Thursday, February 26, 2009

With A Little Help From Their "Friends"

By the time a French woman has reached a certain age she has assembled a loyal army of enablers, each one employed to keep her looking and feeling elegant and en forme from head to toe.

From her seamstress and her jeweler to her pharmacist and her dermatologist she has, over the years, built-up long-standing relationships with her trusted band of helpers.

She does not drop-off her alterations at the corner dry cleaner, nor does she leave her shoes at some chain of repair shops -- yes they exist in France. She drives miles to her favorite shoe man who can save her precious favorites; give new life to shabby standbys and dye a pair of stained yellow ballerinas a bright, shiny fuchsia -- and then re-color them navy or black when the trend tide wanes.

Her pharmacist is her best friend for counsel on health,  bien-etre and secret treatment products for her skin.  

Her dermatologist is another ami who not only checks her body for anomalies, but also gives her two to four facials each year.  Those who have the means may add a few Fraxel laser sweeps, Botox and the latest filler to the up-keep menu.  (Except for a couple of actresses, less is always more for a French woman when it comes to intervention.)

To have a talented seamstress in one's retinue these days is the equivalent of having money in the bank.  I'm talking not about someone who nimbly takes in and lets out a jacket or let's down or takes up a hem; I'm talking about a woman who can copy one's favorite outfit in another fabric; sweep her eyes over magazine photos of the latest ready-to-wear collections and turn a designer confection into a made-to-order clone for her client.  A good seamstress has become so rare of late that many women won't tell close friends their names.

Every woman I know has a jeweler who remakes old family jewels into new, modern pieces or works with her and a fist-full of semi-precious stones or pearls to create a unique object of beauty.  One woman had her jeweler make a fat, 18 karat gold "wire" that hooks at the back from which she hangs a cluster of charms the size of an American quarter she has collected over the years.  Several of her French and American friends have copied the idea. All have realized an added bonus: It's an amazing source of incentive for gift giving from family, lovers and friends. 

Most women the world over have their favorite, trusted hair-stylist and colorist so it's no surprise French women do as well.  Reputed to be highly demanding, which I think is fair to say is absolutely true, this is the last place a French woman will compromise. Two of the most remarkable characteristics I've always found are the precision cuts and natural color of their hair.  It's never too, too.  Never "fixed," always slightly tousled -- very sexy.

Another member of the army is her stalwart foot soldier.  Without exception, among the women I know, all have medical pedicurists in their little black books. Apart from a few tres chic and tres cher salons in Paris and other big cities, one schedules regular appointments for a medical pedicure like a rendezvous for the dermatologist or hair colorist. This being France for a pittance more, the pedicurist will come to the house.  They do not apply polish, but your feet are so immaculate and the nails clean and gleaming that it's almost a shame to cover the work with lacquer -- at least for a day or two.  

(My pedicurist once worked at the salon in the Hotel Ritz and sometimes I can convince him to paint my toenails. Sometimes, not often.)


Julie said...

Your mention of a seamstress being essential has got me thinking.. because in London they aren't so easy to find.. One I began to go to shut up shop long ago.. and recent attempts to find one I could trust was difficult.
Having clothes made/altered and being prepared to pay for quality contrasts hugely with the trend for throwaway fashion.. I was reading a piece in the paper which I can't find just now but this one outlines the same arguments on why current shopping habits aren't sustainable:
Developing a relationship with someone who would come up with ideas as well as alter clothes- seems so much more connected.. I was thinking I would start making my own clothes again- we'll see - but I am definitely going to renew my search for a seamstress...

Tish Jett said...

Good luck. I think finding mine was some sort of miracle. Maybe it's because I live in the country outside Paris and she retired from a couture house and just takes on a few clients. It is amazing to watch her work even when she is altering something -- the care she takes in aligning a shoulder for example. I've never had this experience before.

As I think I mentioned French women may share a lot of information, but rarely do they hand over the name and telephone number of their seamstress.

Thank you for your note. Please stay in touch and tell me what you think, etc.
Best regards,

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