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The French Feminine Mystique - Part 2

Last week's parting thought on the French feminine mystique was to give up the cosmetics and go for inner beauty à la française (French style). While I am a firm believer that attitude and self-confidence are at the heart of the French woman's perpetual allure, I must admit les Françaises have some beauty secrets that go beyond the internal.

Bon MarcheYears ago (read, pre-Victoria's Secret era), my very Parisian friend Anne took me shopping. One of our main stops was the lingerie boutique at Le Bon Marché department store on the Left Bank.* It was an eye-opening experience. Everywhere I looked were lacy-and tasteful-undergarments in every conceivable hue. She introduced me to Lise Charmel, Chantelle, Simone Pérèle and Erès, brands that still make me swoon today. I tried on les soutiens-gorge (bras) and les culottes (panties) that matched, something French women take for granted but a concept that seems less important to les Américaines (American women).

 Another stunning discovery was the fit of French lingerie. Wearing it was like driving a new Mercedes coupe after years in an old Ford sedan. No wonder French women walk down the streets of Paris like they own them. With lingerie wardrobes of this caliber (according to a New York Times article earlier this year, French women spend around 20% of their annual clothing budget on lingerie), every woman can feel and act like a princess every day of the week.

Scent is another beauty essential the French have perfected. No secret there. Go to any department store worldwide, and French perfumes dominate the scene. But thanks to un cadeau (gift) of Cabotine from my same Parisian friend Anne, I caught on to the magical possibilities of a fragrance wardrobe.

I wasn't familiar before with Cabotine, a perfume made by the Grès couture house in the early 90's.* It turned out that Anne's father had designed the perfume's beautiful flacon (bottle) with its green glass floral stopper as well as the packaging. They treated me to a suite of Cabotine creations: eau de parfum, eau de toilette, lait pour le corps (body lotion), and amazingly enough, déodorant. That's right, deodorant perfumed with the scent of Cabotine. How original and even luxurious to have all your body care products go together! No more cheap baby powder smell from your deodorant clashing with the expensive, exotic florals from your perfume. I knew then and there that French women really have this beauty thing figured out.

Needless to say, I was hooked-on Cabotine (for a time) and on the notion of a perfume wardrobe (forever). Today, I am back to wearing a Chanel perfume I embraced in the late 80's. My current fragrance collection of the scent includes le parfum, la crème pour le corps (body cream), le gel moussant (bath gel), and of course, le déodorant. I apply them according to my mood, where I am going and how I want to feel. But I never use them all at once. That would be beaucoup trop (way too much), kind of like the guy who walks down the street with a cloud of aftershave trailing behind him.

Bon Marche I do, however, use the deodorant every day. The trick is keeping a supply of it when I am in the U.S. For all the abundance of French perfumes at American department stores, the corresponding perfumed deodorants are rarely available. So when I am in Paris, I make a very planned stop at the dazzling cosmetics and fragrance department of Le Bon Marché and stock up on the stuff. Even if I don't buy a lick of the latest French fashions due to the crazy euro, I know that my fragrance wardrobe is le top du top (the best of the best).

* Le Bon Marché is located at 22, rue de Sèvres (at the Rue du Bac) near the Sèvres-Babylone metro stop.
* The history of Madame Grès and her couture house can be found on the Parfums Grès web site.

September 17, 2008

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