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October 23, 2017
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Baudouin's Parisiennes: Elyane, Alice, Clémence. Source: baudouin.fr.

I visited Paris for the first time in August 2011. When I think back to this trip, many vivid images, little pleasures and memories come to mind: drinking wine, visiting galleries and roaming the streets of Montmartre. But a significant portion of it was spent sitting outside at a tiny bistro table, people-watching, sipping on a cappuccino and inhaling the sweet smell of Parisian…nicotine. I met a handful of people who proved or challenged the stereotypes of la belle vie, but it was a woman who I didn't speak to that piqued my interest the most.

Amélie, shoes designer, métro Bastille. Source: baudouin.fr.
Amélie, métro Bastille. Source: baudouin.fr.

She was sitting at a table in front of mine on a grey, rainy day. The first thing I noticed was her rich, glowing olive skin, then her hair - long, layered and ombre (way before the hair-colouring technique became de rigeur). She was wearing a white button-down blouse that was open just enough for her collarbone to quietly call out. The blouse was tucked gently into a pair of slim black jeans, and a light grey sweater carelessly, yet gracefully, hung over her shoulders. She occasionally tapped her black ballet flats on the foot of the table. Minimal yellow and white gold jewellery completed her effortlessly elegant look.

There she was, the Parisienne - the woman whose style has been capitalised on over and over again by the fashion industry and the one who still holds it at her mercy; the woman whose je ne sais quoi many have tried to capture and adopt, but only she can pull off with such ease.

The French chic aesthetic has been a world-wide obsession with women such as Coco Chanel, Catherine Deneuve, Jean Seberg and Brigitte Bardot at its forefront. But there's more to French chic aesthetic and Parisiennes than perfect cardigans, the colour black, and attitude. French photographer, Baudouin (yes, a one name wonder), proved that the Parisian woman is versatile - in taste, age and interest. His photographic collection-cum-coffee table book, 75 Parisiennes, is an anthropological study of Parisian culture, and, well, women.

Related: The immortal cities of photographer Mimmo Jodice.

Over six years, Baudouin visited the homes of 300 women living in Paris - someone had to do it! - capturing their personal space, style and spirit in a six-by-six inch portrait with his Hasslebald camera. "The square format of the 6x6 is simply perfect, just like a round shape would be. [On the contrary,] the rectangle is irregular and doesn't have the same visual strength," explains Baudouin.

Chichi, métro Saint-Paul. Source: baudouin.fr.
Chichi, métro Saint-Paul. Source: baudouin.fr.

It was, in fact, the fame and mystery of the Parisian lifestyle that inspired the 75 Parisiennes project: "I am originally from Reims in Champagne, before becoming Parisian myself, I had always found Parisian apartments intriguing, I dreamt of getting inside them. After I arrived in Paris, I photographed a lot of people, and started a series of photos on Parisian women without even realising it! Through this work, I tried to provide a modern and realistic look on the Parisian woman. Coco Chanel, Ines de la Fressange, Catherine Deneuve are all icons but do not represent the true Parisienne!" he reveals to The Genteel.

Indeed, the majority of women in Baudouin's 75 Parisiennes don't fit the stereotype. In one of his photographs, subject Chichi wears a '90s washed out denim onesie jumpsuit, red lips and nails and black pumps to match her jet-black curls. She is standing on a stool inside her kitchen. Behind her, big white letters sit on the floor spelling out "dream". The onesie, zipped all the way up, is reminiscent of a spacesuit and the white heater behind her head looks like a spacesuit helmet. And through this peculiar image we get to know Chichi: the woman who looks forward to reaching new heights, who is also a dreamer.

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Or Amelie, a shoe designer, who stands rigidly touching a naked mannequin with one finger - they're almost one and the same. She wears bright red, peep-toe, lace up booties, see-through leopard print tights, an off-white, knee-length dress with prominent shoulders, black frames, and red lipstick. We see a painting on the wall, depicting a baroque Count's body attached to a cat's head. At her feet is an animal skin carpet, her fluffy white cat looks out from the book case. The deal closer? A man's head (we assume it's her partner) laying on the floor, peeking out of the right corner. In this 6x6 inch frame is Amelie - her quirkiness, uncanny eclecticism, love for animals, and special relationship with her man.

At times, the brilliance behind the composition and content of the photographs make them seem unreal. Take for instance the book's cover photograph of Alice Bureau: with Amazonian-length legs, black and white heels, a tousled mane, black shorts and a white blouse, Alice sits on a chrome, blue street bicycle, inside a very Parisian apartment (beautifully white, with sculptural wall decor). Behind her, leaning against the wall are newly framed paintings and photographs. On the floor sits - tall and proud - a dildo, in France's red, white and blue colours. Surely French women do not leave sex toys laying on the floor?! But, Baudouin's placing the dildo in this portrait underlines his brilliance.

Most of the shoots were during the day (without alcohol!)...Pretty standard and quiet shoots. I got invited for dinner or got offered a drink, a beer, but nothing very rock n' roll!

When I ask Baudouin if anything in the series was staged he firmly tells me, "All locations are real, all interiors are people's interiors except one photo taken in a store. I enhanced the image with some objects sometimes, I moved objects occasionally, but I would not change the decoration. Everything is authentic."

Related: The fabulous life of Parisienne Catherine B.

Looking through the rest of the portraits, many of the women's personalities and homes look like a wild time - I'm looking at you Vyva, standing there seductively, in a purple and black superhero meets gypsy attire, one foot on the head of a leopard. 

I probe Baudouin to share something scandalous that must have happened while visiting the homes of 300 women: "Most of the shoots were during the day (without alcohol!)...Pretty standard and quiet shoots. I got invited for dinner or got offered a drink, a beer, but nothing very rock n' roll!" he modestly affirms and concludes, "I am a serious photographer!"

Could a male version of the 75 Parisiennes be next on the horizon? "Maybe, I already have a beautiful series containing portraits of 30 Parisian men. I am thinking about it!" he tells me. Baudouin also dreams of capturing Sir Paul McCartney and Queen Elizabeth in his signature style.

When I ask Baudouin what is his criteria for a "great" portrait, he trumpets: "You can't stop looking at it!" Indeed, 75 Parisiennes is an eclectic series that will stop you dead in your tracks.

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