|Artwork by Tarek Chemaly|
Recently, when a student said "I am classy". I tried to probe into her shopping habits, social frequenting, types of going out, kind of people she associates with, aspirations, dreams, overall manners, and every other aspect of her social life to see what patterns she uses to define the word. Several fruitless questions later, I ended up saying "listen, if you are classy, either you do not know it, or if you do - you do not say it".
Is the word "classy" associated with money? Well, originally, let us face it - ladies or gentlemen who came from moneyed backgrounds were able to use the attribute or frankly, had the attribute used on them because again, a "classy" person does not know, or does not define themselves as such.
I truly believe that to be able to get to the word classy, one needs to have gone through certain experiences - and in today's world it is possible to dissociate those experiences from the origins of the socio-economic class one was born in due to the flexibility of the open-class system.
Is education part of it? Certainly, though not in the classical I-went-to-university-and-studied-so-and-so, but more like being receptive to experiences, travels, details, and being able to associate all of this in more than just the usual way. It has to do with etiquette, knowing how to behave socially. Mind you, you would be forgiven to think that this is limited to sweet deceitful talks. No, that is "diplomacy". I know classy people who are foul-mouthed. So one does not negate the other.
It is not uncommon for me to hear sentences such as "I am exhausted, my friends invited me to Hammamet but there was too much partying next door so I could not sleep for a week, then I had to go to Paris for business but had to cut it short because mother insisted I would be in Beirut for the annual family dinner". I try telling my friends that such places, activities are mostly out of reach of ordinary people and that saying Hammamet/Paris/Beirut in one breath is not exactly normal currency. But again, when you don't know, well, you don't know!
I once saw an ad for the luxury watches Piaget, it featured the hands of a man and woman clicking champagne glasses, him in a cuff linked shirt and her in a long-sleeved dress. The headline? "La meilleure facon de porter un Piaget c'est de n'en rien montrer" (the best way to wear a Piaget is not to show anything). This naturally goes against the Rolex ethos which is more in the line of the-more-show-off-the-better-it-is.
Actually, this is a real story that happened in a luxury watch shop in Beirut. A woman comes in and asks if the man sells Rolex. The mans says he does not. So the woman asks "what other expensive watches do you sell?", the man realizing she is the anti-thesis of the people he wants to sell to simply says "none, we sell no such watches".
Some of the "classiest" people I know are usually under-dressed, no flashy brands, no visible logos. I was with the heir of an old famous Beiruti family, we were clad in t-shirts and jeans, and as we went to a brasserie to have breakfast the waiter snottily said "there was no tables". So we headed back only to hear a voice coming from inside from one of the customers "oh! Monsieur so and so!" (addressing my friend) and the waiter called us back and materialized a table. Mind you, we excused ourselves and went elsewhere.
Do not misunderstand me though, you can shop at Zara and still be classy. Elie Saab - the famous couturier - once said something to the effect of "a woman can be nude and still be elegant". Longines watches even adopted it as a slogan "elegance is an attitude" - with who else but Audrey Hepburn?
Giorigo Armani himself once said "elegance is not about being noticed. It's about being remembered".
Elegance - be it for a male or a female - is a major part of "classiness" - and no it is not brand-related.
Sure these days between the famous Arabic singers more known for their cleavages than their voice, or the Kardashians of the world, it is easy to mistake anything for being "classy". Naturally, bling-oriented Instagram does not help either. Where products need to show immediately and fast within a small frame of the image - ergo the flashiness which is mistaken for class.
In 2003, while in Saudi Arabia, I visited a luxury shop looking for cuff links, as I walked out - a vision was entering the shop. Her pants were cut right to the level of her stilettos and both were of almost the exact Pantone shade of beige, she was not walking, she was almost flying. Elegant, discreet but so attractive. The rest of her was under a long abaya and - unusual for Saudi Arabia - her face was covered with a khimar (or the usual sheer scarf) which even included the eyes. To me, even if all I saw of her was just the tip of her pants and the pointed shoes, the way she walked, acted, almost self-effacing yet dominating the floor, was the epitome of being "classy".
So it is not just education, experiences, taste, and all else, it is a certain "je ne sais quoi" that makes a person become "classy".
Sadly, a lot of people who claim the word miss the mark.