Haute is a word bandied about so much that I think it has somehow lost its original meaning as it pertains to all things luxury. Subtly makes haute humble. Haute embraces chic and commands seduction through gentle yet strong understatement.
The French have a certain “hauteness” as I like to call it and no one does it better than them. Haute is not just being elegant or defining it as a luxury, but feeling luxurious and acting as if you are and therefore you simply are haute. Watching the French walk down the streets of Paris is like witnessing an extravagant runway or catwalk invasion ladled with couture handbags, Hermes scarves and various assorted appearances of bohemian chic, the “I don’t care I’m a hobo” look, and a modern minimalistic spectrum of earth tones – grey, black and white wrapped so effortlessly around thin people or stick legs with protruding stomachs from all those delightful and abundant confectionaries and breads. Over at couture fashion headquarters, the word haute means minimal – scarce painting on the face – nowadays even red lipstick is not necessarily the trend , hair blown straight or in cascading waves but certainly not a tress out of place, perfectly manicured hands and feet, but nothing shocking; nothing screaming “I must be seen” for to be haute requires subtly.
One time I was dining at the gastronomic Michelin star Maison Blanche in Paris. The room was elegantly dressed in simple modern shapes – nothing particularly eye-catching except of course, those magnificent views of the Eiffel Tower – probably one of the best views I ever had. My table was directly in front of the Eiffel Tower. The crowd was quiet and sophisticated and for the most part people were dressed in basic hues of navy, black and grey with shiny shoes, designer tights, and Cartier watches. Suddenly, something besides the Eiffel Tower caught the corner of my eye. It was approaching the table next to me – colorful purple polka dot tights, a red and white striped dress and a hideous quite worn black satchel bag that had seen its better days. Oh such disappointment I felt to be surrounded by such simplicity, such seamlessness, such beauty in the cuisine and architectural views to then aspire to see this! However, this Parisian thought nothing of her appearance – let alone my dismay. She tossed her hair back and her eyes glowed and she thought in that moment she was haute chic and so she was.
Haute is entering Le Bon Marche, Paris’ answer to Bergdorf Goodman in which a visit to the lingerie department culminates with a delightful and leisurely manicure and pedicure appointment – nestled among exquisite lace panties, silk bras, and delicate camisoles. A dapper gentleman loiters effortlessly nearby almost invisible and not embarrassed to peruse through the teddies as he waits for his wife or mistress to be finished with her spa treatment.
Haute chocolate shops and confectionaries are divine just to look at from afar with multi-colored decorative chocolates in all shapes and sizes represented as sculptures and art work. They dance in the windows visually stimulating until it lures you; commands you to walk into the shop. Imagine ornate window displays filled with a story or experience as found during Christmas time in New York at Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord and Taylor, but these chocolatiers work their magic year round filled with chic chocolates, faux grass, flowers and other assorted backdrops to create a unique experience for gazers. Chocolate boutiques are so sophisticated that the scents and whispers of sweetness only descend upon you with haute subtly once you enter the shop.
Haute cuisine is celebrated and worn as a badge of honor throughout France. It is an artistic presentation in which ingredients are combined to form an oil painting on equally ceremonious ceramic or French porcelain such as Bernardaud. Meticulous culinary designs inspire the plate thereby providing foreplay and anticipation – the inspiration to enjoy such delicious flavors that blend harmoniously onto the palate.
In all of these examples we are reminded how the power of haute is always subliminal, teasing, but within reach. Next time you come across “haute” really think about how it makes you feel; how it makes you be.