The myth and reality of the Parisian woman

The actor Arletty, seen here in the film Hôtel du Nord, was one of many working-class French stars of the era (Credit: Alamy)

There is now a whole literary genre devoted to her mysterious allure. So what is the true essence of the Parisienne – asks Paris born-and-bred Agnès Poirier – and how did she evolve?

French women – Parisiennes in particular – have no idea of the fascination they inspire in foreigners – until the day they discover in a bookshop abroad the vast amount of literature dedicated to scrutinising their every move and mood. Sometimes written by Parisian women living abroad, or by foreigners living in Paris, this literary genre and lucrative niche market aims at educating its readers in Parisianisme and its many secrets.

Among them, in just the last few years: How to be a Parisian, Wherever You Are by Caroline de Maigret, Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan and Anne Berest; Dress Like a Parisian by Aloïs Guinut; Parisian Chic by Inès de la Fressange and Sophie Gachet; and the recently published The New Parisienne by Lindsey Tramuta.

Tramuta’s interesting hybrid work – part coffee-table book with beautiful pictures and illustrations, part political pamphlet, and part guide book with addresses and tips – makes for an alluring proposal. The author wants to “lift the veil on the mythologised Parisian woman – white, lithe, ever fashionable, and recast the women of Paris as they truly are”. To do this she profiles forty Parisiennes who “don’t fit the mould”, from Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo to cookie maker Moko Hirayama, translator Poonam Chawla and many others – including political figures, entrepreneurs, influencers, designers, artists, writers and athletes.

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