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sharing your Wardrobes

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Why French Couples Share Everything—Even Their Wardrobes

When I look back to my early grad school days in Paris, one scene in particular stands out. It was the morning after a very, shall we say, jovial midweek post-exam celebration and my new beau, an artistic and opinionated French classmate, had just slept over for the first time. With the day’s first lecture only 40 minutes away, he walked over to my tiny closet, evaluated its components, and asked me if he could borrow something to wear. Barely waiting for my stupefied nod of consent, he reached for my beloved oversize black Helmut Lang blazer, paired it with his own T-shirt and slim-cut jeans from the night before, and pronounced himself ready to roll.

In retrospect, that morning set a precedent for our short-lived—yet exceptionally fun and fashion-centric—liaison. There was the psychedelic Henrik Vibskov jacket (his) that I wore to celebrate every non-failed exam; the clear-framed Oliver Peoples sunglasses (mine) that were used to deter the rare rays of sun while sharing a 3 euro bottle of rosé by the Seine; the vintage velvet Sonia Rykiel leopard skirtsuit that we discovered at a thrift store during a school trip to Belgium, with him quickly claiming custody over the coveted Keith Richards–worthy jacket while offering to me the more impractical pencil skirt. We were probably destined for a pretty enviable joint wardrobe, but, alas, other obstacles got in the way.

Many moons later, I rarely reflect on the actual relationship, and yet I admit that I occasionally look back on those days with a certain nostalgia. Maybe, in my mind, it is the only time I’ve come remotely close to emulating that rock-star cool of Kate Moss circa her Pete Doherty era, characterized by interchangeable outfits that often appeared to have been scraped together from the same closet (or, perhaps, bedroom floor). While I have since amassed a pretty extensive archive of oversize ex-boyfriend memorabilia, there is something about a mutually inspired aesthetic that makes a relationship that much more—cinematic, perhaps? As fashion heads toward a gender-neutral space, with brands merging their men’s and women’s runway shows and rolling out androgynous campaigns, are more couples reaching into each other’s closets and using each other for style inspiration? And, if so, is this more common among the French, who inherently have a less contrived attitude regarding traditional gender codes?

Judging by the responses of my friends, it’s clear that my penchant for menswear is not unique. Parisian fashion stylist Schanel Bakkouche is quick to admit that she routinely turns to the closet of her boyfriend, Vogue Art Director Fernando Dias de Souza, to source oversize Dries Van Noten or Acne Studios shirts to pair with her skinny jeans, an Éditions MR sweater to layer with a skirt and boots, or a Saint Laurent leather jacket or trench to throw over her full look. Beyond his enviable clothing selection, Bakkouche applauds her beau’s clean and uncomplicated styling, noting his unique way of layering outerwear pieces and mixing denim with leather or suede. Dias de Souza is quick to point out that the inspiration is mutual: “I think Schanel looks very confident in the way she dresses, very comfortable with herself, and that inspires me.” While the majority of her closet is off-limits due to their size discrepancy, he has been known to swipe a white shirt or two and generally sees no stigma in occasionally shopping in the women’s department. A proponent of the gender-fluid movement, he sees it as a direct consequence of our evolution as a society: “I like the direction things are going. I’m for freedom and equality and I think that not necessarily buying what you’ve been assigned to reflects that.”

Indeed, it appears as though more men are finding themselves gradually inching out of their comfort zones, thanks to the influence of stylish significant others. Jérémie Kanza, founder of Parisian restaurant Balls, credits his fiancée, Lola Rykiel, founder of PR and consulting agency Le Chocolat Noir, for instilling his newfound appreciation for fashion and taking him out of his navy and black uniform. “With Lola, I rediscovered colors,” he says. “I dare to wear new things.” One such thing happens to be Rykiel’s leopard Saint Laurent backpack, which he borrowed a year ago and has yet to return. Rykiel herself is guilty of helping herself to what she calls Kanza’s “Pantone-like range” of cashmere sweaters and Ralph Lauren button-downs, pairing the latter with bathing suits and Stella McCartney platform sandals. “It became my go-to summer look and we basically share his shirt stock,” she explains. Yet while the duo has engaged in some playful sartorial experimentation, Kanza admits that Paris isn’t exactly a playground for eccentricity. “French guys are always in a paradoxical situation. On one hand, girls like men with a feminine side; muscles and large clothes are banned. But at the same time, men need to be virile,” he says, adding that it is, perhaps, this very inconsistency that pushes French men to adapt a more androgynous style.

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