The Tao of Hélène

“I have no rules,” Hélène Rochas told a *W* reporter in 1977, when asked about her fashion philosophy.…

“I have no rules,” Hélène Rochas told a W reporter in 1977, when asked about her fashion philosophy. “It’s not that thought out.”

Amusingly, however, the Parisian grande dame spent the rest of the interview listing her sartorial dos and don’ts. “You need less rather than more to be elegant now,” she declared. “Being well dressed…does not mean going to a great couturier.” She continued: “In the day, practical things…. The exotic is for summer and evening.”

Rochas learned to be authoritative early in life. She was just 18 when she married couturier Marcel Rochas and became the face of his fashion house, and not quite 30 when he died and she took over the label, using it to launch a hugely successful perfume business. The company eventually sold cosmetics as well, so naturally she had plenty of beauty maxims, instructing W readers in 1987 to “create a personal atmosphere, one to refine yourself in” and declaring, “I don’t like creams…. In the summer, it’s fruit, like crushed grapes, to nourish my face.”

As a society fixture with a palatial hôtel particulier in the 7th arrondissement, she was also qualified to expound on the rules of entertaining. “A dinner for six has to be for very close friends,” she told W in 1981, before describing a perfect menu (eggs en cocotte with truffles, lamb with baby vegetables, salad and cheese) and explaining why her chef’s sorbets were beyond par (“They’re not heavy, because we use only fruit and sugar, never milk”). But even worse than a fattening sorbet, in Rochas’s opinion, was a woman who refused to age gracefully. “I’m against the idea of dressing young—that shows fear,” she said in 1977, lamenting “when you see a woman with long, loose hair, a slender silhouette, and she turns and you see she no longer has the face for it.” Given her proclivity for making such pronouncements, Rochas’s overarching rule for living might come as a surprise: “Women,” W quoted her as saying in 1984, “should have a fragile air, even if they are not.”

Photo: Fairchild Archive