Pleats, s’il vous plait! French chic from the backstage of the Musée d’Orsay 


Have you ever been invited to Paris Fashion Week? If the answer to this is yes, then good for you. You can probably skip this article. If the more common answer to the question is no, then don’t worry. I haven’t either. But let me tell you a secret: you can observe most of high-end Paris fashion in a place for a small fee.  

This wondrous place is non other than the Orsay Museum in Paris, lodged on the left bank of the Seine, just opposite the Louvre. It’s one the most visited museums of the French capital, housing an extraordinary permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and etchings from the mid-19th century to the end of post-impressionism. As you may well know, Paris is a city also synonymous with high end fashion or what we call ‘French chic’, and it has been so since the 17th century. Thanks to Louis XIV, France’s luxury goods market exploded and made French ‘haute couture’ as we know it today, from fine clothes, to champagne, pâtisseries and much more. 

I started working at the Musée d’Orsay just a month ago, not knowing that I’d be walking into one of the biggest fashion shows of my entire life. It’s mid-season right now in Paris, meaning that layers are required for any outfit you’re planning on wearing. 

I started working at the Musee d’Orsay just a month ago, not knowing that I’d be walking into one of the biggest fashion shows of my entire life

Thankfully, Orsay houses locker rooms or ‘vestiaires’ where any bothersome coats can be left for the day, encouraging the visitor to make the most of all the galleries on offer. The additional café & restaurant makes it easy for anyone to spend the day here, giving any visitor the opportunity to show off an outfit that has been carefully chosen and tailored for the occasion.  

In the past month, I started checking tickets halfway between the left gallery. I quickly realised that in fashion terms, three different worlds were colliding: the international and European tourists, the French, and of course, the Parisians.  

The latter don’t just set themselves aside from the cliché of their sour, stressed demeanour. Their style evolves around tasteful and timeless pieces just as I mentioned above: think of silk scarves (Hermès ‘carreaux’ or not), minimalist, designer trousers or jeans, a white shirt brought from an expensive little thrift store and of course, a designer bag. Longchamps or anything else from a boutique shop. If it’s minimalist, practical and able to hold everything in one place, it’s a no brainer.  

Some tourists choose practicality over glitz & glam, which I’m all for. This occurs usually with visitors that have come to the capital via Interrail, or just anyone wanting to be comfortable for a day of exploring. The embodiment of this style, ‘gorpcore’, chooses technicality & functionality, often in primary colours that never fail to meet the eye. Sometimes it’s just Decathlon-core, and I’m still all for that.  

One of the styles that has mad its comeback is ballerina inspired fashion. Think pleated lightweight skirts inspired by Issey Miyake airy Pleats Please line, Channel style cropped blazers adorned with minimalist gold-plated jewellery and ballerina flats. Although the latter seems to be the worst choice for a day of walking around, they certainly never fail to add that little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to a museum day outfit.  

We’re all looking at and being seen, like the paintings in Orsay; so why not make the most of this and be playful with what you’re wearing?

Of course, some are more daring than others. Bringing eye catching colours inside a museum dominated by a hushed colour palette was never going to be an easy task. Nevertheless, Majorelle blue, a colour synonymous with Yves Saint Laurent & Moroccan summers, bright oranges and fuchsias are brought in seamlessly, breathing an air of leisure & spring. 

Another key piece I will touch upon is the trench coat. I think this one is self-explanatory:  whether its beige or a light brown, this timeless, gender-fluid timeless piece goes with about everything, especially in Paris. The beige-cream colour of all Haussmann apartments you see in the capital seem to resonate with this coat. Oversized, tailored, a cotton mix or polyester, I’m a firm believer that a trench coat is essential for any mid-season wardrobe.   

Whether you like it or not, dressing up is an essential part when being in Paris. Everyone around here is indirectly showing who they are with their clothes, whether it’s dressing up solely according to the latest fashions, following your gut and accessorising accordingly. We’re all looking at and being seen, like the paintings in Orsay; so why not make the most of this and be playful with what you’re wearing? It’s up to you.   

Illustration: Victoria Cheng

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