Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hype, Hype Hooray

We're experiencing high velocity Coco mania in France.

The much touted film "Coco Avant Chanel" ("Coco Before Chanel") starring Audrey Tautou of "Les Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain" fame, directed by Anne Fontaine with costume design overseen by none other than Karl Lagerfeld has everyone talking about the fabulous destiny of Coco Chanel. (The couturier and the actress are pictured side-by-side above.) 

As one would expect the film and two other recent biopics of her life, one with Shirley MacLaine, the other with Anna Mouglalis, have everyone chattering about what she dared to do for us.  Talk about women's liberation. 

The bows, the bag, the beads, the bangles and those were just the accessories for the fashion revolution she instigated at the debut of the 20th century. Coco Chanel bobbed her hair; donned men's trousers; made the French Navy's striped T-shirt her own; took simple jersey -- a common, in both senses of the word -- fabric, added couture details and proved in one smooth move how comfort and chic can coexist.  

She released women from the constraints of their corsets and showed them a new elegance without the fusty fuss that marked her epoch. 

Her iconic suit that falls just-so because of the chains sewn within is as contemporary now as it was then. Surely she would have understood how a woman today would wear her jacket with a T-shirt and jeans, the skirt with a black turtle neck sweater. Both perhaps with her signature black-toed, beige body pumps or ballerinas. Or in any number of the color combinations on her original theme. 

The French have a saying: "If he didn't exist, we'd have to invent him (or her)." Perhaps that person is Karl Lagerfeld, the genius who somehow managed to re-ignite the passion for her fashion while making it his own. As the French also say, "there are no wrinkles" on her reputation thanks to his creativity and wit.

You could wear her LBD from 1926 to a cocktail party tonight -- just add masses of beads, cuffs, her black-on-black sling-back pumps and a Chanel bag, maybe in a bright color.

Her Chanel No. 5, the first couture perfume was created in the Roaring Twenties and is to this day the world's most popular scent. Her quilted bag is all a woman needs to own, a camellia on a lapel, in the hair, at the neck -- anywhere -- is the ultimate adornment particularly if one adds upwards of seven strands of pearls and beads to the mix. (Chanel reputedly liked to wear seven strands of pearls.)

If miracles exist in the quixotic world of fashion it is when somehow, simultaneously one can see the past, the present and the future in a single design. How Karl Lagerfeld manages this sleight of hand is the enduring mystery.

(P.S.: I loved the Edmonde Charles-Roux book pictured above.)

"CoCo Avant Chanel" opens in France April 22nd.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Snack Time -- Or Not. . .

Last week in my English conversation course I used horses and cows as virtual visual aids in an effort to explain what we mean when speaking about "grazing" as it applies to American eating habits. My students were appalled. They understood grazing, they understood snacking, but they most definitely did not understand how the two concepts intersected.

If snacking is part of a French woman's daily diet, which often it is not, it is reasonable, low calorie and almost always includes a cup of hot tea -- no milk -- to quell any hunger pangs that may occur between lunch and dinner at 8p.m.

As I believe I mentioned before, even the healthiest of in-between-meal nibbling like yogurt, for example, when advertised on TV is accompanied by a small line running across the bottom of the screen cautioning viewers not to abuse non-meal associated eating. It's similar to, though not quite as menacing as, the warnings on alcohol and cigarette labels.

So here again is what my subjects told me they eat at four or five o'clock in the afternoon. Out of the 24 women I questioned, five said, "nothing," three said "only hot tea" and you can read what the others said below. When I asked if they didn't get hungry from time to time they said yes, but they could wait for dinner. "Snacks in the afternoon are for children," one proclaimed. "Not for adults." (Again, my subjects are between the ages of 40 and 70.)

Edith: Tea and one piece of whole grain toast, no butter and a half-teaspoon of homemade jam.

Cristel:  A cappuccino and two squares of dark chocolate. (Remember a real cappuccino has no whipped cream, just low-fat milk steamed into a frothy mousse.)

Christine: A clementine or any other small, seasonal fruit like a plum for example.

Sophie: A cup of tea and two small cereal biscuits from the health food store. 

Claire: A small bowl of homemade applesauce, no sugar of course.

Anne-Françoise: A cup of tea and two slices of a pear or an apple -- no skin.

Danielle: In the winter occasionally a cup of hot chocolate.

Claudie: A café au lait and a yogurt.

Françoise: A hard boiled egg.

Ava:  An apple.

Chantal: A large glass of water and a cigarette. (Note: I considered not including this one, but thought it so stereotypically French I couldn't resist. Plus, I know it's true.)

Anne:  Cappuccino Minceur Natural Scientific. "I drank it between meals, for three months to help me lose four kilos I gained after a series of parties. It's miraculous and delicious," she said.

Caroline: A cup of tea and sometimes with my children I have one inch of a baguette with a little bit of Nutella -- but not often.                          

Marie-Christine: An espresso and two Thé cookies from LU, "they have the least number of calories and give me the impression I'm having a real treat."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bon Apetit: Your Cadeau de Weekend

I now know where the expression "nipping it in the bud" comes from.

It refers to my apricot tree which every year thinks it's spring in early March, produces thousands of glorious blossoms believing warm weather is more than a fragile promise waiting to be broken one dark, cold night when the frost comes. 

It's about to happen again this year, next week the weather woman says. In other words: Another year with no apricots. The abricotier stands in all its glory in the middle of the garden, surrounded by apple, cherry, plum and fig trees all understanding perfectly well -- and learning from experience -- one cannot trust mother nature. They're waiting patiently before they let their buds blossom.

One year, not because of the overly enthusiastic optimism of our apricot tree, but because it was a frost-free spring we actually had a little crop of beautiful, sweet, firm fruits. The ones we didn't eat, standing beneath the branches I used to make a clafoutis (pronounced, kla-foo-Tee) a sort of flan a la Française. A classic, easy to make dessert -- obviously, otherwise I couldn't make it -- everyone loves.  Here follows as your cadeau de weekend, the recipe I use. It's a slight variation on that of Julia Child. (Some French cooks put alcohol in the batter or let the fruit macerate in a liqueur, but I think it's a shame to do that when the seasons for perfect fruit are so short.)

Clafouti is equally delicious with cherries, apples, pears, plums, blueberries, peaches, etc. 

Clafoutis aux Abricots

Serves six to eight.

1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sifted, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
Powdered sugar
*washed, pitted, cut into quarters apricots (about 12, but have more on hand just in case)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

In a blender mix the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour.  Pour 1/4 inch of the liquid into a well buttered 8 cup fireproof baking dish. Place in the oven until a film of batter sets in the bottom of the dish. Remove and place the apricots over the batter, sprinkle on the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and cover with the rest of the batter. 

Bake for approximately 45 minutes to one hour. It will puff-up and brown. Plunge a knife into the center. When it comes out clean, the clafouti is done. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar and serve warm. 

It's not a beautiful dessert, but that's part of its beauty, it's obviously homemade and it's mistake-free delicious.

(Picture of the clafouti aux abricots is from the French blog Caillou.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Enough Already

Is it because time stands still (except for menopause Barbie from last weekend of course); is it because she has no cellulite; is it because she has no hips; is it because she never has a bad hair day; is it because she still doesn't need a bra; is it because she never stops smiling? I don't get it. 

So what if some anatomically ridiculous piece of plastic is 50-years-old. Some of us have been there, done that and then some. I'm surprised she hasn't melted from all the candles she's been exposed to during the non-stop birthday celebrations the French have been giving her -- from a little retrospective at the painfully chic Colette boutique, wrapping up this weekend, to a second fete at the Galeries Lafayette department store from April 6 through April 25. (She and I can celebrate my b-day together on the 25th and since she can't open her mouth I'll drink her Champagne as well.)

The April Expo heralded as "Barbie et Ses Accessoires" will include 50 top name designer duds for the doll. Featured in the star-studded line-up are: Karl Lagerfeld, Sonia Rykiel, Catherine Malandrino, Chantal Thomass, Christian Lacroix, Corinne Cobson, Elie Saab, Georges Rech, Gérard Darel, Giambattista Valli, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Junko Shimada, Léonard, Lesage, Louis Feraud, Marithé & François Girbaud, Martin Margiela and many more.

The sac Babs has on her arm above was designed by Tila March and the "body jewelry" -- definitely an age appropriate ensemble -- comes from Delfina Delettrez.

My absolute hands down favorite get-up is the one Christian Lacroix did for her in 1995 with the scarf, sunglasses, hat et. al. She looks like she's ready to slip out the back door of the clinic after a little work. And she was what, 36 at the time? No wonder she smiles all the time. too much, too soon?

It's nice to know she knits and takes the time to put some serious thought into her accessories before picking up her needles. Isn't it reassuring to discover she's well-rounded? We know she's had hundreds of vocations, but we weren't aware of any endearing avocations. 

The LBD and galactic biker gloves are a Karl Lagerfeld fantasy for her; the hippy-dippy, lotsa color dress is from Léonard -- now there's a number in which she wouldn't have had to worry about middle-age middle spread; and the evening gown (?) is by Corinne Cobson. I'm wondering if she can pull that thing up in the back like the top on a convertible or one of those horse-drawn carriages in Central Park?

I give you my word: This is over and out for Miss Barbie unless I'm still blogging when she celebrates her 60th. . . 

Cheap Chic

Mini prix, maxi mileage: Sounds like I'm talking about a car, but of course I'm talking about accessories(!) 

My top 10 picks pictured here are all under $100 -- so far under in some cases they're barely in the double digits. Each adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to our spring and summer what-have-you's or what-we're-going-to-have when we go shopping. Some of these you'll want to keep forever like the Panama hat -- as fashion fluctuates, just change the ribbon. This year you could circle it with leopard or polka dots, or not. . .

A qualifier: I've included two items I LOVE that peak out over $100, but under $200. 

My way of rationalizing expenditures -- it's marked waaaaay down; I work in fashion and I need new clothes; it's an investment; I couldn't resist -- used to drive my ex-husband crazy. (I've often thought I wish I'd figured out other ways to drive him crazy, but that's another story.)

My two pricey picks are the gold and turquoise creole earrings and the beaded fringe sandals. However, and with me there is always a "however" they are two-fers. Turquoise is tres in as are hoop earrings, that equals two-in-one. Right? Simple leather sandals -- the safari statement we all want to make -- are a la mode and fringe is everywhere. I'm sure you follow my logic? That means you can divide the price of the earrings and the sandals by two and they're both well within our cheap chic criteria. 

Furthermore, I bet you already own some of these accessible accessories. Therefore you can spend more on the more expensive ones. See how it works? 

And the top ten up-daters are: 
  1. Polka dot sunglasses -- for fun.
  2. Animal print grosgrain ribbons -- to double as belts, hat bands, whatever. .. 
  3. Espadrille ballerinas -- always better than sneakers; tell me you agree.
  4. Creole earrings -- all the time, everywhere.
  5. Bandanas -- as necklace, as headband as bandana with a necklace -- very French.
  6. African inspired bangle bracelets -- because they're bold beauties that dress up anything. (And the wooden ones. . .)
  7. Sandals -- because it will be summer and they demand a pedicure.
  8. Turquoise jewelry -- an investment, always beautiful, and bonus(!) it's in again.
  9. A Panama hat -- everyone looks gorgeous in a Panama plus it keeps the rays away.
  10. Shell jewelry -- what can I say? It's inexpensive, it's summery and it can be pretty. (With red beads and with mother-of-pearl pendant.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oh, Sauvage

A mere soupçon of the sauvage is more than enough for us -- or in my opinion, for anyone.

Yes, leopards and cheetahs (fashion-wise would someone please explain the difference in the spot thing between the two animals?) are with us through the summer and they continued to roam the catwalks into fall and winter. Always a good sign.

Translation: If you haven't already bought into the trend you've got time and it's a good investment, you know, all things considered. . .  My philosophy: Might as well get a little piece of the action when you know it will give you long-term fashion dividends. Whatever. You get my drift.

Instead of going on and on about this spot on movement, herein I shall offer ways and means to dabble in it without going whole hog. 

(BTW Eau Sauvage is a sublime fragrance for men from Dior. It smells just as delicious on women.)

From the top: A lounging leopard; an 18 karat gold bracelet; stylish sunglasses; a Louis Vuitton bag; Repetto ballerinas; a bit of the beast -- not literally of course -- in a belt from Sonia Rykiel; a just-for-fun umbrella; a skinny headband, all time French bad hair day solution ; a silk scarf from Dolce and Gabbana; red soles and a reasonable heel from Christian Louboutin; unspeakably chic needlepoint mules; and a is it in is it out -- who cares -- pashmina

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Catch A Falling Tear

Is this another one of those lemons into lemonade; when the times are tough, the tough figure out a way to make money stories? I would say, "yes indeed." 

At the same time I can't help but admire American spunk and ingenuity. I constantly hear the French saying they're not worried about the United States because it's a country of optimists who bounce back, create new opportunities. It makes me proud actually.

This handkerchief is for me a teeny symbol of that esprit even if it is perhaps a little crass. It's also a little funny. It comes from Design Glut and the zig-zag line above features the Dow for the last five years -- 2004 to 2009. The model above is priced at a mere $28, however -- and here's the best part -- if you're willing to up the ante to $95, the company will embroider your own personal stock portfolio. 

(When I first saw it I thought: an embroidered life support system -- as in hospital, tubes, intensive care. I guess upon reflection in a way that's exactly what it could represent.)

Of course you're wondering, and who wouldn't, what does this have to do with the subject of a blog about women of a certain age and France and the melange thereof?  I'm going to tell you: Handkerchiefs.

Nestled up against a very practical package of tissues inside a French woman's handbag, one will almost always find a beautiful mouchoir.

Truly, the devil is in the details and who knows this better than they? Every detail, every item that makes a woman look, smell and feel good is part of their repertoire. Think about it: If a tear needs to be dabbed what is more lovely then an exquisite handkerchief to compliment the gesture. Nose blowing, perspiration blotting can be done with disposables -- and privately, but I am almost moved by the sight of a hand-embroidered linen hanky. It completes an image, sends a subtle message. 

I have a dear friend who has a collection of antique handkerchiefs she never uses and for the past several Christmases she has been doling them out to me. One even has her monogram on it which I find particularly touching.

Some women have a shoe fetish, I have a handkerchief fetish. What can I say?

(Les mouchoirs picture above are from Bridal People and Elegant Linens.)
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