For an important book to be released this winter for the 50th anniversary of an iconic bespoke house, and to the publication of which I am honoured to participate as a guest writer, I was asked a particularly complex question: How does one define French chic?
As I must admit to having been slightly helpless to seize such an undefinable concept, I delved into the roots of a word most often evoking France in general and Paris in particular, only to discover its origins were, indeed and against all expectations… German.
Chic derives from the German Schick meaning proper and appropriate and, in Alemannic dialect (German and Alsatian Swiss), skill and know-how.
Originally, chic was a military term, and being chic referred to proper military dress, back when the German officers, long before the sad events of yesteryears, were viewed as a model of proper behaviour to follow.
It is indeed the underlying ideas of skill and ability that have led to those of elegance, ease and heightened presence.
Chic is one of the French words which, strangely, have encountered much success outside France, while being quite rarely used within the country.
Later on, after shedding the strong presence of its German meaning to start qualifying French elegance (chic parisien, anyone?), the word spreads to English, Swedish, Dutch, Italian and Spanish… only to end back on German pages under its original meaning, mit schick un charme.
Henceforth, chic universally goes far beyond the “mere” semantic field of dress to comprise all aspects of French art de vivre
As far as I am concerned, I consider French chic as the middle road between English austerity and Italian exuberance. Chic is a mix of elegance with a natural quality and an eye for detail and ; as a posture, it is a form of conventional eccentricity…