Why French Women Age Better and Joseph Altuzarra’s Other Observations of Paris vs. New York Style
What are your first recollections of fashion growing up in Paris?
A lot of my earliest recollections had to do with going to the ballet with my mom. At the time, people would get really dressed up to go to the ballet. I remember putting on a nice jacket—I was little, I was six years old—but that’s my first recollection of my own dressing, as well as other people. Fashion is such a pervasive thing in Paris, it’s a huge part of how French people interact with France.
When you first moved to New York, what was the most striking thing about the way people dressed?
I was eighteen. I thought people wore a lot of sweatpants. I was really shocked. I moved for college, so I have to tell you, I didn’t think anything was particularly chic. But one thing I really like that’s much more American is that women wear a lot of prints. Much more than they do in France. And I love that.
Who are some of the first women who inspired you?
I think a lot of actresses were the first women I really remember stylistically. You know, there was Catherine Deneuve. I used to watch a lot of her movies growing up. My parents watched a lot of older movies. I really remember Isabelle Adjani very clearly. I remember her style and that she had an eccentric way of dressing.
Do you think the common clichés about Parisian women and their style are true?
I think French women age very well. That’s a cliché that I think is true. French women don’t really diet. Or I didn’t know any who did growing up. French women do not exercise. That’s actually true. [Laughs] I’m trying to think of perceptions that are not true. I think French women don’t try that hard a lot of the time. I think they have a routine, but it’s very minimal.
When you’re designing, is the Parisian woman or New York woman more alluring?
It’s going to sound like a cop-out, but I think the combination of both is what makes our brand very unique. I’m half-American and half-French, and there are parts of both women and both cultures that I find super-inspiring. I love on the French side that sort of very nonchalant sensuality. There’s always something a little seductive and sexy, and a little bit perverse and bourgeois. But I also very much respond to the sense of ease and pragmatism of American women when they dress. I love sportswear, and I think when you infuse that with a French sensibility, it becomes something interesting.
What are some of the hallmarks of each?
In Paris, I always notice that women wear stockings. I think that’s a very French thing. To me, it epitomizes how French style is defined. It’s kind of a fluke thing, but I always think of it. In New York, I think layering is something that draws my eye a lot.
Who epitomizes those two styles in your mind?
Charlotte Gainsbourg epitomizes Parisian style to me. And, you know, Carine Roitfeld.I think in a lot of ways Vanessa Traina has a very modern American way of dressing. I’m trying to think of women who embody that in the way that they dress every day. With American women, there’s this sense that women who dress well get dressed up for premieres. I think American women dress for specific events and for the office. French women have more of a uniform every day. There’s less segmentation of the wardrobe.
Do you think Paris vs. New York is still a relevant debate?
The reality today is that less and less is local. I go to France, and I want to buy very little that you can only find in Paris. It’s all available in New York, and vice versa. I think the distinction between French and American women and their style is probably fading. Although there are cultural differences, I think they’re dissipating a bit. I’m an American designer, technically, but I’m from France. And I design for both places, and I sell the same clothes in both places. Whereas I think in the past, French women wore French designers and American women wore American designers.
What do you want to preserve of the idea of the stylish Parisian woman?
I think the relationship French women have with their bodies and, I think, the way they think about themselves and their sexuality as they age. I think it’s very wise and very specific to French culture. French women tend to be much less focused on their flaws. They’re much better at enhancing what they see as their assets. There’s much less emphasis on correcting everything, which I think is a big part of American culture. It’s a culture of correction, whether by exercise or diet or plastic surgery. I think French women are accepting of their bodies, and they’re more comfortable with their sexuality as they age. They don’t see themselves as having to stop being seductive or sexy because they suddenly turn 55 or 60. They don’t stop feeling like women, and I think that’s really important.