12th September 2017

Haute Attitude: Double-Edged Sword Or Secret Weapon?

French fashion icon Coco Chanel once famously uttered: “I don’t care what you think about me – I don’t think about you at all.” In that one succinct phrase, she encapsulated the essence of that infamous French insouciance which – whether admired or despised – has become the country’s calling card the world over.

it is the self-assured and unapologetic approach of the French that is without doubt a key component of the famous ‘Je ne sais quoi’

Depending on the scenario, it can be classed as confidence or arrogance – if it’s the former, it can inspire, while the latter inflicts a sense of inferiority – but either way, it is the self-assured and unapologetic approach of the French that is without doubt a key component of the famous ‘Je ne sais quoi’.

Books have been written about it, films have immortalised it, countless songs have been dedicated to it – and, even today, that haute attitude Coco so perfectly personified is still visibly present – particularly in the cafés. ‘Les Parisiennes’ will tell you themselves that to live in the City of Lights is to embrace the innate haughtiness of its local citizens, which has filtered through to every aspect of French culture and permeates the way they walk, dress, talk – and interact with those visiting their city.

they adamantly believe that what they do, they do best…

You see it in the local bistro owner – who has no qualms about blankly shooting you a look of disdain if you ask for a steak ‘bien cuit’ and then completely disregarding the request; in the restaurant chef who will steadfastly refuse to alter even a garnish on his set menu; and the shop assistant who will openly look you up and down if you walk through her boutique doors appearing anything less than flawless and dripping in designer gear.

Some of the three-star Michelin restaurants, for example, might be the perfect place to observe the ‘froideur’ and formality that was once a staple of French high society. Step inside, and the mood is so sterile that dining is about as much fun as undertaking a clinical exam.

For Parisians, however, this is a way of life and – until recently – it was a quintessential part of their makeup as the gatekeepers to one of the most alluring cities on earth – and a veritable baptism by fire for any outsiders who dared venture onto their hallowed ground.

To decipher the psychology behind their pretension is to entangle oneself in a metaphoric quest for the Holy Grail, but ask Parisians directly – as we have – and they will simply rationalise that their ‘manière’ stems from a deep-rooted sense of patriotism.

At its heart is a centuries-old legacy of luxury, a world-renowned reputation for being the crème of the crop in food, fashion and life (read: ‘art de vivre’) in general; and the fact that their city is lauded for its beauty and visited by more than 80 million tourists a year, rain, hail or shine – and that number is rising – so they are under no pressure to coax clientele.

All this has, quite understandably, stoked their egos, and instilled in the French a sense of pride and superiority. So, in a nutshell, they adamantly believe that what they do, they do best – and no-one, not even their bread-and-butter clientele, will convince them otherwise.

Paris and its inhabitants are starting to realise that they can no longer rely just on looks and a history of excellence to stay ahead of the competition

However, more recently – and much like a beauty queen coming of age – Paris and its inhabitants are starting to realise that they can no longer rely just on looks and a history of excellence to stay ahead of the competition – particularly when it comes to business. Consumers are becoming more demanding, and condescending to them just won’t cut it.

The seed of doubt was planted as a result of globalisation and the emergence of competing luxury hubs, along with the influx of hotel brands from the Far East, such as the Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula, with their own spin on what constitutes service. This has influenced the landscape and altered the rules on a playing field once monopolised and dominated by French brands.

…they have returned to their cities with a fresh perspective, which has altered their approach.

Additionally, in the past few years there’s been an increasing exodus of the younger French generation to Anglo environments such as Australia, America and the UK for working holiday stints. After experiencing what constitutes customer service in these cultures, they have returned to their cities with a fresh perspective, which has altered their approach.

This new breed of Parisians have embraced the gracious traits and service guidelines displayed across Anglo countries

This new breed of Parisians have embraced the gracious traits and service guidelines displayed across Anglo countries where the customer is king; are more open to adaptation and are, without a doubt, friendlier all round. But they have also managed to maintain that fine air and French hallmark of haute hospitality, albeit distilled so that it doesn’t come across as arrogance.

The sweeping trend of of neo-bistros popping up across Paris recently – executed to perfection by pioneering chefs who aim to offer exquisite cuisine and innovative cooking in a more relaxed ambience, without the pomposity – is a prime example of the new thinking that this cohort is bringing to the table.

…it is this younger, more internationally adept set that is leading the change here, for the better

Restaurant H in the Bastille quartier, and the seafood sanctuary that is Clamato in the 11th arrondissement (by the gastronomic geniuses that created Septime), are both cases in point of fine dining gems with substance that have managed to achieve this delicate balance, which is in itself an intricate art.

And, while the icy demeanour has not melted away altogether, and can still be felt if you happen to cross paths with some of the city’s more conventional residents – it is this younger, more internationally adept set that is leading the change here, for the better.

Paris could be on track to surpass its already exacting standards to evolve into a luxury hub unlike any other

In the eyes of these trailblazers, the definition of luxury and what constitutes class is shifting to become less about exclusion and superiority and more about elegance as an attitude, by catering to the customer and delivering exceptional service that sets them apart. If they manage to pull it off in the long term, Paris could be on track to surpass its already exacting standards, to evolve into a luxury hub unlike any other – a double threat – encompassing both beauty and grace.

…all eyes are on the highly anticipated re-opening of the Ritz…

On that note, all eyes are on the highly anticipated re-opening of the Ritz. It has historically been the pinnacle of French hospitality, but was also once the headquarters of the old-world haughty clique, where opulence and a set image took precedence over cordiality and class.

When the curtains rise, will the new Ritz revamp its attitude to meet the mark of the new collective who are re-imagining luxury?

When the curtains rise, will the new Ritz revamp its attitude to meet the mark of the new collective who are re-imagining luxury? Or stick to the stringent standards of a bygone era that no longer represents what the wealthy want from service today?

After all, money does speak all languages. It keeps beds and tables occupied and revenues flowing – but those who can adapt to the future with finesse are very few. We wait with bated breath for the hotel’s unveiling, knowing full well that its positioning will set the pace in Paris – as it always has.