Jolie-laide: “A woman whose ugliness forms her chief fascination.”
Where else in the world could pretty be an adjective for ugly — jolie-laide? We usually dance around the description of a woman: “She’s attractive; she’s quite handsome; or my favorite, the one that has turned into a joke, ‘she’s got a great personality’.”
Pretty can be banal, everyday, ho-hum while pretty ugly can be pretty interesting.
In France women less blessed by nature or not measuring up to the standards of what our cultures consider beautiful see something else. They see possibilities. A woman so described sees opportunity. She can take what the genes dealt out at birth and turn herself into creature far more captivating than pretty or even beautiful — a stylish, stunning, unforgettable personage. After all, beauty fades n’est ce-pas?
Coco Chanel did it, Sarah Bernhardt did it, the Duchess of Windsor did it and Andrée Putman, continues to do it.
You can see from these photographs how women who weren’t born gorgeous can be far more intriguing than many of their more well-endowed peers who may rely on the fleeting blessings of youth and beauty. I see jolie-laides every day on the streets of Paris, at parties, in restaurants and certainly in the audience and on the runways — yes, scores of models — of the world’s most glamorous fashion collections. And always, these women, young and older, capture the imagination, somehow force the eye to rest just a moment longer on their riveting aura. Fascinating.
They have created their own loveliness on more solid ground: elegance, personality, intelligence, wit and charm. How beautiful — and timeless — is that at the end of the day?
With the exception of Madame Putman, often referred to as the Coco Chanel of interior design, and who has frankly talked about her strikingly strong visage, I’ve eschewed referring to other women who may not understand the concept and take offense at my reference.
I could offer a long, long list of jolie–laides, but the house is in my name and advertising, as you may have noticed, is woefully absent from this blog so I thought it best to avoid any possible legal squabbles.