Friday, April 6, 2012

Madame Dariaux’s Elegance

One most excellent (and, I might add, hopeful) definition of elegance comes from Geneviève Antoine Dariaux at the start of her book Elegance; a Complete Guide for Every Women Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions, published in 1964:
What is Elegance? It is a sort of harmony that rather resembles beauty, with the difference that the latter is more often a gift of nature and the former the result of art.
Years ago I walked into a small town library sale and purchased my much-used copy of Elegance. It looked intriguing, but I had no idea just how. As my friend drove us home I randomly turned to pages and read aloud the most pithy, savvy and often funny statements on the subject of dressing and appearing elegantly. Madame Dariaux does not attempt to address other forms of elegance, but she writes wonderfully on this aspect, which she knows so well. In 1964, the author (who is still living) was directrice at the house of Nina Ricci.

The dust jacket from my 1964 copy
The book provides advice in an A to Z (Accessories to Zippers) format. It is a must for vintage enthusiasts, providing insights into how people dressed well in the early 60s. Some of this advice is definitely dated—such as stating that after the age of 20 a woman should never wear hair down to her shoulders—but even her statements tinged with elements of passed fashion still seem sound in their principles.

I believe one actually could appear more elegant today with the help of this book.

This very thought was the subject of the novel Elegance, written in 2004 by Kathleen Tessaro. The novel chronicles a depressed woman finding Dariaux’s book in a used book store and transforming herself and her life, based on the advice. I haven’t read this book, but the premise intrigues me. Also in 2004, Geneviève Antoine Dariaux’s book was you may not need to find it at a used book sale!

Next time: Some timeless advice from Elegance


Louise said...

I adore this book!
Mme Dariaux also wrote a few other books, one about men, which was similar to the Elegance book in that it offered advice in an a-z format, as well as a really good book on entertaining. She also wrote a fictional book about a Parisian fashion designer that was interesting and a bit of an insider's view on fashion. My copy of this book has a picture of her, and she is truly an elegant lady.

denisebrain said...

I just saw her other books while looking up the new version of Elegance. I will definitely put those on my reading list.

Lizzie, The Vintage Traveler said...

I too am a long-time fan of this book. I found a copy in a thrift store probably 15 years ago and I've been referring to it ever since!