The Fashion Motto Only Stylish French People Get

It can certainly be argued that chic and je ne sais quoi are greatly overused when it comes to describing a French woman’s style (guilty!). Which is precisely why another French term gave us pause when we recently came across it: chien.

We came across the word chien in a recent New York Times profile on the Oscar-nominated French actress Isabelle Huppert. Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador for Barneys New York, was quoted in the profile as saying Huppert “has what the French used to call chien.” Ruth La Ferla, the writer of the piece, explained, “He was alluding to the blend of tough chic and barely concealed sensuality that, Mr. Doonan maintains, defines Ms. Huppert’s allure."

Avoir du chien wasn’t a term that we were familiar with, but we were intrigued, so we decided to do a little investigating, tapping some of our favorite Parisian women to weigh in: Anne-Laure Mais of Adenorah, jeweler Adeline Rapon, L'Officiel social editor Sabina Socol, and Marta Cygan of Life of Boheme. These four women gave us a crystal-clear picture of exactly what chien refers to and convinced us that the motto needs to be revived. There’s room for another term over in the U.S. to describe French style, don’t you think?

Learn more about what chien means to the French, take in a few iconic women who embody it, and shop pieces by French brands (because why not?) below.


“I believe that the expression avoir du chien is more than just about style. It’s more about being charming whilst a little bit dangerous. … Of course the style goes with it. I would definitely say that Isabelle Huppert has it, charm- and style-wise—she has this discreet elegance and sexiness. This term is not a ‘thing’ per se, as it’s a little bit outdated and not used very often, but it definitely still exists in the French expressions. Maybe because women having ‘chien’ are more and more rare?” — Sabina Socol (@sabinasocol)


“To be honest, avoir du chien is more about the character and the attitude than the style. I can use it for a girl who has a strong character, which makes her sexy, a girl who knows exactly where she wants to go. But it means as well somebody who has something really special about her, something strong and attractive that we can’t really define.” — Anne-Laure Mais (@adenorah)


“To me, someone qui a du chien is someone who’s got character, who dares, who stands out with a little wildness that makes her very sexy. To me, it is more about personality than style. Also, it’s mostly used by men or older women to describe a woman they actually admire.” — Adeline Rapon (@adelinerapon)


“Avoir du chien: Playfully fearless and inspiring in all ways, beyond one particular era, she is a woman with an adventurous assurance and unique elegance.” — Marta Cygan (@lifeofboheme)

Women With "Avoir du Chien"


Isabelle Huppert
(Image credit: Getty Images )


Caroline de Maigret
(Image credit: Getty Images )

Related: 7 Things Everyone Can Learn From This 43-Year-Old French Trendsetter


Marion Cotillard
(Image credit: Getty Images )


Julia Sarr-Jamois
(Image credit: Style du Monde )


Lou Doillon
(Image credit: Rex USA)


Inès de la Fressange
(Image credit: Getty Images )


Charlotte Gainsbourg
(Image credit: Getty Images )

Get the French Look

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Next, read about the four things French girls will wear this spring.

Allyson Payer
Senior Editor

Allyson is a senior editor for Who What Wear. She joined the company in 2014 as co-founder Katherine Power's executive assistant and over the years has written hundreds of stories for Who What Wear. Prior to her career in fashion, Allyson worked in the entertainment industry at companies such as Sony Pictures Television. Allyson is now based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She holds a BFA in theater. Her path to fashion may not have been linear, but based on the number of fashion magazines she collected as a child and young adult, it was meant to be.