"It is discouraging if you say elegance is unreachable, untouchable, indescribable," says Jacqueline de Ribes, considered to be the standard of elegance for the past 30 years. "Elegance is a knowledge -- it can be taught or learned. It would be very depressing if it wasn't."
De Ribes could write the book on elegance, if one could be written. Since she has not, it is interesting to pluck from her conversation her thoughts on such slippery notions as fashion, chic and, of course, elegance.
*"You begin with a love for beauty, and look everywhere -- at beautiful windows, watching a beautiful woman that you admire. Go where beautiful things are, museums -- paintings give you a marvelous sense of color. If you are not interested in beauty, then forget about elegance."
*"Fashion is a reflection of your time . . . and it has nothing to do with frivolity. I am strong on that point."
*"Fashion today is proportion. A hemline of a dress of the 1960s could be right for today. But the proportion of the shoulders, the width of the sleeves would be wrong. It would be de'mode'."
*"Evening clothes survive in fashion more than day clothes -- they are less touched by changes."
*"Neither chic nor elegance have to do with a time . . . or trendiness."
*"You are chic or you are not chic. Chic is a word for people who really know all about elegance. It's a sophisticated way to describe the subtleness of being elegant -- it's for people who already know about elegance. If you don't know anything about elegance, you can't know what is chic or what isn't."
*"You don't need high cheekbones to be elegant."
*"To be elegant you need not be rich. When I was first put on the best dressed list, my wardrobe was not an expensive one. I had two haute couture outfits and the rest done by a little seamstress."
*"You don't have to be beautiful to be elegant. And you don't need to be thin . . . but it is more difficult."
*"Elegance is not just clothes. It is an attitude, research, rigor, self-respect. Rigor in not throwing yourself into the fashion of the day."
*"You can be elegant in cotton, in leather, in blue jeans. You don't have to wear sable, sequins and silk. You mustn't shine to be elegant . . . but if you are, you will stand out."
*"Elegance is the balance of too much and too little. You can always add the detail which kills or saves the situation, but you have to know and feel it. You can add and save the most banal dress, and you can destroy by adding the wrong detail."
*"Elegance is being appropriate . . ."