The Rules: The key to smart casual is quality

In Fashion shows, Fashionistas on February 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm


Up in heaven there is this queue, right? You have to stand in it for ages waiting to find out what your next incarnation is going to be and it can get really tedious.

Anyway, last time I was in it, I got distracted by this girl I used to know back when we were both slugs and while I was chatting to her, Emmanuelle Alt moved forward one place and was given the body that was really meant for me.

It’s the only possibly explanation why she has the hair, face, skin and most particularly, legs, I’ve always felt I should have had. I really can’t believe I’m not a leggy brunette. The kind good looking poets fall in love with.

The greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid was when someone told me I had a brunette brain. Unfortunately it’s in a blonde hobbit’s body.

If you don’t know who Ms Alt is, you soon will – she’s just been appointed editor-in-chief of French Vogue, replacing the legendary Carine Roitfeld.

Emmanuelle with Carine Roitfeld.

I’ve had the most massive girl crush on Emmanuelle Alt for years. Indeed one of the joys of attending the fashion shows in Milan and Paris for all those seasons was seeing what she turned up in every day.

She stood out even among the tribe of very tall, very thin, very cool people with floppy, black-hair – they look like a designer version of the Ramones – who are the French Vogue team.

And from the moment I noticed her she fascinated me so much more than the New York magazine girls, all gussied up and over groomed in join-the-dots designer outfits, like a tribe of High Fashion Barbies.

What I loved was the insouciance of Alt’s rock chic style. She has that most Parisienne of qualities, which the French have the perfect word for: she always looks degagé.

The literal translation is ‘casual’ but there’s more to it than that. It doesn’t just imply you look relaxed – you can be very relaxed in trakkies and ten year old thongs – but that you look great in a relaxed way. Like you haven’t made a massive effort. What? This old thing? I just threw it on…

There is a secret to this, quite apart from the fact that Alt looks like Patti Smith’s beautiful little sister.

Her style is a simple recipe of youth culture classics: skinny jeans, leather trousers, harem pants, Breton tops, simple t shirts, biker jackets, narrow blazers, pea coats, car coats, looped scarves… That’s about it. But the individual pieces she chooses are of the finest quality.

The jackets are Balmain or Balenciaga, the leather pants and fabulous studded boots are Isabel Marant, and so on. And while those wafer thin t shirts she loves aren’t so instantly identifiable, I’d wager none of them came in a pack of three. (I did read on a blog that they’re from APC, but can’t verify it.)

Alt is living proof that to nail that hardest of dress codes, smart casual, you must make your greatest wardrobe investment in the casual items. Don’t buy a designer evening bag, buy a designer T shirt.

And one other thing: she’s never seen in anything but terrifying high heels. Even with those legs, there’s always a price to pay for glamour.

Boots by Isobel Marant. Alt's husband is her creative director.

The French Vogue team heading for a show in the Tuileries. What's not to love?


For more on the fabulous folk from French Vogue, check out these genius sites:

It’s all wonderful stuff, but I particularly recommend the translation of Emmanuelle Alt’s Top Ten Style tips, translated from the French magazine 20 Ans, which I cheekily reproduce below.

But do look at the sites. They are fabulous.
Emmanuelle Alt’s Style Tips:
  1. Black plastic flip flops, easy, chic, and sexy.
  2. Black stockings by Wolford (because of the sublime campaign by Newton).
  3. Black trousers by Helmut Lang, because they are timeless and low waisted, loose fitting but not too loose.
  4. I don’t wear them [skirts] but from time to time a black Ann Demeulemeester skirt cut perfectly, barefoot, and the legs must be tan.
  5. Black coat by Costume National, tiny cut, totally modern.
  6. Glossies bra by Gossard, amazing, in either black or beige, like tights, seamless.
  7. Black short-sleeved tshirt by APC, because it is small, it looks like a tshirt from the 1970s and it ages well.
  8. Black sunglasses by Armani, like Bono of U2.
  9. Air King watch by Rolex because they do not make one better.
  10. Long black dress by Galliano, chic without being granny, sexy, pure with Manolo Blahnik heels.


There is a new Rules every Thursday in the Essential Style section of the Sydney Morning Herald and in M magazine with the Sunday Age.

  1. Wow! I’ve got the black Wolford stockings.

  2. How can people look so good so effortlessly ? Saddest part of that piece is that now I’m old enough to be confident to just ‘throw things together’ and experiment a bit and become effortlessly chic without trying hard to ‘fit in’ all the time … I’m just too darn old and would like a try hard or at the worst just stupid. Why wasn’t I born French?

  3. Why do I not look chic in black plastic flip flops? C’est tres frustrating.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Maggie Alderson, I. Giraud. I. Giraud said: RT @MaggieA: New blog post. The faaaabulous Emmanuelle Alt. […]

  5. Maggie, this is fabulous, thanks a million! Love the links and of course I do not mind that you reprinted my translation of Emmanuelle’s 20 Ans piece. 🙂

  6. Oh it is all now so clear – I will get “the” legs next round because god was punishing me in this lifetime (obviously for being Casanova or someone equally as naughty in a previous one) with lily white, knocked kneed, constantly bruised monstrosity’s……….. I can barely wait.

    She is truly divine. Lucky bugger.


  7. And the other key element in ‘smart casual’ is clearly ‘black’, judging by her list! But you’re so right, that laid-back look is just so much more enviable than anything you ever see on a red carpet or catwalk. Divine. Am loving your fashion blog,by the way, the one on wearing in shoes such a revelation.

    • True, but she does know how to work a stripe and the odd surprising white note.

    • Oh Alexandra, just realised this is you! Thanks so much for kind comments. Please please tell anyone you think might enjoy it. I have a column in the paper in Australia so I can get the word out about this blog, but much harder here. I’m relying on word of mouth, so all help greatly appreciated x

  8. She looks like a well dressed praying mantis and I bet she’s really hungry – ooh excuse me, my bitterness is showing.

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