Why are French women so damn cool? The 17 chicest French ladies to have ever walked the planet

French women 'don't get fat' (apparently) But they do age gracefully. They're always elegant, even when they're scruffy. They don't slavishly follow trends but they do look effortlessly look cool. Always. How do they do it?

1. Coco Chanel

Quite simply, Mademoiselle Coco Chanel redefined the modern woman. Leading by example and not just her designs, Coco Chanel became a style icon with her striking bob haircut, boxy cardigan suits and tan (a suntan was previously associated with the working class, until Coco accidentally sunburned and returned tanned from the Mediterranean one summer). We owe so much to Mademoiselle Chanel.

Coolest French women

Coco Chanel

2. Emmanuelle Alt

When we think of French Vogue’s editor Emmanuelle Alt we think minimalist chic. Just how does she make a pair of jeans, a white shirt and a pair of simple heels look so damn cool? A pro at uniform dressing, Emmanuelle sticks to a few key, quality pieces and wears them with confidence. If only it was as easy as she makes it look.

Coolest French women

Emmanuelle Alt

3. Vanessa Paradis

As a long-standing Chanel girl, chic comes easily to Vanessa Paradis. She somehow manages to make the ordinary look extraordinary. When it comes to fashion, Paradis says she doesn’t overthink things and simply puts together a look she’s comfortable with. She’s never overstyled, always preferring the natural, fuss-free look. And that’s the undeniable charm of Paradis.

Coolest French women

Vanessa Paradis

4. Lou Doillon

Being the daughter of Jane Birkin and Jacques Doillon must have given Lou a headstart in the style game. It’s in her genes, after all. Her fashion motto? ‘It’s better not to look your best so that people can imagine that the best is really much better.’ Doillon doesn’t stick to the rules, mixing flea market bargains with designer pieces, messy hair with a full face of make-up. The model has a sense of humour and innate confidence which shines through.

Coolest French women

Lou Doillon

5. Jean Seberg

Although born in America, Jean Seberg is considered a French style icon, with her elfin cut and Breton stripes helping her win over the fashion pack. Chunky knits, simple trousers and chic layers were her wardrobe staples, while her much-lusted after pixie crop and minimal make-up only added to her boyish chic. What’s the main lesson we should take away from this Iowa-born star? Simplicity is the key.

Coolest French women

Jean Seberg

6. Carine Roitfeld

Her style is inimitable. At 58, Carine Roitfeld is the doyenne of French fashion. We’d go so far as to say the former editor-in-chief of French Vogue is a cult figure in the world of fashion. From her trademark smoky eye to her outlandishly sexy fashion choices, this lady is unashamedly stylish. Her advice? ‘Do what you are not supposed to do.’

Coolest French women

Carine Roitfeld

7. Marion Cotillard

The actress has been the face of Christian Dior since 2008 and was the first to wear pieces from Raf Simons’ debut collection for the label. Marion’s style is as versatile as it is chic and she’s one of the few stars which manage to surprise us (in a good way) each and every time she steps on the red carpet. She is the epitome of elegance.

Coolest French women

Marion Cotillard

8. Brigitte Bardot

The 60s bombshell is probably best known for being a sex symbol, but let’s not forget Bardot’s head-turning style. Above all things, Bardot loved to bare her shoulders and often put comfort first in the form of a chic ballet pump. If we’re honest, with that pout and that touseled mane, the actress could have worn anything.

Coolest French women

Brigitte Bardot

9. Ines de la Fressange

So well in tune with what makes French women effortlessly cool, model Ines de la Fressange has even penned a book on the subject, called Parisian Chic. What makes French women stand out on the global catwalk in her opinion? French women ‘spend their money sparingly and carefully – buying a few pieces of quality tailoring that they can mix and match.’ And, in de la Fressange’s world, a desire to appear clever before appearing beautiful is at the heart of style. Words to live by, we reckon.

Coolest French women

Ines de la Fressange

10. Catherine Deneuve

A one-time face of Chanel (causing perfume sales in North America to soar during in the 1970s) and a longtime muse and friend to Yves Saint Laurent, Deneuve has long been considered a style icon. When it comes to being chic, Deneuve believes that having a ‘natural allure’ is the only tool a woman needs. That and a good pair of shoes, too.

Coolest French women

Catherine Deneuve

11. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

From catwalk model to the First Lady of France (she’s actually Italian by birth), Carla Bruni has been in the limelight for over three decades, and during that time her style has changed very little. Although always elegant, Carla’s wardrobe choices are understated with her go-to piece being an LBD. The one thing all her clothes have in common? Clean, crisp lines.

Coolest French women

Carli Bruni-Sarkozy

12. Betty Catroux

A lifelong friend and muse of Yves Saint Laurent’s, as well as a Chanel model, Betty Catroux had a tomboyish charm which influenced many of Saint Laurent’s designs, including the 1968 couture collection centred around men’s trousersuits. Betty Catroux: the ultimate androgyne.

Coolest French women

Betty Catroux

13. Sonia Rykiel

A legendary knitwear designer, Sonia Rykiel’s designs are very much Left Bank chic. The Parisian was ahead of her time when she began experimenting with deconstruction, and by that we mean exposing seams, removing linings, and leaving hems unfinished. A real visionary and a constant at the centre of French fashion.

Coolest French women

Sonia Rykiel

14. Simone de Beauvoir

A French feminist writer, de Beauvoir cared very little for trends and fashion, but that didn’t stop her oozing elegance from every pore. Something all French women seem to have in common.

Coolest French women

Simone De Beauvoir

15. Audrey Tautou

It’s fitting that the effortlessly elegant Audrey Tautou was chosen to play one of the most effortlessly elegant women that ever lived in the movie Coco Before Chanel. Tautou is the modern day poster girl for the pixie crop and is known for her sophisticated tailoring and elegant accessorizing.

Coolest French women

Audrey Tautou

16. The Courtin-Clarins girls

The Courtin-Clarins girls are the granddaughters of Jacques Courtin-Clarins, founder of French cosmetics firm Clarins. Each and everyone of them is impossibly chic – without exception. Virginie is the eldest and the most stereotypically elegant, Claire works a bohemian vibe, Prisca is the only brunette of the foursome and works a vintage look while Jenna has got that rock chick thing going on. So cool.

Coolest French women

The Courtin-Clarins girls

17. Jeanne Moreau

Clever, never afraid to speak her mind, striking and described by Orson Welles as ‘the greatest actress in the world’. Jeanne Moreau is the epitome of a grande dame. Her mix of glamour and no-nonsense wit has made her the embodiment of the French movie scene for over 60 years.

Coolest French women

Jeanne Moreau

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