Many women come to Paris wondering how French women do it. How is it that they look so terrific and so much more fashionable than their often wealthier Anglo-Saxon sisters?
When I arrived in Paris in 1994 I had the same thought. At the same time, I didn’t imagine that my American approach to beauty and style had something lacking. Like so many women of my generation, I wanted to put brains before beauty, forgetting the old French adage: “A woman with intelligence is fine, but if she has intellect and charm, it’s even better.”
That piece of advice was told to me two years before I even thought of living in Paris, by a woman who had very little beauty, but a great deal of chic. She certainly seemed to know what she was talking about, telling me in a rather knowing way that Edith Cresson had been Mitterand’s mistress long before she became France’s first prime minister.
Still, two years later, I was off to Paris with a very short wash and wear haircut dyed jet black to hide the growing number of gray hairs, and a wardrobe of Gap chinos, jeans, and blazers, tops and skirts from Ann Taylor. My goal was to learn about Paris after all–not to conquer it.
Even when I began working with a fashion photographer for Czech Elle, it never occurred to me to get a fashion makeover. I wanted to learn how the fashion industry worked from the inside, but I wasn’t committed to being a “fashionista.”
Moreover, as I was launching a career as both an author and a tour guide, who was going to being making more and more public appearances, it slowly dawned upon me that I was going to have make more of an effort. And so I invested in some well-cut masculine-looking pin-striped pant-suits and some Hermès scarves and Agatha pearls, and assumed that I was set for life.