Friday, July 31, 2009

Meet Brigitte

Brigitte is not an amie intime as we say, but a casual friend I always enjoy seeing. And when I say "seeing" I'm not talking solely about the occasional tasse de café, I mean literally. 

Years before we were introduced I was constantly mesmerized by the way she dressed. I would, and this is embarrassing to admit, just watch her to see what she was wearing. Did someone say voyeuse? (Yes, it exists in the feminine! I couldn't resist.) 

I told her this long after and she couldn't stop laughing.

Several days every week I would see her popping in and out of her brocante boutique, sitting in an outdoor cafe or talking to friends. Every time she treated me to a lesson in personal style. She is riveting.

She has a long, full black cotton skirt, for example, she must wear a hundred different ways all year (we'll investigate further, I promise). 

Each time I venture out to buy bread I hope I run in to her to see the latest.

Once again in terrible picture above taken by you-know-who, you can vaguely see Brigitte in a typically creative collection of sweet summer separates.

The day before, when I didn't have my camera -- now I never leave home without it -- she was wearing above mentioned long black skirt with a big, long-sleeved navy peasant blouse, pulled down over her shoulders and belted tightly at the waist with a black belt. She had on the same black ballerinas. She never wears earrings "I hate them on me for some reason," she says, and always has her right arm covered in her beloved silver bangles. She will wear brooches, rings and the occasional necklace and always silver. 

I don't believe I have ever seen her wear makeup.

Because she is another example of the epitome of what I want us all to understand about dressing with style and creativity at our ages Brigitte has agreed to play along. We have decided to make her another regular feature. I promise you from my years of voyeurism we'll learn a lot from her. Hope you like this idea. 

(When I see her next week I'll ask her if I can tell you how old she is. You won't believe it. And trust me she has had no "work.")

Urgent Weekend Bulletin:

Last night on a TV special about where and how the French are spending their vacations (because tonight and tomorrow are the major depart en vacances, the famous month of August when the world stops here) one of the mini reportages was about the hottest summer accessory.  

I wanted to get this news off to you instantly so you can run out to your favorite shop or mall and get on the bandwagon and probably the markdown bandwagon if you're lucky. Everybody, anybody who's anybody has to -- do you hear me (?) MUST have a pair of Spartiates. FYI we call them gladiators. but just like creoles I think it's more fun to call them Spartiates. (The French press reported Brad Pitt bought at least one pair in St. Tropez. Yes, I know. . . Who cares?)

From the top: Sergio Rossi (note, it's a three-fer: Spartiates, fringe, coral), Koah and Chanel.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Few Of Her Favorite Things

Things are not going as planned in blog-land. To keep a constant update of fresh surveys to unroll for our delight all I require is follow-through. It's simple, I ask a question and the questionee responds, but oh no, now they want to think about their answers and get back to me. You can see where this is going. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. . .

I think in the future I'll just sit in front of this screen, ask myself questions and give myself a variety of names I wish my parents had given me in the first place and make up a bunch of brilliant answers.

Of course I can't do that because I'm a journalist not only would I never lie to you, but when I ask questions I learn something. It's fun. How sad life would be if we stopped learning, even if it's only trivia.  

Tucked away in my bag of tricks -- theoretically saved to be coupled with two other interviews -- is Caroline's response to her favorite, no-fail, love 'em every day summer clothes. (This is not the same Caroline from the last survey, she was a doctor, this Caroline is a pharmacist and cute as a bug, well actually they both are -- one blonde, one brunette, both tiny.) Oh yes, this is the Caroline who revealed in my "what do you you eat for breakfast" survey a couple of months back: "Prince cookies and a glass of milk."

Caroline's favorites:

1.) My Chanel sunglasses (yes, yet another one)

2.) Sandals "I won't even tell you how many I own, but I'll tell you the minute it's warm enough I wear nothing else anywhere, ever.

3.) Long flowy dresses.

4.) White or gray t-shirts with black or white linen trousers or bermudas. 

5.) A beige Eres maillot. (It's not precisely the one pictured, but the color is right. . .)

On the day of our interview she was wearing coral sandals; a charcoal gray cotton skirt with pale tray pinstripes in a sort of bubble shape with low pockets (you could have your arms at your sides and your hands would slip into the pockets -- weird, I know, but cute); a medium gray Marcel (I swear); a gray cotton cardigan and silver creoles (I know, I know, but it's true).

P.S.: Before it's too late, if you can find a long summer dress you love: buy it, buy it, buy it. It's probably on sale and no woman should be without one or two. Trust me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Edith's Jupe: Version Eté 2009

Correct me if I'm wrong. What is more every day wearable; wardrobe foundation building; goes with everything than black and white? 

I'm right; right?  

Not necessarily. And once again, this is where our tres, tres chères amies demonstrate style may start with the obvious, but it blooms from one's unique personality. Think about the fuchsia skirt the big, egg yolk yellow trousers for example. Who would have thought they could be turned into basics?

The white, light silk crepe skirt with black polka dots was Edith's other summer purchase. At first glance one might hesitate, on second inspection one might think: "Aha, a neutral with which I can wear absolutely anything and everything." Wrong.

The beauty of this skirt, apart from its exceedingly feminine flouncy finish, is it's not so easy to top it off.  It needs some considered thinking and creativity. It has more restrictions than one might think. Curiously, working with it requires a certain restraint. One must rein-in errant impulses to couple it with any old color. The skirt deserves more respect than simply relegating it to the go-with-everything black and white category.

Avoid colored t-shirts. A black bustier would be beautiful; a red bustier could be slightly tacky whereas a structured red linen jacket would be superbly chic. I admit; it's tricky. A fuchsia, yellow, electric French blue, plum jacket -- by all means.

Here then follows our list of perfect pieces for the polka dots:

1.) A black or white linen, close to the body Spencer or peplum jacket with big white buttons on the black; black on the white.

2.) A black cotton twin-set with white ribbing around the neck and two white bands around the wrist of the cardigan. (Edith owns it and often wears the duo with black jeans. Whatever. . .)

3.) A black Marcel with a big belt. Not a white Marcel, it just doesn't look right. Not a red one either, don't even think about it.

4.) Black t-shirts in every imaginable neckline and sleeve length, always belted. When this skirt is  worn with a t-shirt it needs that polished finish.

5.) A black "men's" vest or a red, fuchsia, plum or black and white striped one if you can find it (maybe even black and white polka dots, why not?).

6.) Any white blouse tucked in or worn out, but in both cases always belted: wide inside, narrower outside.

7.) White t-shirts (thought no Marcels!) -- same rules apply as with black, but be creative with belts and jewelry without which the look could be boring.

8.) Black bustier with a shawl of just about any color except perhaps yellow, orange and any insipid pastel.

9.) Deep, deep black or white paper-thin summer sweaters worn out. If they reach the top of your thighs it's your call about "to-belt-or-not-to-belt."

10.) Layer two ultra-thin V-neck cardigans in different colors so one peeps out beneath the other at the neckline and wrists. Start with black on the outside and work from there with colors like coral, lime, white, pale gray, fuchsia, etc. on the inside. I think you could make the exception here for a red on the outside. White is simply blah. 

11.) Black polished cotton shirt.

NOTE: Jewelry is particularly important -- and fun -- with all these combos. Note the slightly over-the-top, but perfectly wearable peasant blouse ensemble. (Peasant blouses also come with long sleeves, FYI. . . Few women don't have pretty shoulders.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Babette's "Closet"

Let's start with a confession: I have no idea whether Babette has an armoire, an open the door/doors, look inside closet or whether you can step right in and walk for miles (kilometres). 

I've never seen her closet.

What she does have is three boutiques and in my opinion that's a fashion fantasy world she's living in. For example: She can choose to wear anything her little heart desires every day of the year; she will never make a ridiculous, badly thought out impulse purchase; she can wear the accessories for demonstration purposes and then put them back out for sale (i.e. she's showing her customers all the clever ways they can be combined with her clothes) and whatever she decides to keep she has only paid wholesale. Un monde du rêve I tell you.

Her boutiques reflect her easy, comfortable, feminine way of dressing -- nothing strict or restrictive except for the occasional jacket or sweater that caresses the body. If one were to use labels, which I hate, but they're sometimes useful, I would call her style "bohemian chic." For those who are afraid of the word "boho," in her choices it can mean flowy, but often it's the pretty details of embroidery and open-work on silk blouses and cotton voile dresses and tunics that make her collection special. Her boutique offers something for every age. As usual, it's how the pieces are assembled. 

(And remember, if you don't like your arms and are afraid to wear the exceptionally pretty ankle-length Madras APC sundress above, add one short sweater, a bolero, a shawl, whatever you prefer -- you've done it before; you can do it again. And remember empire is VERY, VERY flattering.)

As with my other subjects, in this on-going survey, I put this question to Babette: "What are your three to five favorite pieces, the ones you've worn over and over this summer because they always make you feel bien dans votre peau?

You can see in Babette's case this is a tad tricky, but she quickly pulled out some of her favorites, all pictured here. 

I apologize in advance for my artless photography and lack of photo styling. In the future I'll do better, or better yet try to talk my subjects into being photographed in some of their favorite things. I've decided to buy the beautifully detailed silk blouse/tunic which is particularly badly photographed, but I assure you it has great possibilities offering a certain lingerie feel without being too frou-frou which I hate. (En plus it's on sale: 50% off, ahem. . .) Just below is a silk dress from Virginie Castaway, i.e. season-less; and the two other dresses are from Stella Forest. Babette wore the deep plum one in what she calls vert d'eau, a light, light water color green, but they were sold out.  Note the last dress can be worn off the shoulders and it comes with a cotton slip beneath so there are no transparency issues.

I'll be visiting Babette on a regular basis, one of her boutiques is in the village next to ours. Hope you approve.

Tomorrow:  Edith's summer skirt, version 2009, and all its myriad possibilities.

Monday, July 27, 2009

TOP 10: Raves for Great Reads

My preoccupation for several years now has been to try to understand -- really, really understand my adopted country and particularly the women whom I find the most fascinating creatures of all. How over the centuries they've used their charm, cunning, intelligence and exquisite taste in dressing, decorating and the fine arts to change their epochs. 

I want to be able to sit at a lively dinner party in one of the few pieces of YSL or Chanel I've owned for years; with my new filmy lingerie beneath; my hair perfect, but not too perfect; my makeup applied with a fine, light hand; in a cloud of my favorite perfume a glass of Champagne in hand and participate in conversations that turn around French history, remarkable Frenchwoman and the complicated rules, rites and intrigues of the kings' courts. Sublime.

As for the other choices they're an unrelated collection of books I've loved for years or as in the case of the Castaing biography, just discovered. Her biography and that of Chanel are in French, but are magnificently illustrated and are worth owning I think. Furthermore they make stunning coffee table tomes, you'll go back to time and time again.

1.) The Josephine Trilogy by Sandra Gulland (historical fiction, but full of delicious factual details.)

2.)The Essence of Style by Joan de Jean (I know I've mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again.)

3.) Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford

4.) A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (for very personal, very romantic reasons)

5.) Le Temps Chanel by Edmonde Charles-Roux (the author knew Chanel)

6.) French Ways and Their Meaning by Edith Wharton (wonderful)

7.) Madeleine Castaing by Jean-Noel Liant

8.)Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty by Joan Haslip (juicy)

9.) Love & Louis XIV: The Women In the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser

10.) Larousse Standard French-English Dictionary (I couldn't live without it -- obviously)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In and Out of The Garden Plus a Preview. . .

I've been mulling -- yes, seriously mulling -- about the weekend cadeaux where I included the plastic watering cans. The snail was simply to point out we have quite a few of them (the creatures) hanging around our garden and the stupid pink poodle was to prove what lengths some go to buy something utterly tacky and reputation ruining. 

(BTW, I wouldn't own either one of them. My dream watering can is pictured above and I intend to hunt it down at the scores of brocantes in the villages surrounding us out here in the country.)

Whether you're a dilettante gardener like moi meme or the real deal I think you would enjoy a browse through the site that offers items I have never seen or heard of from Victorian times to the 20th century. Included therein is my watering can, the cloche and the Scottie boot scraper. The site is  beyond fascinating and I guarantee you will be surprised and enchanted.

And if for whatever reason, you have your heart set on animal motifs I do believe the rooster and the pig are the best route to the barnyard theme. One could actually leave them out in plain view without being embarrassed. And, of course, they're not plastic.

Since weekends have been defined not only as cadeaux for you, but also dedicated to the home and garden, the following story falls vaguely into the mix: 

The daughter of a friend of a friend of mine (still with me?) handed over her two children to her mother for three weeks thus allowing her and her husband a respite/vacation from their four-year-old boy and six-year-old daughter.

As I've heard from many grandmothers keeping the little ones happy, busy and at the end of the day exhausted is a major challenge. Perhaps some of you have young children of your own or your offspring are delivering theirs to your doorstep for extended safekeeping and entertainment.

The grandmother, Marie, spends her entire day inventing games; taking them to Thoiry (see my post on the animal park); arts and crafts classes offered at various nurseries -- as in plants and things; and swimming. OK, now I've set the scene. The reason I'm telling you this is because what she does at the end of each day instead of reading her grandchildren bedtime stories she has them tell her the story of the day they just experienced. She made journals for each child, decorated them with their name and drawings, inside each page is dated and may have pictures, drawings, something collected on their expeditions, i.e. leaves, flowers, feathers, whatever. She writes down what the child says and their impressions of the day and then off to dreamland they go.

What she's doing is creating their own history, something years from now they can look back on and smile over their childhood memories; share them with their own children one day and perhaps continue a newly invented family tradition.

A Preview for Next Week: (Though not necessarily in this order because some of the women I interview are not as disciplined as I would like. . .)

  1. The Week's Top Ten
  2. Babette's Closet
  3. Edith's 2009 Summer Skirt
  4. Non-French women talk about Frenchwomen
  5. On-the-Street with Brigitte

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Your Cadeau du Weekend Is For Tommorw

Have a whopper of migraine so your cadeau will be postponed until the middle of the night -- my time -- or tomorrow. My time aussi I suppose when you think about it.



Friday, July 24, 2009

Le Pantalon d'Edith: All It Takes Is One Pair of Trousers

How many people do you know who would venture out of the comfort of their homes, get in their car and actually plunk down a credit card for a a pair of big, flowy yellow -- and I do mean yellow -- trousers? 


But then again, you're just beginning to become acquainted with my friend Edith. Motto: "Everyone's closet is already full of black, it's time to move on." With the codicil: "Tell me one color that doesn't go with the black."

One is hard-pressed to argue the point. Furthermore, she's an artist so she does know her colors. I have to give her that. 

Edith is part of my new summer series on "What do you turn to this summer, time and time again for whatever occasion that presents itself?" 

Obviously, we'll be continuing this exercise through fall, winter, spring, special occasions, and for just about any other reason I can invent that will produce a mini-collection of workable clothes a la les femmes Française that we can appropriate. Our raison d'etre if you will.

Sketched here, by Edith of course, are three ways she has and will wear her polished cotton trousers. Maybe we'd call them palazzo pants, but that sounds so passé I hate to use the word. Then again if one had a pair in the back of the closet in what ever color or pattern or stumbled upon a pair in a vintage shop we agree they can be one of the most precious, useful items in a wardrobe. So don't scoff.

When you peruse these ideas, flip down to Tuesday's post and review the check list of tops that turned her fuchsia skirt into a non-stop wonder and you'll discover most of the pieces can be lifted from there and transferred over here. 

Next week you'll see the final item she bought for this summer and how it can be magically divided and multiplied.

(I suppose I don't have to discuss the t-shirt on top [?], below is an old safari jacket from YSL; the bustier is silk grosgrain and the shawl a reversible orange/yellow pashmina bought in India.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Shall I Wear?

It's the universal question, every day and sometimes more than once each day. It's no different for Frenchwomen than it is for the rest of us. 

However, I have always had the firm conviction they do not try on dozens of outfits in a mad frenzy trying to figure out what goes with what, what's appropriate, what makes them look their irreproachably chic selves.

All that fussing was done, if at all, long before they purchased the clothes hanging in their closets. They bought them in the first place because they know their personal style and figure whatevers and they already own things that go with their latest additions. They'd rather set aside their precious time in three or four intelligent shopping expeditions than stand daily in front of their armoires crying: "I have nothing to wear!" 

(I say four times a year because often two of the trips are scouting and reconnaissance missions, the other two planned for a couple of months later when they hope they'll find their favorites on sale. If they fall hopelessly in love with an item at its regular price they might not take the risk.)

This brings us to today's question and another new series of posts: "What are your favorite clothes this summer? What do you turn to time and time again to feel bien dans votre peau?


A simple beige linen short sleeve dress. It falls from a squared yolk. I can wear it in several ways from morning until night. I can also wear it as a tunic over jeans or linen trousers. I can belt it with a fringed wraparound belt in a bright color or a scarf. In the evening I add sandals with heels, a shawl and lots of beads. I may or may not belt it. I also wear it with flat sandals during the day and once with a pair of cowboy boots.

I plan on wearing it until it falls apart.

A super large and long V-neck black cotton and cashmere sweater I wear with jeans, all my linen pants and sometimes as a beach cover-up over my classic, black maillot and a pareo.

And every season I buy myself a few pairs of tres, tres jolie petite culottes. They make me feel beautiful.


My Chanel sunglasses with my prescription in the lenses.

One pair of white linen pants and one straight, knee-skimming white skirt.

An inexpensive white watch because it shows off my tan better.

Silver Spartan sandals.

A red and beige print flowy dress by Stella Forest.

Red patent leather Repetto ballerinas I can wear with everything I mentioned when I'm not wearing the sandals.


Levi's 501 jeans. What can I say? I've worn them all my life and when in doubt I just reach for them.

A simple natural linen skirt I wear with just about everything from a classic shirt with rolled-up sleeves to a polo in a variety of colors, plus white of course; a black peasant blouse; and any number t-shirts from my huge collection from Petit Bateau. I have V-necks, U-necks, crews, boat-necks, deep Vs -- I have them all. In the summer I wear short sleeves (on the day I interviewed her she was wearing a pale gray puffed sleeve, round-neck tee) and in the winter long sleeves.

When I go to a dinner or other event where I need to be "dressed" I wear my simple black dress. I've had it for years. It's straight, knee-length, sleeveless, round neck. There's nothing you can't do with it and I wear it all year 'round.

Edith: You'll see tomorrow. . .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Here, There, Everywhere Day

It's time to tie-up loose ends, sweep up all the one-has-nothing-to-do-with-the-other odds and bits while strictly adhering to our raison d'etre: Staying on top of what's new, necessary and at times of no consequence, but interesting nonetheless. 

Apropos of  yesterday's post on Edith's skirt, while flipping through old magazines in the middle of the night I stumbled upon this terrific top, complete with its own built-in cummerbund or whatever one might like to make of it. Note fuchsia polka dots. That makes at least 31 outfits.

If you're bored with your navy blue marinière, since you've been wearing it for months now, this may be the moment to add the red and white striped version to your wardrobe. Accessorize with turquoise and coral beads and off you go. (Just coral if you prefer, either way is perfect.)

The cuff from Monday's Top 10 Summer Must Haves (re-pictured here) is from Helles.

From the top: picque a cheveux from Hermes, this is for those irrational moments when you prefer to make a status statement rather than a practical gesture by using a pencil or a chop stick for the same purpose; the bustier I found for Edith's fuchsia skirt from Dimension; a twist on the sailor t-shirt theme from Amor Lux; hmmmm, looks like another pair of creoles to wear with your new marinière -- just add red beads or something to the ones you bought a few months ago; coral and turquoise necklace from Harpo; coral "mousse" beads (they look like old gum balls) from Proidee; and the famous "Marcel" available everywhere. Personally I prefer the ones with ribbing. 
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