The benefits of a 'signature look'

By Alice Williams

The former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld, is queen of the smokey, smudgy eye. Photo / Getty
The former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld, is queen of the smokey, smudgy eye. Photo / Getty

The 'French chic' look has become a bit of a cliche.

But in reality, it's not that there's one thing that all French women do well - it's that they all do one thing (whether it's hair, wardrobe or make-up) so well that the rest doesn't matter.

In short, they understand the power of a signature look.

In America the look is more 'total package'. Gloss, gloss and more gloss. But there's something much more attractive about still being able to see the real person behind all the 'put-togetherness' of the perfectly done hair and make-up and co-ordinated wardrobe.

The former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld is the perfect example. The bags under Roitfeld's eyes could carry their own label, while her skin belies a pack-a-day smoking habit.

But she so completely owns the smoky-eye / bed-hair look that she's always the chicest woman in the room.

For the famous, signature looks are an important part of branding. For signature make-up, think Adele and Lily Allen's cat's eye and Reese Witherspoon's country-gal glow. For hair, think Elle's beach hair and Zooey Deschanel's fringe.

Even Liz Hurley's white jeans and va-voom necklines were all the bogan-chic rage for a while there.

(Even Paris Hilton understood the power of a signature look in branding - while you or I might think a Chihuahua tacky as a signature, only a wealthy heiress could afford to have a small dog crap in their Birkin bag and not give a stuff.)

Singer Adele loves her winged eyeliner. Photo / Getty
Singer Adele loves her winged eyeliner. Photo / Getty

But for the rest of us? Finding a signature look we can do bleary-eyed in semi-darkness at the crack of dawn, that still enables us to express ourselves stylistically, while cutting down on decision fatigue is an attractive prospect.

So how do you do it?

It must evolve from you

While a signature look may sound uniform, the key to making it work is to let it evolve from your own raw DNA. How boring if we all looked the same. By all means, get inspiration from others - but ask yourself if the world really needs one more Audrey clone?

It's not about creating a persona to hide behind, but about embracing your personal style - which may just be buried under what you think you "should" wear.

My friend's signature look is bleached hair, black roots, "put it on in the dark eyeliner", leggings and a biker jacket. It shouldn't work, yet somehow it does. If I, however, tried to copy this look, I'd look like I was trying out for a role in Eastenders.

We all have stuff that speaks to us, even if might seem odd to others. Maybe your look is androgynous. Maybe it's waistcoats and bow ties. Maybe it's 80s hair in a world that prizes beachy waves.

Actress Zoey Deschanel rocks a playful fringe. Photo / Getty
Actress Zoey Deschanel rocks a playful fringe. Photo / Getty

But just as Bruce Jenner is happier as Caitlyn, don't fight your signature. Work it and work it often - with familiarity, when you get used to it, won't be self-conscious.

Choose one thing to build your look around

It's too hard to get it together on all fronts. And why should we? Choose one.

Hair: It could be something as simple bedraggled 70s rock chick hair, a la Patti Smith, schoolgirl "bangs" (Don't google that phrase). You could even choose a whole aesthetic; park your style cart at "1950s housewife" and never look back.

Make-up: Consider that we naturally gravitate to authenticity and are hardwired to find obvious artifice slightly disturbing. Try limiting yourself to one signature feature (eg bold lips, smoky eyes, spidery lashes, dewy skin) rather than the whole shebang.

So-called 'Flaws': Jessica Hart resisted pressure to 'fix' her teeth, likewise Cindy Crawford's mole. Nicole Kidman may have straightened and bleached her red curls beyond recognition, but Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington and British journalist Rebekah Brooks made their flaming frizzy manes part of their branding.

Be realistic about maintenance

Famous people are paid for looking amazing, so for them it's an investment to spend all day touching up red lipstick (Taylor Swift) and platinum roots (Gwen Stefani). (Though even Lady Gaga burnt out trying to maintain a signature look that revolved a game of 'animal, vegetable or mineral'.)

If you're not earning a living directly from having your 'off-duty' photo taken, the major benefit of a signature look is that it saves time.

Choose carefully. Red lips are high maintenance. It's hard to get the line exactly right, and even if you do, they often 'bleed' throughout the day. (Or, like Courtney Love, you could make 'bleeding red lipstick' your thing.)

Fortunately, you can get used to pulling the most glamorous look together in five minutes if you do it often enough. My grandmother's signature Grace Kelly chignon takes me thirty minutes of swearing to achieve. I've seen her do it with one hand and a bobby pin, stopped at a traffic light.

When to kill the signature

As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But maybe review your signature look every decade or so.

It's not that J-Lo's big gold hoop earrings and slicked back Chav ponytail are so naughties - it's that they're so 90s. Having said that, if you feel like you're really nailing it with a Rachel haircut and a Juicy Couture tracksuit, then rock on with your bad self!

- news.com.au

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