets Gabin displayed in his career and his life. He was never what you would call smug as that device would have obviated the cheeky charm. But he was never lacking in direction or will.
Dear reader, I am not sure to have transported us any closer to a definition of the indefinable, but a few words tend to stand out when we speak about chic: confidence, courage, charm and class. Oh, by the way, if you have enough of these you’ll wear your clothes well and you’ll be chic in them.