Reading each of the case studies in Batiwalla’s book made me reconsider the role of garconne culture in my own life, and that of the Australian woman. For while the fourteen advocates shown are both inspiring and beautiful, none are Australian. It is for this reason I begin ‘Wattle Seed’; as a blog to explore not only what it means to live an aesthetically curated life, but also what it means to live a life of substance, austerity and sensibility.
When browsing in a bookshop recently, I picked up a copy of ‘THE NEW GARCONNE, How to be a modern gentlewoman’ by Navaz Batliwalla. With a slim, hard cover and beautiful creamy matte paper, I couldn’t help but carry it around the shop with me, flicking through the pages. According to Batliwalla, the term ‘Garconne’ (gentlewoman) was first used in the 13th century to describe ‘a woman of noble birth or good social standing’ (pg.10). The 20th century appropriation of the term is perhaps more relevant to a contemporary audience; used to describe the appropriation of masculine elements into traditionally feminine apparel, ‘garconne’ became synonymous for women with increased independence, innovation, fearlessness and style. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s classic trousers and menswear sweaters for women epitomise early 20th century femininity, while model-turned-war-correspondent Lee Miller is an example of mid 20th century style, combining a more Modernist utilitarianism and practicality with her natural beauty and sensuality.
Writers are now, of course, seeking to redefine ‘garconne’ in a more contemporary context. Batliwalla focuses in her book on fourteen women she identifies as leaders, innovators, creatives and entrepreneurs who advocate their own versions of a 21st century gentlewoman style. Limiting over-consumption and buying quality over quantity is a common theme, often paired with a vintage aesthetic or the practice of investing in a quality item with the hope that it may outlive you. While fashion is certainly a focus in the lives of these women, however, material possessions are, reassuringly, not their sole concern. Batliwalla argues that it is the gentlewoman values; a sense of style independent of fashion trends, creativity, innovation, drive and a focused work ethic; which make her fourteen advocates leaders in their respective fields, and capable of merging the best of both masculinity and femininity into one timeless vision.