In these past few months, I have realised that cultural differences do extend further than clichés, but they definitely do exist. More than anything, these differences become evident when we look at the way that the locals dress – in Paris, for example, monochrome is key and the ‘classic’ look is the one that is largely favoured. Well-dressed women keep their outfits simple and compensate with statement accessories (usually a Chanel bag and a pair of Louboutins.. even I’m jealous) and dramatic outerwear – fur coats and oversized capes are amongst the most popular choices. Back in the UK, however, people are more experimental with their clothing choices – the best example I can think of this is that the UK have charity shops, whereas they are nowhere to be found over here. English style is an eclectic mix of colour, print and texture – people aren’t afraid to be bold with their clothing choices, and with the rise of vintage and charity shops, young creatives can afford to dress boldly and express their personality.
|Alexander McQueen for Givenchy Couture|
The reason that I mention this comparison is that recently I have re-developed a fascination with the late, great Alexander McQueen – more specifically, I’m fascinated with his brief spell as creative director of legendary Parisian couture house Givenchy. At this point McQueen was still in the formative years of his career, and considering his controversial earlier collections (‘Highland Rape’, ‘Dante’), his appointment as head of such a classic couture house caused uproar amongst the French fashion press that immediately slated his debut collection.
Despite the fact that McQueen was both overworked and underpaid for the majority of his time at Givenchy, the collections that he produced were technically flawless and visually stunning – the negative reaction at the time appeared to be more a reaction to his iconoclastic personality than his work itself. This was multiplied by the fact that he brought a lot of British models (Jodie Kidd, for example, was McQueen’s ‘star of the show’) to the forefront of Paris Fashion Week, which many people saw as an invasion of sorts and, also, as disrespect to the house’s heritage. His second collection was more warmly-received but his stint at the house was still short-lived – which makes me wonder, is there any real way to seamlessly blend an equal amount of both cultures?
|McQueen for Givenchy Couture|
For example, people continue to respond to me in English, despite the fact that I speak French – something which can be frustrating and accentuates the feeling of being a ‘foreigner’. We are always fascinated with foreign culture but rarely to the extent that we fully embrace it – we see it as different to our own when really, as humans, we all intrinsically work in the same ways. Culture is something which is embedded within us throughout our lives – our culture comes from our surroundings, from our families and from our life experiences. Can we ever change the way that we think of different cultures?
|Jodie Kidd for Givenchy Couture|
I am the first to admit that I dress differently in Paris than I do in England, mainly because it’s fun to become somebody different – the dramatic coats, the 12foot scarves; they embody what I love most about fashion, which is the sense of armour that comes with shrouding yourself in a knee-length cape. However, the one thing that I have realised is that no amount of effort to ‘conform’ can ever make you truly feel like a foreigner, and since realising this I have taken more pleasure in being the outsider, the ‘gypsy’ that’s just passing through the country and its culture and observing from the sidelines. I may have been influenced by certain elements of French life, but these elements are only adding to the aspects of British culture that I hold dear to my heart, slowly weaving a multi-cultural tapestry inside that will one day definitively become what, I suppose, we could call a ‘cultural identity’. Isn’t that all we can ever hope for?