THE FRENCH

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Style -

When I moved to Paris in 1992 as a 28-year-old bride and a fledg­ling cor­re­spon­dent, top fash­ion editor Suzy Menkes took me to lunch over grilled sole and white wine im­parted some of the most in­sight­ful coun­sel I have ever re­ceived. “Paris,” she said, “will teach you how to be a woman.” At the time I had no idea what she was talk­ing about. But soon I learned. In dress there were ba­sic rules: wear som­bre neu­tral tones such as black, beige and navy, ac­ces­sorised with bold belts, good jew­ellery, and scarves. Al­ways wear match­ing lin­gerie, in silk and lace, black or colours, even un­der jeans and T-shirts. One must con­sider the en­tire sil­hou­ette at all times, in­clud­ing feet, with reg­u­lar pedi­cures (in shell pink or red only) and ex­cel­lent shoes. French women wear beau­ti­ful — and I mean beau­ti­ful — shoes no mat­ter the weather, or the cir­cum­stances. Rub­ber thongs? Are you out of your mind?

I learnt the im­por­tance of be­ing soignée, or pam­pered, usu­ally at day spas and as covertly as pos­si­ble. French women never share beauty se­crets or shop­ping ad­dresses with any­one — not friends, and cer­tainly not men. No, men should sim­ply revel in the se­duc­tion. Man­i­cures are de rigueur, again only in pale roses and deep reds, with nails clipped short. The “French” man­i­cure with white tips? Wholly Amer­i­can. Ex­pert hair­cuts are es­sen­tial, but they must be low-main­te­nance (blow-dries look too pol­ished) and make-up should be kept to a min­i­mum: eye­brows brushed, swoosh of mas­cara, smudge of light lip­stick. French women al­low their nat­u­ral beauty to come through; im­per­fec­tions, it is thought, are what make you ... you.

But there was more to it than all that — a cer­tain some­thing I was lack­ing, a je ne sais quoi that Parisi­ennes such as Betty Catroux and Inès de La Fres­sange ex­uded even when they were in their twen­ties. I fi­nally found the an­swer in Edith Whar­ton’s French Ways And Their Mean­ing. “The French woman is more grown-up,” she wrote. I was raised in the US, where youth is prized, so this was an epiphany to me. And the more I watched French women, the more I un­der­stood. They are con­fi­dent and sen­sual. They are el­e­gant and al­lur­ing. They are cul­ti­vated and they speak their minds. They are ex­tremely de­mand­ing — ex­i­gency is highly val­ued — yet al­ways gra­cious. When they step out of their homes, they are the em­bod­i­ment of un­stud­ied, ef­fort­less, topto-toe rav­ish­ing per­fec­tion. In other words, they are women. — Dana Thomas.

THE AMER­I­CANS

When the Washington Post critic Jonathan Yard­ley slammed Wil­liam Stadiem’s nutty so­cial history Jet Set in a re­view last sum­mer, he also took aim at its un­wit­ting sub­jects. They were a “mot­ley col­lec­tion of oc­ca­sion­ally beau­ti­ful but in­vari­ably con­temptible men and women,” Yard­ley wrote.

Betty Catroux with Yves Saint Lau­rent and Loulou de la Falaise in Lon­don, 1969

Inès de La Fres­sange in1992

The younger sib­ling of Jaque­line Kennedy, Ona­siss in 1967

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