Honoré de Balzac? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: In 2018 “The Guardian” newspaper published an article titled “Chanel shoes, but no salary: how one woman exposed the scandal of the French fashion industry” by Stefanie Marsh. The piece contained a fascinating quotation about the “City of Lights” ascribed to the famous French novelist Honoré de Balzac: 1
France’s fashion industry is intensely bound up with national identity. “Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never truly be elegant,” Balzac wrote in 1830, and it is an image that the world’s centre of luxury shopping is keen to uphold.
I have not been able to find a precise citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: In 1830 Honoré de Balzac published chapters from the book he was writing in the Paris periodical “La Mode”. The book was called “Traité de la Vie Élégante” (“Treatise on Elegant Living”), and chapter three included the following saying: 2
L’être qui ne vient pas souvent à Paris, ne sera jamais complètement élégant.
One possible translation of the expression into English appeared in the 1967 autobiography “A Fashion of Life” by fashion maven Harry Yoxall. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3
But as Balzac wrote in 1830, ‘The person who does not visit Paris often will never be completely elegant.’ And to cater to the completely elegant it is necessary to do more than visit Paris often; it is necessary to establish yourself there.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1968 “The New Yorker” printed an advertisement for Air France that included another English version of the quotation: 4
“The person who does not come often to Paris can never really be elegant.” — Balzac.
Elegance is in the details and Paris is full of them. Shoes, bags, hats, what have you.
The expression also appeared in “The Guardian” in 2018 as mentioned at the beginning of this article.
In conclusion, Honoré de Balzac should receive credit for the words he wrote in French in 1830. Multiple translations into English are possible.
(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 2018 September 2 (Modified: September 3, 2018), The Guardian (Website of U.S. Edition), Chanel shoes, but no salary: how one woman exposed the scandal of the French fashion industry by Stefanie Marsh, Guardian News and Media Limited, United Kingdom. (Accessed theguardian.com September 5, 2018) link ↩
- 1830, La Mode: Revue des Modes, Volume 1, Chapter 3 of “Traité de la Vie Élégante” by Honoré de Balzac, Saying Number XVII, Start Page 57, Quote Page 64, Rue de Helder, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1967, A Fashion of Life by H. W. Yoxall (Harold Waldo Yoxall), Chapter 6: The Thing Called Fashion, Quote Page 54, Taplinger Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1968 April 6, The New Yorker, The rich widow’s guide to Paris (Advertisement for Air France), Quote Page 53, Column 4, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Verified with page images at archives.newyorker.com) ↩