When people achieve their dream of moving to their world capital of choice, they are quick to adopt their new title. It’s like the minute you move into your tiny, overpriced flat, you become what you’d dreamed of being for years – whether it be a New Yorker, a Londoner, a Sydneysider, a Berliner, or a Hong Konger.
But when it comes to Paris, I’ve witnessed many girls – myself included – who hesitate to call themselves a Parisienne.
It’s not because locals are unfriendly or would look down on you. Quite the opposite – I always felt very welcome here and have been encouraged to make myself feel at home. Instead, I think it is because the word carries so much weight.
The term “Parisienne” is significant in the lexicon of beauty and culture the world over. It usually brings to mind pouty girls with perfect skin, incredible confidence, delightfully messy hair, and an innate fashion sense. For many girls – especially those who move to the capital – this fabrication is both untouchable and something to strive for. They feel they can’t call themselves a true Parisienne unless they fit the mold of the long held stereotype. Or, they feel it’s reserved only for those who are born and bred in the capital – or, at the very least, those who are actually French.
Funnily enough, many of the women who contributed to this nonexistent ideal were not even French.
I am vehemently against the stereotypical image of a Parisian and the way beauty industries lap it up – a subject which will soon have its own dedicated post – but I am not against the women on which it was drawn. To me, they represent what it means to be a real Parisenne. It has nothing to do with where they were born, but rather where they were reborn: In Paris, which they loved and adopted as their own, and not the other way around as so many people think.
Because really, that’s all it takes. Move anywhere in the world, and if you care for it and become integrated and make it your home, you absolutely have the right to call yourself a true inhabitant.
With her tousled hair, sky blue eye shadow, red sweaters, and cat eye liner, the kittenish Anna Karina perfectly represented the youthfulness and freshness of France in the 1960s. It’s no wonder she became the darling of French New Wave films – as well as the darling (and later wife) of famous director Jean-Luc Godard.
Despite her coming across as the quintessential French girl, Anna actually came from Denmark. She’d hitchhiked to Paris at 17 after a row with her mother, and for a while she lived on its streets, poor and unable to speak French. She was saved after being spotted by a talent scout while sitting at Les Deux Magots, who helped launch her modelling and film career.
Romy Schneider is renowned as one of France’s most famous leading ladies, starring in films with some of the biggest names in the business, from Yves Montand to Michel Piccoli. And who could forget her steamy turn in La Piscine with real-life romantic partner Alain Delon?
However, prior to her making it big in French cinema, Romy was already a massive star back in her native Austria. There, she’d been making movies since she was 15, including her iconic role as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in the Sissi movie franchise.
Everyone knows the story of the decadent and doomed life of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. From the heaps of fancy dresses, shoes, and jewelry; crazy parties with the French aristocracy; and sky-high hairstyles. She was one of the most hated people of her time, but has gone down in books as one of the most memorable figures in history.
While she’s forever linked to her adopted country, Marie Antoinette was actually born as the Archduchess of Austria. She spent her formative years in Vienna before moving to Paris to become the bride of King Louis XVI.
Josephine Baker embodied the luxury and decadence so often associated with the French capital, with her sultry burlesque routine at the Folies Bergère , fur coats, pet leopard, and sparkling personality.
But Josephine wasn’t French – she was American, hailing from St. Louis. She’d been raised in poverty, eventually going to New York City and then Paris, where she found success travelling with a vaudeville troupe. Feeling liberated in France, she decided to stay.
“La Baker” unsurprisingly became a national and much-loved celebrity, and she fully embraced France back, even going so far as to become a French Resistance agent during the war. She famously said: “I have two loves: my country and Paris.”
Jane Birkin is a celebrity woven deep into the fabric of contemporary French culture, loved just as much for her relationship with singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg as for her comedic chops and her penchant for carrying a wicker basket as a handbag. Not to mention her carefree, sexy style, which is still cited by many a Parisienne as what they aspire towards.
It’s no secret that Jane is actually from England, but as she’s the source of many a modern day Parisian stereotype, she deserves a spot on the list. Her story is a well-trodden one: She came to France in her early twenties to film a French film with Gainsbourg – basket in one hand and baby daughter in the other – and the rest is history.