To fans of her personal style blog Camille Over the Rainbow, Camille Charrière might appear to be the living, breathing embodiment of French-girl chic. And from her perfectly unbrushed blonde hair to her pared-down wardrobe (think sporty, monochromatic looks grounded by denim and leather), she certainly does look the part. But in fact, while Charrière did grow up in France, her mother is British and she moved back to the UK several years ago ("For a boy," she tells me. "Things people tell you not to do, right?").
Though she’s since parted ways with the guy who inspired her international move, Charrière’s now a London lady through and through—and when I sat down with her to discuss the subtleties of European style last week, the bitingly funny blogger delivered a no-holds-barred explanation of why French girls aren’t quite as fashionable as the rest of the world seems to believe. Read on!
Lucky: As someone who’s lived in both France and the UK, how would you characterize the style of these two cities?
Camille Charrière: In France, it’s about blending in—you wear a uniform. And that’s part of what pushed me away from France. I mean, my style is not crazy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still too "out there" for French tastes. I remember coming back from London one weekend and going to a party, and I walked through the door and went up to my friend and was like, "Why didn’t you tell me there was a theme?" And he was like, ‘"Cam, there’s no theme—you’re just in France." Every girl was wearing the same striped shirt with sequins and shoulder pads from Sandro, jeans, ballet pumps from Repetto and a sequined Vanessa Bruno tote. It was a clone army. And the thing is, that is how it’s done at France.
I feel like French women own fewer clothes in general—they buy better and buy fewer, right?
Yes. People are way better about fast fashion in France. They don’t consume it the way we do. England is way more trend-driven—girls they wear things that will get them noticed. It’s nice because it means everyone can truly express themselves through their clothes, but the downside is that the culture’s very much "buy, buy, buy—throw away, throw away, throw away" there. In France, there’s no market for low-end stores. There’s no Primark or Forever 21.
France does have H&M and Zara, though…
Yes—and did you know that Zara, H&M, all of those stores mark up their prices about 15 to 20 percent more in France? And you know why? Because they can get away with it. Because France is still a country where people want to pay more money, expecting better quality. It’s the reason why the bridge market brands—Sandro, Maje, Iro, Ba&sh—are so successful there. People think that if you’re paying more, you’re getting better quality—which is bulls**t, by the way. But France is a conservative country, and shopping is a social activity. Back when I was working at Net-a-Porter, I remember the French market was always the hardest to crack because—and everyone knows this—the French don’t shop online. Over there, shopping’s something you do on the weekend with your mom, your grandma. You try things on, you think carefully about each purchase. Whereas in England, people party more, so you’re always buying new clothes to wear out on the weekends.
The other thing about England is that kids there have to wear uniforms to school until they’re 18. So on the weekend, everyone’s desperate to stand out by dressing as outlandishly as possible.. In France, there are no school uniforms—and imagine going through your teenage years having to figure out what to wear. When you’re a teenager, you don’t want to stand out—the goal is to blend in. Everyone wants the same bag, the same jeans—you become accepted for wearing whatever the ‘cool thing’ is at the moment. So in France, the notion of the ‘uniform’ is more internal—everyone is trained to dress the same, just buying slightly different versions of the same thing. I really do think it’s one of the reasons the style in these two countries is so different.
So you’d say your style’s more British than French at this point, I’m guessing.
Actually, I’m really into Scandinavian brands, ones that do super-simple, minimal clothes—perfect basics, but with interesting cuts and fabrics. Some of my favorites are Designers Remix, Fall Winter Spring Summer, Wood Wood, Rika. But I guess you could say that my style’s French-meets-Scandinavian minimalism mixed with the English mentality of "wear what you want, when you want, and don’t make any apologies for it."
English style’s definitely more experimental. So why do you think women are still so obsessed with the notion of French style?
I mean, if you look at the French editors and stars, they’re goddesses—they’re chic on another level. The Emmanuelle Alts, the Caroline de Maigrets—they just look effortless, even though they’re wearing the same thing every time you see them.
I think that effortlessness is a big part of it.
But you know what the funny thing is? The word "effortless" doesn’t exist in French. The concept of effortlessness is ridiculous to the French, because they truly put so much effort into everything from their hair to their nails to what they eat. They just make it look like they don’t.