Madame but­ter­fly

How the French ap­proach to ag­ing helped Olivia Stren re­vi­tal­ize her skin

The Kit - - THEKITCA -

It was a sunny day, the buds on the mag­no­lia tree in front of my house looked par­tic­u­larly plump and downy, and I was feel­ing good. That is, un­til a visit to my lo­cal café, where a barista asked: “Just the flat white for you, ma’am?” Ma’am. ( Trans­la­tion: Per­haps some den­tures with your cof­fee?) I’m sure the ma’am-spout­ing mil­len­nial in ques­tion didn’t mean to of­fend. But let’s be hon­est, this odi­ous ti­tle is a pro­nounce­ment that the cli­max of your life is over, and you’re now firmly in the post-fun de­noue­ment, hob­bling to­ward the cred­its.

The French use the same ob­jec­tion­able dis­tinc­tions: young (and un­mar­ried) women are called Made­moi­selle—even the word is lin­gerie-light with its co­quet­tish “ll” tail feath­ers. Madame is the stolid ma­tron who has traded in her bal­ler­ines, and joy, for or­thopaedic footwear, re­al­ity and wrin­kles. (It was Madame Bo­vary—not Made­moi­selle Bo­vary—who longed to es­cape the ba­nal­ity of her life.) The made­moi­selle jig is up for me, I’m aware. I’m 40, a mom and, ev­i­dently, a ma’am.

De­spite this is­sue with ti­tles, the French do seem to have a health­ier re­la­tion­ship to ag­ing than we do in North Amer­ica—theirs is less based on shame, fear and re­sis­tance. In France, women bloom into “une femme d’un cer­tain âge,” a term laced with sex ap­peal and mys­tique. And, of course, the French are as el­e­gant at ag­ing (see ac­tresses Fanny Ar­dant, Miou-Miou, Cather­ine Deneuve and the late, great Em­manuelle Riva) as they are at ty­ing foulards and feasting on croque-mon­sieur (or croque-madame, as the case may be) with­out gain­ing weight. So I won­dered: Per­haps the ideal way to ap­proach my madame years is to be more French?

I seek out the coun­sel of Dr. Philippe Al­louche, who helms the cult French skin­care com­pany Biologique Recherche. It’s a dis­mal, grey morn­ing when we meet dur­ing his visit to Toronto, and I am feel­ing ex­cep­tion­ally hag­gard. But when I ask him to ap­praise the state of my vis­age, he is too charm­ing, too French as it were, to tell me any­thing po­ten­tially wound­ing. “The best anti-ag­ing is what I call skin re­con­di­tion­ing,” he says. “It’s about get­ting back a fully func­tional epi­der­mis that can play its cen­tral role of pro­tec­tion. Our skin is like a sand­wich made up of lipids, water and pro­tein.”

“Un croque-mon­sieur?” I sug­gest.

“Oui! Un croque-mon­sieur,” he agrees. “We need to fill up that sand­wich!”

His first sug­ges­tion is that I splash my face with cold water in the morn­ing to de­crease inflammation as “the big prob­lem with the whole body is inflammation.” Then, he ad­vises: “Ap­ply your prod­ucts gen­tly in front of the mir­ror, from the cen­tre out­ward, with­out too much rub­bing.” He is pas­sion­ately against harsh ex­fo­li­a­tion, and in­stead rec­om­mends Biologique Recherche’s hero prod­uct, Lo­tion P50, which hy­drates, bal­ances pH and gen­tly ex­fo­li­ates on a daily ba­sis.

His fi­nal tip: Take up hap­pi­ness. “There was a great study done at Har­vard show­ing that longevity is about the hap­pi­ness you get from so­cial and deep re­la­tion­ships,” he says. “I’m not talk­ing about stupid so­cial re­la­tion­ships, I’m talk­ing about real re­la­tion­ships with friends and fam­ily.”

I en­joy the idea that all that is stand­ing be­tween me and look­ing like Juli­ette Binoche is a splash of cold water and a few laughs. But not too many, ap­par­ently, as laugh­ter along with smil­ing is partly what’s got­ten me into this mess. “You have a lot of ex­pres­sion lines!” says my fa­cial­ist, Jane, at Toronto’s Lac + Beauty spa as she ex­am­ines my skin. I am em­bark­ing on Parisian skin­care guru Joëlle Ciocco’s sig­na­ture “buc­cal fa­cial,” which in­volves a se­ries of stretch­ing and knead­ing move­ments from in­side the mouth— oui, that’s cor­rect—meant to tone and plump fa­cial mus­cles and boost cir­cu­la­tion in the skin. A bio­chemist by train­ing, Ciocco counts Carine Roit­feld, Mon­ica Bel­lucci and Sofia Cop­pola among her devo­tees. She per­son­ally trains se­lect aes­theti­cians in her method—there are only eight such dis­ci­ples in the world; two of them are now here in Canada, at Lac + Beauty. “The Buc­cal is ef­fi­cient for sag­ging fea­tures, as it toni­fies and acts as an anti-ag­ing gym— a work­out!—for the face,” Ciocco ex­plains over email. “It also re­laxes tight jaw mus­cles and gives no­tice­ably plumper lips.” Lord knows, the rest of my per­son isn’t go­ing to the gym, so I’m glad my coun­te­nance is be­ing aer­o­bi­cized. Jane ap­plies a pro­ces­sion of Ciocco’s cleansers, oils and masks—many of which smell, exquisitely, as if you’re ca­per­ing through a cit­rus grove in Cor­sica. And then she mas­sages my face from in­side my mouth— a pe­cu­liar ex­pe­ri­ence that, frankly, flirts with the painful. This is not the kind of fa­cial you fall asleep to whilst lis­ten­ing to Enya. In­stead, I lis­ten to Jane talk about Ciocco with the same mix­ture of ad­mi­ra­tion and fear many re­serve to de­scribe, say, God. Among Ciocco’s com­mand­ments: Don’t cleanse in the morn­ing, to avoid dis­turb­ing the nat­u­ral flora that will have de­vel­oped dur­ing the night. “A gen­tle toner or lo­tion will be the only nec­es­sary ges­ture.” And like Al­louche, Ciocco does not be­lieve in harsh treat­ments such as chem­i­cal peels that might leave your skin red or sen­si­tive.

The fol­low­ing day my face looks glowy and plumped, and I cel­e­brate with a buf­fet of the most revered French serums ( which I ap­ply gen­tly, af­ter a brac­ing cold splash). They’re made by cos­metic doc­tor Dr. JeanLouis Se­bagh, who spent years re­con­struct­ing the faces of burn vic­tims at Paris’s Ho­pi­tal Foch be­fore earn­ing his rep­u­ta­tion as the Bo­tox King and amass­ing a client list that in­cludes Cindy Craw­ford, Elle Macpher­son and Kylie Minogue. While he’s more than okay with peels, fillers and lasers, Se­bagh’s ap­proach is sub­tle and pre­ven­tion-fo­cused— he be­lieves that skin health should be main­tained from age 20. There’s no time to waste. Fol­low­ing his mix-and-match in­struc­tions, I blend his Rose de Vie serum, packed with regenerating rose-hip oil, with a dab of his col­la­gen-pow­ered Supreme Main­te­nance serum. I top that off with his Plat­inum Gold Elixir—each drop con­tains 24K gold and plat­inum tasked with firm­ing skin— one imag­ines Marie An­toinette ap­ply­ing it af­ter nib­bling a tower of pe­tits fours and bathing in a vat of rosewater.

The deca­dence of the prod­uct is thrilling— but not as thrilling as what hap­pens a week later. I go to in­ter­view a woman at her condo and her door­man greets me cheer­fully: “Hello, young lady!” (I’m re­luc­tant to add that the build­ing’s av­er­age age hov­ers around 78.) We chat— about park­ing and weather— and I wave au revoir, beam­ing. Not too broadly, though. Joy can be so ag­ing.

“The made­moi­selle jig is up for me, I’m aware. I’m 40, a mom and, ev­i­dently, a ma’am.”

Through the ages: from left to right, MiouMiou, Juli­ette Binoche, Cather­ine Deneuve and Fanny Ar­dant with their younger selves.


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