Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Landscape of Luxury: Levels of Luxe

The ultimate luxury, an Elie Saab creation (added to this post by me).

In this week's continuing exploration of luxury, I've called upon a couple of friends to tell us what they think about the subject. Today and Friday, Duchesse of the stunningly intelligent blog Passage des Perles, deconstructs luxury in, as one of my dearest friends likes to say, "value-added" pieces that I find absolutely brilliant. And, you will see, you will not leave this post with mere fluff and entertainment. No, you will have the value-added advantage of being informed and thus, if you desire, able to act on her advice and information.

Here then, is Duchesse looking into the various levels of luxury.

A blog-friend's commenter asked her:

I know if a regular piece of clothing is well made, but that's about the extent of my knowledge in this area. Perhaps you could do a series of posts explaining the various levels of luxury?

Though this wasn't asked of me, as so often happens in the blogworld, I began to think, Are there various levels of luxury? 

I'm not addressing consumption at this level today; that's a matter of individual choice and means that I'll discuss in Part Two.

I'd sort luxury clothing or accessories (products of fine quality, workmanship and design) into four categories, with some overlap. My brand examples may not resonate for you, and some brands have drifted up and down. 

1. Aspirational or LuxeLite

Though some brands borrow features of luxury, they are not generally thought of as luxury; merchants call this niche "class for mass".

J. Crew LBD
The materials may be natural fibers but are often blends, the workmanship decent, the brand recognizable and desirable (at least to its target market).

Sometimes the brand ramps up its image by introducing limited edition or designer-affiliated pieces, like Uniqlo and J. Crew do. The logo is often apparent. Clothes are not usually lined. You may see copies of higher-priced styles.

The brand may be attributed to a person, but she is rarely the actual designer.

There is some overlap with Level 2, which is exactly what the makers want. Even at this level, when quality drops, customers are bitter.

Examples: Coach (once at Level 2), J. Crew (shown, Lilabeth dress, $340); Diane von Furstenberg, Theory, Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Michael Michael Kors 

2. Entry-Level Luxe

Welcome to "Net-a-porter Land".

Preen LBD
Here you find natural fibers, good finishing, more generous hems, better quality buttons. (Though not as good as in the past. I say sternly, where are the pearl buttons?) You'll see embellishment and detail (feathers, beading, trim) but also well-cut minimalist clothes of fabrics like double-faced wool. 

This $1,625 Preen black dress should look and feel different from the $340 J. Crew black dress at Level 1 and nothing like a $75 one from Target.

Examples: Barbara Tfank, Isabel Marant, Michael Kors, Clements Ribero, Ronaldus Shamask

There's a wide range of prices at this level, from things you can buy in a top-tier department store (e.g., MaxMara) to items sold only in boutiques. The logo is nearly always apparent on shoes and accessories, and sometimes on clothes, and the designer actually designs at least some of the line.

3. Haut de gamme Luxe

Hermès black leather
Ready-to-wear of fine tailoring; details may include hand-finishing, high-quality embellishment like leather trim on a sleeve-edge; full linings, bound buttonholes.  At this level the fabric should be excellent. You will also find more fragile fabrics, such as gossamer-weight silks and laces.

You should notice a difference in the quality of dyes. In this world, you will find odd, interesting colours like a grey infused with a whiff of hyacinth, and even standard shades like navy have more depth. (You can find it at lower levels but it's rare.)

Brands in this category must work hard to balance exclusivity with growth. The houses cycle through designers, who may be relatively anonymous, or stars.

There may be a couture collection (Level 4) and sometimes a second, lower-priced label intended to scoop the Level 2 customer, as well as fragrance and sometimes make-up or accessories. Logos go low-key but there are exceptions like Vuitton, which would probably go dark if they discontinued the monogrammed bags.

Examples: Loro Piana, Stella MacCartney, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dries Van Noten, Bottega Veneta

4. UltraLuxe: Cult and Couture

These goods do not depend on brand recognition, and offer the highest standards of workmanship and quality. They cater to clients who do not wish the ostentation of brands, or who want bespoke. Prada was once one, before Miuccia Prada achieved worldwide saturation. The goods can be bought only at one or a few small company-owned boutiques.

Examples: Tailors and couturiers; specialty crafts like tiny Japanese denim boutiques and Italian leather-goods makers; exquisite, sometimes unmarked ateliers in world-class cities or exclusive resort locales.   

Alaia couture suit
There may be a small, subtle cipher in an inconspicuous place, but no big logos. A woman wearing a couture Alaia suit will recognize another woman in one, but we might not. We would, though, notice the perfect fit and impeccable line.

This is also the category for couture, available to very few. (See this Cathy Horyn article, "The Fine Line" which explains the allure and characteristics of current big-name couture.)

Most of the recognized houses are now global brands kept afloat by perfumes and ready-to-wear (Dior, Chanel, YSL.) While prices are astronomical, there is a good resale market for the best examples from renowned designers.

That's the landscape of luxury, a destination I have visited on occasion, but where I don't live. Is it desirable? Is it worth the very high price? I'll tackle that in Part Two: Can You Live with It?

But right now I'm wondering, do you pine for luxe? Does luxury attract, repel, or incite some other emotion in you?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Is Luxury: Part I

The ultimate in luxury -- look at the jacket, isn't it extraordinary (?) -- designed by Elsa Schaparelli and worn by the Duchess of Windsor.

As I work on my book and am out and about conducting interviews, it is inevitable that I am once again thrust into the world I once knew so well -- the universe of (is that a mixed metaphor -- earth and universe? Whatever.) of luxury "things."

Included in this rarefied atmosphere are designer clothes, accessories, jewels, services one can only imagine, beauty products and the pricey pampering that accompanies them and, of course, the VIP treatment that one would expect -- demand -- under these circumstances.

My re-immersion, to my great surprise, ignited some of those old yearnings I had for luxe stuff. I thought it had passed, but no, at least not completely.

I'll take the Burberry on the right please. Merci.
Talk about bling. Imagine this sequined "blazer" with almost any color satin trousers (black equals a sort of  un-classic smoking for evening) or with a silk crepe pencil skirt. How chic, n'est-ce pas?
OK, maybe I wouldn't. . . but then again, maybe I would.

The cuffs? Oh, yes, pleeeese.
Here I am again confronted with the best of the best and I wanted to say, "yes, I'll have that coat; those two perfect dresses (?) life wouldn't be complete without them; the sparkly jacket (?) yes, yes, yes please and the leather one that's so creamy soft and cut like a cardigan I need it even though I've never been drawn to leather in the past; those silk blouses the way they drape -- so unexpected -- put them on the pile, no, not the orange one; love those shoes, I'll take the two pairs of Roger Viviers -- one day and one evening -- and the Louboutin peep-toe pumps, and why not (?) you might as well toss in the Gucci wedge sandals; oh, and the bags, I can envision using all of them except for the dreadful flowered tote thing -- you can keep that one;  it's been eons since I seriously thought about belts, but those bright colors in the ones that tie like obis and the natural brown one without a buckle -- so chic -- seriously I can't take a pass on them; ooo-la-la, the scarves and shawls, well a girl can't have too many of them now can she (?) I'll take all of them except that dreary khaki number; ahhh, those sunglasses are amusing particularly the ones with the red frames and that other pair with the sort of tortoise shell/leopard motif going on and merci par avance. Just pack and send please.

Florent Pagny
Then, I climb into my car turn away from Paris and head back home to the country and my reality. And, while I'm listening to Florent Pagny sing using his real, magnificent voice (instead of his "pop" salable voice), on his CD Baryton, I start thinking: "What is luxury anyway?"

I admit I have some nifty items in my closet with some serious designer caché and one of these days, after the book is written I might indulge in a couple of items, the elusive LBD that I have yet to unearth and something special, but I don't know what at the moment. We'll see. Maybe a coat.

Really, I'm not a material girl but I do like beautiful clothes and my home must be lovely as well for me to feel safe and secure.

Let's hope, in theory, I'll need a couple of new frocks when the time comes to hit the road and promote my book, when I venture out in the real world to meet you. After all, I wouldn't want you to think I didn't know how to dress the part.

I continue to wish I owned this Celine coat from last year. . .
P.S.: Of course, once the adrenaline rush has passed from the buzz of the bling, I know very well what real luxury is and in all those respects -- the ones that truly count -- I think I could say I am more than lucky.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Panne d'Ordinateur

My mother asked me to tell you that she can't access the internet today. But, she'll be back tomorrow with the first installment of "What Is Luxury?"

A demain!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Next Week or La Semaine Prochaine

My plan for the week is to gather a few friends who will -- if I'm lucky -- expound on a subject. I know the subject, I just haven't asked them yet. That's next on today's agenda.

I'll kick it off on Monday and they'll pick up from there in their creatively individual ways. I hope you like this idea. Do you like themed weeks or do you prefer a melange of different subjects?

When I was working in magazines we would often have a major cover story that took up numerous pages inside which was the most important feature of the month, but there were always alternative pieces for those who were not interested in the big article.

I always try to think of subjects that would interest all of us examined from different points of view. You'll have to let me know what you think.

On another note: Resveratrol the magic potion that all French women are supposedly taking to stay slim? I don't know anyone using it, but Christine surely does. She is off skiing with her family so we'll have to wait until she returns to get the lowdown.

Weather Report: Sun, glorious sun, buds on the bushes and trees, nature thinks it's spring as do the birds and the dogs. I hope they're right. One can never completely trust the end of February and that strange month of March.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spots On, Spots Off (Almost. . .)

Aren't "liver" spotted Dalmatians adorable?

Last Friday, I did it. I had my hands iced. That is to say I had them dry iced by my dermatologist.

Remember? I told you it would be on my new year's calendar.

I know my dermatologist is great for a number of reasons -- think Eucerin -- but I had confirmation when I saw one of France's -- and the world's -- most famous actresses (French) leave her office as I entered. Her skin was makeup free and beautiful. I smiled. She smiled. And that was that.

At the moment, one week after the "procedure," my hands look quite awful as in the sun spots -- that's what they are I read recently so we can drop descriptives like "liver" and "age" from our vocabulary -- were much lighter than the post intervention results. Twice each day I slather my hands with A-Derma Epitheliale A.H. which is supposed to accelerate the healing process. As a result they are smooth and seem to be looking better every day.

Still, everyone including my dermatologist, said I won't see the results for another two weeks, i.e. total: three weeks from the day they were treated.

My, "I can't wait to wear them" rings from Splenderosa.

In anticipation of my new hands, I've ordered gorgeous rings from my great friend Marsha at the divinely elegant blog Splenderosa.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Brows-ing the Pharmacy

I suppose a girl crush on Inès is a bit passé ...
but really ... hasn't she the 
best eyebrows? 

Ed. Note: Marsi is back today and I'm off to Paris. She's exploring one of our favorite subjects --  products (!)

If eyes are, as they say, the windows to the soul, then eyebrows are surely the curtains. Look at how beautifully Inès's brows frame her (admittedly gorgeous) face: the strong brow up top, slightly darkened lips below, and those pretty features in the middle. Perfection.

As my path has wended me further into my forties, my eyebrows -- of all things -- have become something of a challenge. As a whole, they're thinner. But individually, they're thicker. If I had to experience hair loss in my eyebrows (and I have), couldn't it have happened to those coarse, insanely wiry hairs that look right at home on, say, Donald Trump's face? You know what I'm taking about. It's most disturbing.

Anyway, whether it's from hormonal fluctuations, reactions to anesthesia or medications, thyroid conditions or other medical issues, or overzealous tweezing in our younger days, we often find ourselves with eyebrows lacking the lushness associated with youth. For me, the answer has been a little miracle called minoxidil.

I know: Rogaine. It's crazy.

A few drops of men's extra strength Rogaine (5% minoxidil, generic brands work just fine) on a cotton swab dabbed on my brows at bedtime has made a massive difference for me in only a few months.

I know: it's not FDA approved for use on the eyebrows.

I know: it might get in my eyes.

What else do I know? It worked perfectly for me. My brows look truly even for the first time since ... forever. A bald spot where I overtweezed years ago has filled in with new growth. My "tails" have thickened beyond their former wispy selves. And, I'm pleased to say, there have been no side effects or mishaps. I love it.

Here are a few more little tricks:
  • When those coarse, wiry strands poke through (and up and out and left and right and over), resist the urge to tweeze them. You will lose fullness to your brows. Instead, give them a close snip with cuticle scissors.
  • Darken your brows at home in between salon visits. It still stuns me to notice grey roots to my eyebrows -- and it happens so quickly! I freshen mine up about once a month with a few strokes of at-home hair coloring on an old, clean mascara wand. Just mix an equal proportion of color with toner, and apply carefully to avoid staining your skin. Because brow hair is thicker and more resistant to coloring than regular hair, you may need to leave the color on for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

French Friends and Another Product

Here you have a "trick" picture to tease you into my fascinating story. . .
Some time ago I wrote a blog about the people who make life a daily pleasure. They're the ones, like my pharmacist friend, Christine, who assure a mundane pharmacie visit for aspirin or more Avène spritz-y water is fun and gossipy.

In different ways the necessary though boring chores like taking shoes in to be repaired, buying milk, picking up a cereal baguette, running out to get obscenely delicious (waaaay too much cream, Monsieur Duflos is from Normandy) Pommes Dauphinoises for a dinner party or grabbing the latest magazines are always, always a pleasure, an adventure waiting to happen.

Another of "my" completely natural, life-changing (!) products. Seriously.
However, in my post about "relationships," which is what we have with all of these people; I forgot to mention Rachel. Rachel and her family own a fascinating health food epicerie where we do lots of our shopping for eggs, cereal, almond milk (dee-li-cious if you've never tried it) and luscious jams without sweeteners of any kind for example.

My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and I have just started a diet and on it we are allowed to have fructose as the sugar of choice. Thinking Rachel would have a pure product of some kind, we turned to her for our sugar substitute. Although she carries fructose she refused to sell it to us and instead recommended/insisted we try Xylitol.
Who knew we could eat birch bark?
If you're not familiar with it, let me just say: It's brilliant. It looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, you can cook with it, it can be consumed by diabetics, it's completely natural -- wait until I tell you what it's made out of -- and has 50 percent fewer calories than the real deal.

Yep, I'm pushing another product, but remember I'm running a not for profit organization in this space. Every time I find something new -- at least to me -- I have an overwhelming urge to rush home to my computer to tell you.

Xylitol is made from the "ecorce de bouleau" or the bark of birch trees. I highly recommend it. And that one side effect you might discover if you Google it? Rachel assured me that she cannot imagine anyone consuming enough of the stuff to be "bothered" by the possible "laxative effect," which is clearly, though minutely mentioned on the label: "Une consommation excessive peu avoir des effet laxatifs."


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Les Petites Filles

Eloise and Skipperdee having a stare down.
Last week when I wrote the post about Bringing Up Bébé, I thought I would illustrate it with Madeline and Eloise until I realized that although they had similar "lifestyles," both wore shiny black patent Mary Janes and neither one had a doting maman. (As their stories reveal, quite the contrary.) But since the entire point of the bringing up bébé story was about mothering techniques it was obvious these little girls didn't fit the profile.

Eloise, who as you know, lived at the Plaza Hotel in New York, rarely saw her globetrotting socialite mother. She shared a luxurious suite with her aging "rawther British" Nanny who was sweet, dotty and in over her head. Thus Eloise was in a way completely on her own in a world of grown-ups which allowed her to create her very elastic boundaries and inventive amusements.

Madeline had more structure in her life, but no less spunk as she coped with the strict routine of life in a Catholic boarding school. While Eloise had Nanny, Madeline had Miss Clavel and although she may have been confronted with more rules and regulations, she too found ways to circumvent the establishment and forge her highly independent expressions of rebellion and fun.

Madeline with Genevieve.
Eloise with Weenie.
Both had dogs as companions Eloise's Weenie, and Madeline's Genevieve. Being housed under more swank circumstances and of course her mother knew the manager, Eloise also had a raisin eating turtle named Skipperdee. Nanny wasn't always a laugh a minute after all. She often chided Eloise by telling her "being bored is not allowed." Clearly Eloise took her at her word.

I'm not really "going anyplace" with these musings (ramblings), except to say both had an irrepressible joie de vivre, a remarkable resilience, staunch independence and a soupçon of healthy naughtiness that made them  irresistible. It also made them perfect role models for generations of little girls.

I'm sure, had they been more than delightful children's story characters, Madeline and Eloise would have been fast friends. Doubtless Eloise had French lessons -- after all we know she visited Paris -- between sessions of harassing room service at the Plaza and Madeline was certainly required to learn English from the minute she was sent off to school.

I warned you I was rambling but my fuzzy point is that I think from what I've observed in France, children possess that same delicious cocktail of independence, resilience, insouciance and good manners that Eloise and Madeline demonstrated in their captivating caprices and adventures.

Isn't it interesting that both authors, Ludwig Bemelman for Madeline and Kay Thompson for Eloise chose to create stories with only fleeting glimpses of parents?

"And that's all there is -- there isn't anymore." *

*I'm borrowing Madeline's famous quote, because as you can imagine it's quite difficult to conclude a story that makes little sense.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Visit to The Pharmacie

This is the one that puts me gently to sleep.
No doubt I've mentioned this before, perhaps on several occasions, but I must bring up the subject again in order to tell you something riveting after I re-tell you that I'm a worrier.

Before Rizzoli bought my book proposal, that gave me lots of things to worry about. Now that they've bought it and have been exceptionally supportive, I'm worried about writing it. Sometimes I worry about what I will wear to certain interviews -- you know, light worrying, but still. I have a vast and impressive roster of things that can keep me awake at night. Some of my preoccupations are "what ifs" which is truly a waste of time and energy.

As my daughter says, I worry when I don't have something to worry about because I might forget something really important that I should be worrying about. She's not entirely wrong.

The problem with my "malady" is that it keeps me awake at night. More to the point, I can't fall asleep because my head is spinning with dilemmas -- self-inflicted or not. This of course ruins the next day and becomes an infernal circle of hell. (Don't ever let anyone tell you that I exaggerate.)

But, no more. I have new "meds."

This one promotes an uninterrupted night's sleep which is usually not my problem. Once I'm  asleep; I'm asleep.
Christine, my pharmacist friend, led me to relief. This is how it happened:

Christine: Letitia, I have found the answer to all your problems.

Moi: All my problems? Why didn't you tell me this years ago?

C: No, not all your problems, but your sleep problems.

M: I don't want any meds. I can't afford to lose anymore of my memory or anesthetize what's left of my brain cells.

C: There you go again. You know I would never suggest real medicine. These pills are 100 percent natural.

M: You mean plants and stuff?

C: Exactly. And, I'd like to test them on you. Then I can tell other clients how well they work.

M: What if they don't work?

C: In that case I won't say anything.

M: OK, I'm willing to try anything.

C: Here, they're a cadeau.

M: Oh, no, I can't.

C: Yes you can. I'm considering you a test subject.

M: OK, merci mille fois.

Well, they work. One is to help me fall asleep within the half hour after taking it; the other guarantees a full night's sleep.

Caveat: If for one reason or another I've fussed myself into a frenzy, they do not work but on a normal night with only slight agitation, they work like a dream -- literally. As Christine says, "you have to cooperate with them."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Next Week Or La Semaine Prochaine

My weeks are filling up with interviews -- all very exciting. Along the way I'll share a few tidbits with you in this space. I may write all the posts this week. We shall see. But if not, I promise you will be entertained every day.

Here then is the loosely scheduled schedule:

News & Views

Another visit to the pharmacie -- new, natural pills. They are a wonder. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep stay tuned.

Musings on two little girls -- one French, the other American. Both are legends, both have a single interesting detail in common. . .

Replies to a compliment and a questionnaire from the divine Karena.

A Survey: If you could only keep one makeup product, what would it be?

Weather report: Sun, sun, sun. Crisp, invigorating temperatures. Less mud and muck.

A French Country Weekend.

A demain mes cheres.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A French Country Weekend

Sadly, the snows have melted and left us with muck in the garden and muddy paws in the house. You know what I mean. My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and I have mucky, muddy feet which are clad with removable boots or shoes. The girls -- count 'em eight paws -- are always covered in the stuff.

Bright note: Non-stop sun.

I'm about to head out to the market to find vegetables and see what flowers are available this week. Pictured above are a couple of the bouquets from last Saturday.

I hope you have a perfectly lovely weekend.

A demain for the weekly line-up.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Flowers In The Guest Room

Ed. Note: The Gold Digger is back.  This time she will help us with that pesky warm hospitality/charming decorating conundrum: What does the perfect hostess put into the guest room to welcome family and friends? 

I've chosen a few photographs of bedrooms created by one of my best and oldest friends, the brilliant interior decorator, Betty Lou Phillips. You'll note importance of flowers here. . .

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer and couldn't afford anything - except a cleaning lady once a week, but before you laugh and judge me, know that it was cheaper to have someone clean my house and wash my clothes by hand than it was to take my clothes to the laundromat, although when you factor in how quickly clothes are ruined by being scrubbed on a pine board, maybe the laundromat would have been a better long-term option, I vowed that once I had a real money job again, I would do three things:

1. Have a cleaning lady - which I already had, but she was an awful cleaning lady. I would get someone who actually cleaned my house and of whose personal life I knew nothing so I wouldn't have to feel bad about firing her if she did a crummy job. How can you fire someone who is the sole support of her widowed, ailing mother? You can't. You continue to pay her $10 a week (which was four times the market rate) and then clean your house yourself. Or take off your glasses when you are inside so you can't see the dirt.

2. Get new underwear every year.

3. Have fresh flowers in the house all the time.

I did all three things for a while. When I finally got my post-Peace Corps job, which took a while because apparently, corporate employers think Peace Corps volunteers come to work in Tevas and dreadlocks, I got a cleaning lady who came once every three weeks.

She cost a lot more than ten dollars.

I threw away all my old underwear, which seemed horribly wasteful, but I reminded myself that I was preventing possible humiliation should I be in a car accident.

And I started buying flowers.

Then I got married and I became the cleaning lady. At first, my husband got flowers. Now, alas, he does not. But I try to keep flowers in the house. When we have houseguests, I put flowers in the guest bath and bedroom. Usually, that's easy: I just cut something from my garden. Shockingly, we don't get many houseguests in the winter, so the lack of garden flowers is not an issue. Why don't people want to come to Milwaukee in January?

But I've always thought flowers for guests - in addition to a few bottles of water and some snacks, usually a bowl of chocolate from the Chocolate Drawer - are a nice touch.

So I was very pleased a few years ago when my husband and I visited his parents and discovered flowers in the guest room. They were from the hisbiscus bush in the front yard, but that's OK. They were pretty and, more importantly, showed that perhaps my husband's mother had begun to change her attitude about me since the initial, "We're not coming to the wedding and you better not marry her" hissy fit.

I was pleased. She was finally coming around. I was not the monster she thought I was. She was admitting she was wrong about me! No words, but a gesture suffices.

I left the bedroom and found her. "Thank you for the flowers!" I said. "They are lovely."

She looked confused. "What flowers?"

"In the bedroom. On the dresser."

"Oh!" she said. "The cleaning lady must have left those."

At least the cleaning lady liked me.

Ed. Note: If you, like moi meme cannot get enough of my friend, let's call her Melissa or Miranda -- something like that -- do visit her at one or both of her blogs: The Diary of A Gold Digger or the other one.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where Are All The Coquettes?

"The Coquette" by James Wells Champney c.1885
Ed. Note: Let's keep it simple: James is one of my favorite people -- ever. He knew I needed help filling my post void as I work, work, work, and like the gentleman he is; he volunteered. So, you will be as happy as I am, I'm sure, to know that I have signed him up until he resigns the commission. (Please encourage him not to do so. Merci par avance.)

He chooses the subject and I say, "You go James." I love today's musings. I think you will as well. . .

I decided I would like to make a few comments on some women's issues.

Sort of a series of my incoherent ramblings. Tish was nice enough to allow me to use her site as a forum. Am I an expert on fashion? Decidedly not. Although to use a Supreme Court ruling, "I know it when I see it." No degree in psych, no training in marriage counseling, basically nada.

So what makes me an expert? Well, I'm not. What I am is experienced, which I hope gives me a little insight.

So until Ms. Jett withdraws my use of the hall I'd like to give you some of that insight. Remember free advice is worth what you pay for it. 

I'm going to start with an art form that seems to have faded of late, the fine art of being coquettish.To begin with we need to look at what is coquettish. Simply saying it is just flirting doesn't do it justice. It is the most subtle form of flirting. In today's PC world I guess flirting is not, well PC. But the fact of life is most people do to some extent. Whom do I recommend you practice this art on? The person who takes the number one spot on your hit parade obviously. 

When you leave the restaurant on a crisp fall night slip your hand into his coat pocket and lay your head on his shoulder, coquettish. When his hair falls onto his face while he reads, gently push it back and stroke his cheek as you withdraw your hand. I could go on, but you get the idea. If you feel that this will compromise your stature as a woman of the 21st century; I won't tell if you don't. What you will be doing is stating your femininity, coyly, and raising his feeling of masculinity. And I ask you, what's wrong with that? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Makeup Your Mind

Ed. Note: Meet -- re-meet actually -- my darling Marsi of Luxebytes who will, in her own words, be helping entertain you "from time to time" (Marsi doesn't like pressure. . .) while I work on my book. She is a wonderful writer and is an extraordinarily discerning product junkie. She has led me to some real bijoux. I've found I always have something to learn from her. Today is no exception. I think you'll agree.

When Shakespeare's Juliet uttered those immortal words "Parting is such sweet sorrow," I have a feeling that the lovestruck ingenue wasn't thinking about five pounds of lipstick gone wrong -- but I sure was, earlier today, as I went through my guilty, filthy stash of makeup mistakes.

What brought on this uncharacteristic urgency to finally -- once and for all -- offload all of my nubby lipsticks, crumbly shadows, and foundations so ancient they'd separated into equal parts oily and orange? Even though they were so old and inadequate that this exercise really should've been a no-brainer, some of my goods gone bad were also expensive. Chanel. Dior. Guerlain. Bobbi Brown. Tarte. To throw away something expensive is, after all, to acknowledge that one has made a boo-boo, and a costly one at that.

But over the last five years or so, I've committed to whittling down my wardrobe and housewares to just those items I need, I use, and/or I love, and have done my best to give the old heave-ho to the rest. Why should my toiletries be any different? 

This thought had been bubbling away on my back burner lately, and I just needed the extra little push to cull my cosmetics. Momentum came today when I happened upon the Cosmetics Calculator, a website dedicated to telling you, in no uncertain terms, that it's time to drop the gloss and back away slowly. 

We've all heard that the shelf life for mascara is six months at the most, a year for foundation, and a couple of years for lipstick. But it's so easy to think something's newer and fresher than it actually is (especially if you spent foolishly on it and avoid facing that fact). The Cosmetics Calculator clarifies all that by using the manufacturer and batch code to tell you how long ago you should've disposed of your little science experiment. A batch code appears on most cosmetics and toiletries, either embossed on the label or stamped somewhere on the tube.

Those numbers can be tiny. Thank goodness for progressive lenses!
Here's just a portion of the five pounds of expired cosmetics and toiletries I rendered unto the trash bin this morning. Realizing that my Chanel Coromandel Red lipstick actually expired last century sure made it a lot easier to bid it adieu. 

I ran this photo through a vintage filter on Instagram to make this stuff look as old as it is. I refrained from doing so to my head shot above -- but trust me, I could have.

Now, if you want to feel even more virtuous, drop off your load at the closest Origins store or counter, where they'll dispose of your castoffs in an ecologically sane manner through their Return to Origins Recycling Program. Origins accepts all brands and will reward you for your donation with a free sample of your choice. But, if you have six items from MAC, the company's Back to MAC Programallows you to cash them in for a new lipstick. (I earned one!) Isn't that beautiful? 

So there you go. It was sort of fun to carbon-date my biohazard and give it the proper burial it's been waiting for. Now, everything that remains in my stash meets my criteria: I need it, I use it, and/or I love it. Best of all, I no longer have to worry that it's out to kill me. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What's Love Got To Do With It?

In a word, love has everything to do with it.

Can it grow? Can it endure? Can it be better than ever after what seems like forever?  So, what is this thing called love?

Many of us believe the French know more about the subject than anyone else in the world. Fortunately I happen to be in situ and decided to find out what they know that we don't and what we might learn from the masters.

Last year I posed the question: "What keeps romance alive when a couple has been together for several years, or even several decades?" This year I tweaked the query in my unscientific survey. Recently I asked: "What keeps a couple together over the good, the bad and the challenging times?"

Everyone said love is the constant, the foundation which holds a union together. As for romance, well, those married a decade or three (or four) mostly said that's where the work comes in, but it's worth it. As one woman said, "We are so accustomed to being together that sometimes romance seems to be the last thing on our minds; it's at those moments we must take action -- a weekend away, a dinner in Paris, something special. Life is too short to forget about romance with the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with."

Almost everyone said that breaking away from the day-to-day and carving out couple time was essential and that traveling and making new discoveries together enriched their lives, and their appreciation and love for one another.

This is what they told me. . .

Les Hommes:

Fred:  Laughing together all the time, even if life is tragic by moments. Never wait until February 14th to give her flowers and always accompany the flowers with a French kiss. (Fred, who never fails to have something interesting and amusing to say, is mon ami at Easy Fashion.)

Michel: Honestly I don't know how to answer that question. We're comfortable together. We need each other in ways that are inexplicable. I can't imagine my life without her.

Michael: The most difficult is probably not to be trapped by the quotidian, all the obligations of family, work, children. . . One must always make time to have a dinner entre amoureux. Every day I remember what Père Zédé said at our marriage: "Always guard and protect your couple before all else." Don't wait for a special occasion to walk through the door with a bouquet.

Throughout the years romance is the combination of looks, gestures and thoughts every day. 

J.P.: It's about trust, spending time together and treating one another gently as a way of life.

Alexandre: Of course romance is possible every day, but it's not about grand displays and extravagant gifts -- that's easy. It's the everyday gestures, the telephone call that says "I love you" in the middle of the day, the spontaneous invitation to a restaurant for a dinner tete-a-tete, flowers all year long, slipping an umbrella in the back of the car when she's leaving because you think it might rain, dashing into the boulangerie to buy her a chausson aux pommes(because she loves this more than anything else for breakfast).

Giving her a love letter each time she boards a plane, only to be opened when she is in the air.

Those are the attentions that keep a couple together and happy.

Claude: A kiss when we wake-up; a kiss goodbye; a kiss hello and always, wherever we go, we walk hand in hand. 

Daniel: Travel. There is nothing in the world like escaping together with no obligations and re-igniting romance without routine distractions. All we do is concentrate on each other and shared experiences. When we return home the glow from rediscovering one another lasts for months.

Alain: It's important to have both the same and completely different interests. We have parallel lives that converge at the end of the day which gives us interesting topics of conversation. We also share certain hobbies with friends like bridge and Scrabble. But it's traveling that is the most important for us, sharing unforgettable experiences together makes them richer. Love in a couple that lasts is, I think, is a balance of the platonic and the physical.

Saying "I love you" every day or several times a day is one of the secret ingredients in the recipe of lasting amour.

Les Femmes:

Marie: Maybe it's a cliché, but I think it's the magic formula, a wife who is friend, mother and mistress. Fortunately he's a great cook.

Maryanne: Tolerance, concession, understanding, patience and always, always talk. Sometimes there are things we mustn't say. I don't believe one should tell their spouse everything.

We embark on adventures. Our latest is a house in Florida which we're decorating. It's exhausting, but fun. And then, of course, we must learn to speak English. . .

Jeanne-Aelia: This is what my great friend Jeanne-Aelia told me last year, but it's so good I wanted to share it again. "I think romance in a marriage of many anniversaries starts with the definition of romance: "an ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love" according to the Thesaurus.

I think romance does not need all the flonflon of Valentine's day, heart shaped candy boxes or flutes of champagne clinking; rather a great wine, one evening, just for the fun of it and kindnesses and small attentions each and every day. Love and thus romance is shown simply, truly, everyday, anytime and needs no embellishment."

Edith: I give my husband at least two compliments a day, like little gifts. They are absolutely sincere and can be as mundane as "I love that sweater on you." I never pose an accusing question like: "You didn't pick up your socks again today did you?" Instead I'll say, "darling, don't forget to toss your socks in the laundry basket." And sometimes when the two of us are alone and I look at him and he looks at me and we tell each other we're glad we're together after all these years. We made it and it's only getting better.

Dany: Tenderness, surprises, small attentions that you know will make him happy. He's my best friend.

Françoise: He's my rock. I know he is always there for me no matter what. He knows I'm there for him. I know I'm lucky to have found him and I never forget that.

Marie-Claude: We have built a life, a wonderful family together and we appreciate each other. 

Marion: My husband travels a lot which gives us both some breathing space and time to miss one another. I'm always happy to see him when he returns.

Claudine: Lots of delicious meals together at home and just always knowing we're there for each other.

Isabelle: Know how to talk and most important know how to forgive.

Some statistics: (Same as last year because I couldn't find more recent figures.) Some 49 percent of the French population will celebrate Valentine's day, 47 percent with flowers and a dinner tete-a-tete

And, a very happy Valentine's Day to you no matter how you celebrate. Marion told me this morning she and her husband never celebrate. My-Reason-For-Living-In-France just invited me out to dinner.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bringing Up Bébé

You have probably heard about the book written by American in Paris, Pamela Druckerman. It was released last week. I have not read it, but I read the Wall Street Journal review and the live interview with the author.

Remember, I haven't read the book. I am solely privy to what she said in the interview and what the WSJ offered in its story. I'm being cautious because there are perhaps opinions and behavior included within the pages with which I might not agree. Now that I have dispensed with my qualifiers, let me say: I agree totally with what she says.

For the most part and obviously I'm coming at the subject as an adult and we can be biased in these situations, I find French children to be an absolute delight. For French parents childhood is not a necessary nuisance on the road to adulthood, it is practice for a life well lived brimming with fun and adventure under parental guidance and with abundant affection mapping the journey.

Hugs and kisses are showered on little ones while at the same time "no" means "no" not "maybe" or "we'll see." Equivocation, French parents understand, undermines every attempt to "educate" their off-spring.  Discipline is love in the French parental system of child rearing and patience teaches independence.

French children do not interrupt adults when they are in conversation, of course they try early on, but are quickly advised that unless the house is on fire they can patiently -- operative word and we all know extremely difficult for children -- until maman momentarily transfers her attention to her enfant to see what  she needs. Children learn to construct urgent expressions to hasten a refocus of a parent's attention.

Do not think for a moment that children are "seen and not heard," on the contrary they learn to speak to adults from the day they learn to say "bonjour." In fact, they never simply say bonjour, they are required to say "bonjour madame" or "bonjour monsieur."  Andrea's best French friend, Pamela, has three little boys -- two, four and six-years-old. Pam recently visited us with her children and before she knocked on the front door I heard her practicing with the boys, "Repeat after me, when you enter you say "bonjour madame et bonjour monsieur" OK? A chorus of OKs followed and they followed through.

Meal time is not a war zone with pouting, food throwing (absolutely unheard of!), whining and stubborn refusals to try new foods. How do you know you don't like turnips unless you try them? How do you know that you will love Brussel sprouts unless you try them? Cheese? Why not? Just a sample.

Among my friends food is not placed on plates in the kitchen, but rather in serving pieces on the table which means everyone can control his or her portions beginning at the very youngest of age. Mothers can serve their children with the accord of the little one -- "yes, please lots of potatoes, a little serving of fish, I'll try the broccoli, merci." I'm convinced this method helps adults keep their weight under control. Small portions to begin, followed perhaps by a second helping. It's all about timing. Time to experiment with new flavors and textures, time to enjoy what we know we like and finally time to register when appetites have been sated.

Politesse is the coin of the realm in France and I don't care what anyone says, it makes life exceedingly civilized. Good manners get one through almost any situation and children are taught the value of treating others with this basic human kindness.

Do children rebel? Of course they do and French parents expect rebellion. They simply hope that what their children have learned from infancy will create some protective boundaries, and from what I've observed they usually do.

Remember, Andrea and I arrived in France when she was eight which means she and I were privy to the French system of child rearing which we both admire -- family dinners around the dining table every night, real conversations, instant help offered by children when they are old enough to set and clear the table (they do not have to be cajoled) and perfect table manners are non-negotiable.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, "that's precisely the way I raised my children," while others may be thinking, "what no freedom, all these rules. . .?" Yes, rules. Life in the real world is constructed upon rules and it seems to me that parents who allow their children to run wildly around a restaurant with no consideration for other diners are breaking some basic rules about respect for others.

This is where I stand on the subject: What French parents and most certainly parents throughout the world give their children by establishing rules, demanding impeccable manners, teaching patience is a precious, priceless advantage in the rough and tumble life that awaits them outside their safe, warm loving home.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Next Week or La Semaine Prochaine

Madly setting up interviews for my book. Three are scheduled for this week --  so much fun -- therefore I have called upon a little help from my friends to keep you entertained.

In no particular order, here's what is on offer for the week ahead:

1.) What I think about "Bringing Up Bébé" in France.

2.) Another new med -- totally natural -- with explanations from Christine.

3.) What keeps couples together?

4.) A guest post.

5.) Another guest post.

6.) A French Country Weekend

7.) Next Week's Line-Up.

Weather report: Freezing temperatures are keeping the snow intact and the crystalline bright sun makes everything inside and outside gloriously beautiful.

A demain mes tres, tres, tres chers amis.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A French Country Weekend

Finally, last night I found the red anemones I've been looking for for weeks. My florist promised me she would have them for me and, as always, she came through. I'll make my bouquets after I return from the market where I shall buy soup ingredients:

Celery root

One onion

Baby turnips
A handful of fresh baby spinach
Fresh herbs

I already have the stock from this week's chicken so all is well. It is absolutely freeeeeezing here which calls for soup, fire in the fireplace, candles, sweaters and two dogs. All around my idea of a perfect Saturday evening at home.

Will show you my bouquets next week and tomorrow I will tell you the weekly round-up. Until then, I hope you are having a beautiful weekend in all the ways that make you happy.

A demain. I'm off.
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