Saturday, January 31, 2009

Les Chemises Blanches

Every weekend I am going to give you some little cadeaux of beautiful things:   the horses near my house; the naked winter trees in the Rambouillet forrest; and this day and tomorrow, sumptuously romantic white blouses created not by fashion designers, but by painters. 

Have a beautiful weekend.

From top to bottom:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Beauty And The Blouse


If someone were to say to you:  I am going into your closet and taking everything you own except for 10 pieces of clothing.  You may chose what you would like to keep.  What would be your response?  

What do you think you can't live without? What are the most versatile items you own?  
What ones give you the most options with the least complications?

I asked approximately 40 French women this question. Without exception every one included a white shirt in her top ten. 

Actually they got a little worked up over the decision because although they admitted a classic men's shirt would be their first choice they didn't want to make that choice. 
They insisted they needed a collection of white shirts and blouses.       
I relented.

Buttoned-up; rolled-up; tied-up; unbuttoned; untucked; under something; over something; covering something; wrapping around something -- OK, I get it.  As usual they're right.  What is more perfect than an iconic white shirt -- note those on rocker, Patti Smith and Audrey Tautou in the new Coco Chanel film (directed curiously enough by Anne Fontaine, but not the Anne Fontaine who designed the two blouses on the left) -- and all the myriad riffs on the theme?

Let us count the ways: ruffled, tucked, pleated, embellished, embroidered, piped. . .

Anne Fontaine ,who for years designed only white chemises, proved the possibilities were indeed limitless as you can see with three of her designs on the left. Who can blame a French woman for insisting one is never enough?

GAP gets it too.  Note variations on the subject below.  

Almost forgot:  If you've been madly searching for that amusing, off-beat, once your friends see you in it they'll never forget skirt that goes with everything, the little "cage" number up there is from Acne.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Well, "Hello" Detroit

A recent issue of Madame Figaro, an up-scale weekly women's magazine, featured a multi-page special section on Les Voyages with tips on avoiding jet-lag, energy foods, special creams to keep the skin hydrated in mid-air and mingled in with all that a list of some of the world's best airport spas.

Guess what?  Along with the usual suspects:  New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore there was Detroit's OraOxygen (!) at the Edward McNamara airport.  

Lest I be accused of wavering off subject, which I am wont to do, I shall take a moment to talk about "support hose" as we call them.  This cleverly keeps me on both subjects:  travel and terrific tips.

We think of support hose as those thick, milky nude colored stockings that hide and/or help prevent varicose veins.  French women think of them as an every day comfortable -- and are you ready for this:  sexy way to keep their blood circulating.

From some of the lacy, racy control tights I've seen I imagine they would do more than just keep blood circulating.

On the voyage issue, pharmacists and some doctors recommend wearing them (or support socks) when flying, you know: traveling in an airplane. . .

Now I always wear them.  My motto is toujours:
"Just in case, why not?"  And oh, yes:  "If it doesn't do any good; it doesn't do any harm."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From The Sublime To The Ridiculous

Study this photo for a moment and then tell me what you might consider wearing outside the privacy of your double-locked bedroom door?

Right: The bag.

OK, question number two:  What is this totally transparent blouse; derriere skimming skirt; killer -- probably literally -- bondage footwear doing in a magazine for grown-up women?

I don't know either.  

This page is from "Femmes" the new French magazine for women 40 and over.  (I also wonder how many times the model's age can be divided into 40 -- and over.)

One might think this shot is from "Vogue" or "Harpers Bazaar" or any of the other strictly non-age specific magazines telling women the latest news from the fun-filled world of fashion.  Mais, non.

We expect, appreciate and even enjoy seeing clothes, a friend of mine once bemoaned as:  "The kind of things I can afford and my daughter can wear."  

(The above for under-40-year-olds-only ensemble is from Louis Vuitton.)

When clothes are presented to us in a strictly "this is what the designers are showing this season" context we know we can take them or leave them; wear in another way; remember the good old days when we might have worn them; show the picture to our daughters or completely ignore the whole thing.  We understand these messages.  But not when a magazine tells us up-front it's for those of us 40 and over.  

However, what's not to like -- and wear -- in the other pictures from Femmes?  

Yes, I realize there could be a hip issue with the Lanvin jacket and never mind about the skirt, that's the reject part. As for the Ralph Lauren navy silk jumpsuit -- yep, they're back -- just about anyone could wear that. It's classic and with all its trendy styling touches looks young and new.  

That's the difference between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Better Than Botox

Effective, but probably no less unpleasant, I just hit upon -- literally -- the ultimate solution for those "lion" crevices above the nose, between the eyes.  You know the ones I mean. They come from deep concentration, near-sightedness, stress, annoyance, unabated fury -- you name it.

I was about to make dinner last night and as I was opening a cupboard the telephone rang. In one smooth movement, the cupboard door flew open and whipped back as I raced forward to the ring, ring, ring of the phone.  Result:  A collision of my head against the rebounding cabinet and a big bump that miraculously, though not painlessly, filled out my lion lines.

Of course I do not recommend this procedure, but I must say it's free and quite effective.

Honestly, in this economy who can afford regular injections of Botox?  All a woman needs to do is bang her head against an unyielding surface and like magic without the injection of any foreign substances attached to a syringe and a needle, one can accomplish a low-cost (it requires one 1000 mg. tablet of some over-the-counter pain killer) line filler.  Immediately after the intervention you even have that shocked, caught-in-the-headlights expression often associated with a full face lift.  

Here's the best part:  There was no bruising.  Maybe that's because I ingest 1000 milligrams of effervescent vitamin C every morning with the juice of one lemon as a chaser.

Needless-to-say my low-cost beauty tip will not last up to six months, but like Botox the "filler" will be absorbed naturally and no doubt all of us have myriad hard surfaces where we can whack our foreheads on those special occasions when we need to look young and lovely.

(Above picture from Botox Injections Guide.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

"The New American Dream"

Et voila.  The cover of this weekend's "Le Figaro Magazine" with an 18 page special section of pictures and text dedicated to the new American president, his family and what the future may hold.

Emblazoned across the photograph of President Obama and the First Lady is the headline:  "LE NOUVEAU RÊVE AMÉRICAIN" -- The New American Dream.  

Even the ever cynical French are in the throes of a mini love affair
with our new First Family. 

 "Pour vu que ça dure. . .!"  As Letizia Bonaparte (in this exceedingly flattering portrait) said to her son Napoléon: "Let's hope it lasts." 

(On the outside chance you read this too quickly.  I'm referring to the "mini love affair;" no other interpretations from Letizia are implied or intended from this Letitia.)  

Click here:  Abaca Press and you'll see lots more photos from the same source.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Out In The Country

A breath of fresh air. . .  Have a wonderful weekend.  

I shall return Sunday night/Monday morning, depending upon your time zone.  This is where we live -- the horses are across the street, fields behind the house and cows across the little lane next to us.  And all of this just 30 minutes from Paris.  Lovely.  xo

Friday, January 23, 2009

All That Sparkles

I'm living out here in the middle of nowhere --  albeit a mere half-hour away from Paris. 

The previous sentence is my qualifier for what I consider hot news of which you may already be au courant, but moi non: Michelle Obama's baubles on inauguration day and evening.

This is the brooch she wore at her neck on the lemon Isabel Toledo ensemble.  It's a Victorian paste sash pin from the Carole Tanenbaum Vintage Collection.

I found it on First Water News thanks to a dear friend and now I'm obsessed with the site.
Jewelry, jewelry, jewelry.  Bright, shiny objects.  What's not to like?

It was reported therein that the pin, because of it's curved shape was probably also intended to be used as a hair ornament.  How exciting, multi-tasking bijoux.

Michelle Obama's to-die-for earrings, also pictured on First Water News are rose cut diamond shoulder skimmers featuring garland diamond briolettes by Loree Rodkin. They were on loan to the First Lady by the Ikram boutique in Chicago.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Full Disclosure: Part I

I learned from an acquaintance --  who offered generous compliments on my blog --  that after sending it to a friend of hers who is "an obsessive blog-reader and writer," said friend (I have no idea who this woman is) is annoyed by the fact I talk about products without saying "how" they work.

OK, I appreciate criticism.  I really do.  Let me hear yours -- the good, the bad and the ugly. 

First off, I'd like to clarify a few things vis-a-vis above mentioned observations:  
  1. I buy all the products I talk about -- no one is sending me anything free which is the way products get mentioned and reviewed in magazines, newspapers and huge blogs and websites. (I remember those days. There used to be a mad rush on the thousands of products sent to us every year and the leftovers we gave to friends and family as gifts.  If they knew they were getting leftovers, they never said anything other than "thank-you.")  
  2. There's nothing in this for me -- and you -- except better skin, a chicer look or a pleasant experience.  You may have noticed no one is advertising on "A Femme d'Un Certain Age."
  3. Most products I tell you about have been recommended by dermatologists I've interviewed; others by my trusted pharmacists; some from French girlfriends and a very few I've discovered in French magazines, found interesting, bought and tried myself.  
  4. I'm not a scientist therefore I don't know how a product works.  I can only tell you when it does and that's what I shall continue to do.
  5. When something doesn't work or has no redeeming qualities I don't waste your time or mine talking about it.
HOWEVER, and here is where the friend of the friend has a point:  I perhaps didn't explain in sufficient detail "how" everything I've mentioned works for me, i.e. the differences I saw in my home experimentation on my own face and body.  So, to rectify this I shall in the next days go over each of these products and tell you specifically what happened when I used them.

A promise:  I will and would never write about something I didn't think was brilliant and if I were to do so I would tell you only if the experience were funny or disastrous and you might be entertained -- like red toothpaste immediately after teeth whitening for example ("A Little Red Flag," Dec. 10, 2008).  

For those of you who have been with me for a while you know I've written about each of the little wonders mentioned below.  In case I didn't give you enough details on how-they-changed-my-life, please read on.

Let the clarifications begin. . .

Bioderma ABC Derm H2O Solution Micellaire, the clear cleansing liquid recommended by Dr. Marie Serre has not only changed the way I "wash" my face, but also all my pre-conceived notions about the definition of clean skin.  Never before with so little wear and tear on my face has my skin looked so fresh and glowing.  It's easy to use, just pour/pump it on to a
super large sized cotton square -- the large size because it's faster and more efficient (you cover more territory in less time) and gently wipe away all traces 
of dirt, grim, makeup and even eye makeup. Just keep using the square or squares until they come away perfectly clean.  No rinse necessary.

A "French" manicure, as we know is not French at all, but beautiful when done well.  Being lazy I simply use a white under nail pencil -- my mother taught me
this one long before there was a name for the look -- and paint over my nail with a pale pink polish like
Sally Hansen No Chip 10 Day Nail Color # 21 for example.  In my opinion every woman should own a white nail pencil. 

Women in my aqua gym class were talking about how wonderful Argan oil is for the face, body and hair.  Next day, out I went and bought some.  I use it on my Bioderma cleansed face before I go into the pool and the sauna.  In the winter especially it seems to put up an effective barrier against the cold air, the chlorine in the pool and the steam in the sauna.  Before, when I was using nothing on my face it was getting red and chapped.  Now it isn't -- no more redness, no more roughness.  

My hair seemed to be lusterless with all this abuse, including serious streaking, so I once again turned to argan oil.  I douse my hair with it once a week or twice a month depending upon my discipline (and the distress of my tresses) before going to bed and let it soak in 
during the night.  (One night I tried this with a shower cap, but it drove me crazy so never again though the heat my head was producing probably would have accelerated the process.)

Now I cover my pillowcase with a towel and shampoo in the morning followed by a cold rinse and no conditioner. It works, my hair is softer, smoother and thus to my eyes shinier.  It also reduces that annoying electricity that makes our hair go haywire.

I use the pure oil which I buy at the pharmacy, but many brands, Keihl's and L'Occitane for example use it in some of their products.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

OK, So I Was Wrong -- Twice(!)

So then what?  It's not like I was the only one. 

I think the majority of the world (ah, qualification: fashion world) was waiting for bright color from Michelle last night.  

At least we got it from Malia and Sacha right down to those tiny, terrific tights.

The French TV dissed the dress while the absolutely charming blog, Mrs O fell in love with it.  

(I must say President and Mrs. Obama look gorgeous together, and the way he looks at her gives one another kind of hope.) 

As for the Isabel Toledo ensemble, it looked lime, not lemon on my TV.  A lot going on there. . .

I have one (well actually several, but I've always found in the long haul it's best to measure one's gut reactions and try to hold them in for a day or two before formulating a diplomatic way to express them) thing to say about coats without buttons in freezing cold temperatures: Don't.  

A coat without buttons, theoretically worn in the first place to offer warmth on a frigid, wildly windy day, is a constant annoyance.  It's the outdoor equivalent of the strapless dress that has to be hiked up all eveing.  

A fashion "observer" on CNN, at some ungodly hour my time this morning, even suggested he thought the one-shoulder detail on Mrs. O's Jason Wu gown was added as an after thought for just that reason. Another fashion expert said au contraire the dress was designed just the way it was.

Not that anyone cares, but I think when one will be walking in a parade; standing outside for photo-ops or prefers doing other things with her hands than constantly closing the flapping sides on her "outerwear" as we used to say at WWD; buttons are an excellent solution. Belts work too, but you have to be really, really thin to pull off a belt OVER a coat.

I have a fascination with buttons and although I am the least clever human being one could find when it comes to crafty creations, I know if I can sew on a button, anyone can sew on a button. I used to worry about the underside, but have discovered over the years that not once has anyone ever turned over one of mine to see if the back was smooth and knot free.

Beautiful buttons change everything and can be changed all the time.  I just discovered recently
there are button collection clubs. Why not?  (No I'm not and no, I have no intention of joining.)

I actually know someone who collects rubber bands. (Don't ask.)  

This I do have to ask:  What was Aretha Franklin thinking?  We know -- assume -- she doesn't have a stylist, but doesn't she own a mirror?

And finally, error number two on my part:  My French source who told me Malia and Sacha would be wearing Bon Point was certainly off the mark.  A little voice in my head told me "that can't possibly be true -- surely they'll be wearing American clothes," but I rarely listen to those little voices these days which is the bane of my life. But that's another story. . .

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Will She Wear?

What will Michelle Obama wear today and tonight? ("Who" will she wear?)

Here is a little retrospective of some of the bright, beautiful clothes that kept us enthralled as she and her husband made that long, long journey to today. . .

(P.S.:  I heard Sacha and Malia were wearing petits ensembles from Bon Point.  Already relations are warming between the United States and France.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'm So Excited

You may be wondering what these four disparate items have in common.

The French will tell you they're all "excitants."  

Yes. White wine, a computer screen, vitamin C and Champagne apparently get us all worked up and not necessarily in a good way -- or sometimes, but not always; or it depends upon the time of day; or how much of it you ingest.

Let me explain:  
  • Vitamin C must be taken in the morning because otherwise we'll get verrrry nervous.  Pharmacists and doctors tell us this.  I swear. (The funny slices of orange come from Healthy Living Tip.)
  • Champagne, to be drunk in good times and bad (that's my personal recommendation), should be sipped with moderation unless we want to be so agitated we won't sleep.  Also, and unfortunately this is from personal experience, I've found too much Champagne results in a very unpleasant, if you pardon the euphemism, "fragile condition" the next morning.
  • Ditto for white wine.  Drunk as an aperitif and during dinner it can definitely lead to a restless night.
  • As for the computer screen, that's a "studies have shown" situation, widely reported on French television.  It seems those of us who sit reading and writing in front of our computers late into the night will not be able to easily fall asleep.  Because we're so excited (!)

Oh yes, let's talk beauty for a moment.  Too much of the grape results in early morning puffy eyes and a dose of vitamin C unfortunately will not remedy the situation.  Although maybe two icy cold slices of orange placed on the eye lids might.
Pourquoi pas?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Did You Notice?

Michelle Obama, on her 45th birthday, and Jill Biden on the back of the train with their husbands -- what color were their accessories?

Eh, Oui.  Prune.

Are they trendy or what?  

Yesterday I popped into Monoprix -- the Target if Target were French, remember (?) -- and found a pair of long wool, prune gloves 70 percent off.  I had a little conversation with myself about the few months left of winter and the nearly expired life span of the season's "it"
color, but silly me I went ahead and plunked down my seven Euros and 50 centimes

They're very cute:  ribbed; just to the elbow so I can scrunch them (or not) and at the wrist bone there's a little "belt" with a button.

(The much chicer leather gloves pictured here are from Anedoti and the scarf from Forever 21.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Funny, Pretty Little Things

Since "vintage" is on the lips of every fashion maven worth her "gently used" Birkin bag, Bourjois cosmetics (remember the association with Chanel) perhaps seeing our need for nostalgia in these trying times,  has come out with a "Vintage Collection" of eight products with packaging harkening back to the founding of the company.  

The original concept for the products grew out of the dissatisfaction of  Joseph-Albert Posin, an actor, who disliked the heavy, unpleasantly greasy quality of theater makeup.  He developed a line of dry crayons in 1860 and eight years later sold his little enterprise to la famille Bourjois.

In 1912 Bourjous pressed his powders into the now famous sweet little round compacts with the bombé (domed) pastel blushes and eye shadows.  It was at that moment Centres de Rose,  Rose Cinderswas created and is to this day the line's best selling color. 

I've worn it for years because it always makes me look as if I'm still capable of blushing (which unfortunately I am) or if I just pinched my cheeks -- which, of course no one would want to do because it stretches the skin.

For some inexplicable reason, Cendres de Rose works its magic on all skin colors.

Every makeup artist I've ever know has a stash of Bourjois products in his or her bag of tricks. The beauty of these little wonders is they have no oil in the secret recipe which keeps them from melting into the skin and gives them an exceptionally long shelf-life.

The Vintage Collection features five eye shadows and three blushes, pictured above.  (If you're a beauty addict you probably already know about this blog, if not go immediately to Cult-Beauty, it has a mind-boggling collection of information on the subject where one can spend an inordinate amount of time reading an unreasonable number of promises and some great reviews.)

Did you know if you put a soupçon of rosy blush on your earlobes the face is instantly lifted and brightened?  Neither did I.  

I tried it today.  It's difficult to make that judgement alone in my bathroom and my husband didn't notice.  I'll have to take it out to see if I can elicit some sort of public reaction.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Seating Arrangements

Reputations have been made or destroyed; romances commenced or finished; careers enhanced or ended; and friendships created or demolished -- all around a dinner table.

(Supposedly Nicolas Sarkozy formally met Carla Bruni at a dinner party.)

For all those reasons and many, many more choosing who sits at one's dinner table and who sits next to whom is a deliciously delicate exercise in diplomacy.

Years ago I did an interview with a woman who makes her living creating extraordinary parties for which she carefully contrived brilliant seating plans. She cautioned that at major events with several tables one "must always be careful to seat the wife and the mistress on different sides of the room."  

That makes sense.

In imagining a perfect table she said it should include: "a princess, a politician, a writer, a philosopher, two good listeners, a businessman, a designer and 'perhaps' a journalist".

Good conversation is a fine art, highly respected and diligently cultivated in this country.  A perfect table is one where the women look beautiful (you understand my meaning I trust, they've made an effort and look their stylish best), the food is perfection -- in taste and presentation -- and the talk is lively, witty, informed and perhaps a little naughty.

If I could choose any woman in France I would like to sit next to at a dinner 
party -- I guess it would probably be across from since we would both be bookended by men -- it would be Catherine Nay.  (I've met her, interviewed her and admired her for years.  In fact, 
her country house is in the same village where we live.) 

She is on the radio; television -- the camera is in love with her; writes magazine articles and is arguably the best contemporary political biographer in France.

For me she is the epitome of beauty, elegance, intelligence, and exquisite politesse.  Nay suffers no fools.  She has a marvelous way of raising her eyebrows and slightly pursing those full lips into a little moue when one of her peers or a politician says something outrageously stupid during a television debate.  

When American journalists want to know what is really happening backstage in French politics she is the go-to interviewee.  American "Vogue" and "Vanity Fair" have both turned to her for her insider take on the personal side of Gallic politics.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Plates That Keep On Giving

These touchingly lovely plates were designed by, from the top:  Sonia Rykiel, Chantal Thomass, Christian Lacroix and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac for the French humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger (Action Contre La Faim).

Some days I can't help but wander slightly off subject.  We've reached an age after all, no matter how busy our lives may be, when we know just looking good isn't good enough.  Some days we need to concentrate on being good and doing good.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bonne Année Encore et Encore

This is my friend Françoise.  She went to India last year -- got lots of fab-u-lous silver jewelry for nothing btw -- that's apparently why she chose a themed happy new year message.  And in English too.  (In her e-mail she said bonne année.)

Now you probably think this turbaned, red-lipped, black sunglasses get up has something to do with her trip or that she's had some seminal, spiritual moment wherein she decided fashion as we know it no longer has any meaning for her.

Ah, non.  

Françoise -- it's a shame you can't see the "real" color of her hair in this picture (although it's close; hers is a sort of a cross between copper and crimson) always wears a turban with her spikey bangs sticking out, black sunglasses and blood red lipstick.  Sometimes she adds earrings and she always dons dozens of bracelets.

She is also always clad in black, head-to-toe, except for last summer when she added a pair of silver Mary Jane's and the winter before when she accessorized with a huge faux leopard shoulder bag slung bandoleer style across her body.  

Her wardrobe, as near as I can tell, is made up entirely of Francois + Marithé Girbaud ensembles.  This dress for example, if she doesn't own it, she would wear it.  She'd just add a black turtleneck for the arm/neck thing (if you don't know what I'm talking about, more power to you),  a pair of combat boots, some Converse high-tops or these silver "Germany" boots.  And the thing is:  IT WORKS (!)

(I found the boots on a hilarious site called  Shoetube.) 

Françoise has a Girbaud coat that looks like a parachute after a serious accident.  I know it's a coat because she wears it in the winter and the thing has sleeves.

She's created not just an individual style, but also a persona.  She's an original and every day when I go out to buy my baguette I hope I see her.  I know she'll be in black, but I know too it will be something wildly amusing. 
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