The Little Black Dress

I always thought the French had a genius for wining, dining, romancing, and dressing and a lot of other things I couldn’t fit into the subtitle of Joie de Vivre, and the little black dress has to be at the top of the list.

Why?  For me, la petite robe noire is quintessentially French:  simple but elegant.  It’s THE dress you have got to have in your wardrobe, the one you’ll always find yourself gravitating to in answer to the perennial question:  “what shall I wear”?

As the American fashion writer and Paris resident Tina Isaac enthused:  “Black is timeless, no-brainer, works in all situations, day to night, never appears overdressed or out of place or in bad taste, does not need (much) accessorizing, does not need to be expensive…is slimming, lends an air of sophistication and intelligence (thank you Chanel and Audrey), regardless of whether it’s deserved, and for all those reasons I would say it’s kind of the spirit of Paris, sartorialized.”

Invented by Coco Chanel almost a century ago, the little black dress is now on high display at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art and Culture until September 22 so if you’re in Paris, put it on your list.  Now for a confession:   I’d tell you what you’re going to see but I haven’t been myself.   It’s on my  to-do list, that’s for sure.  I do however know a lot about the exhibition simply from reading a recent article in the International Herald Tribune by its authoritative fashion writer, Suzy Menkes.  According to her,   “this collection is far more than an homage to past grandeur”.  André Leon Talley, a contributing editor at American Vogue and the force behind the exhibition, emphasizes the versatility of the little black dress, showcasing a variety of mannequins by designers from Yves St. Laurent and Balenciaga to Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney.

As I said, I haven’t been to the exhibition yet – and I’m on vacation and can’t get a picture up which is really a pity –  but all you have to do is visualize the diminutive Edith Piaf belting out her passionate love songs in her little black dress and you’ve got your image. In fact, did you ever see Piaf in anything but the little black dress?

The little black dress is simple and elegant, but also versatile.  The exhibition shows it in all its various interpretations, from classic to modern.  The more I think about it, the more I think I’m going to rush to the show and then go buy myself a new black dress for my (very small) collection.   It’s one purchase where you truly can’t go wrong.  As Stella McCartney says in the book accompanying the show (which I will mostly surely buy as well):  “The little black dress is something to rely on – to fill you with confidence and ease.”

What more can one ask?





4 thoughts on “The Little Black Dress”

    1. Bonjour François,
      I hope my readers will click on your link to read your reflections and admire your black and white photos of women wearing the little (or not!) black dress. Thanks for your input! Harriet

  1. Why does one always preface black dress with “little”? I like the idea of a little black dress but it sounds like one has to be very thin to wear it. Not like a normal size black dress!

    1. Good question. “Little” in French is often used for something that’s “nice” or pleasant and a black dress is definitely nice and pleasant. It doesn’t refer to the size – although most of the women I’ve seen wearing those little black dresses are … little!

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