I have to say that I am not terribly fond of massive generalizations. There is little that will rile my red-headed ruff more quickly than any phrase containing, "You Americans always..." And yet...and yet...there are some such wide swaths of words that ring true, they just do. Americans are (more often than not)...friendly. French women are (more often than not)...chic. What does that word mean to you? I know what it does to me, most certainly within this context and I'll give you an example to illustrate it.
When I first moved to Paris from Manhattan twelve years ago, I was struck by the beauty of French women, the way that they put themselves together in a way that didn't necessarily have to do with fashion per se. And yet I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that made them unique. I was soon introduced to Claudine, a journalist specialized in luxury travel. That first time that I met her, she was wearing simple black pants but with Converse high tops and an artfully deconstructed jacket that, on second glance, I realized was a Yohji Yamamoto. The mix between high and low was dizzying. Not to mention that her hair was beautifully blown-out but she appeared to be wearing no makeup. I couldn't understand much of what she said yet but I watched as she spoke with conviction punctuated with fluid gestures. "How old is she?" I wondered. I had no idea but it didn't matter, really, not in the least. Because she was bien dans sans peau, good in her skin.
Tish Jett knows all about this concept and understands that being chic is not only about what is happening on the surface but all about the big picture. In her fantastic book, "Forever Chic - Frenchwomen's Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance" she methodically pops the bubble of the mysterious je ne sais quoi adjective that has always described our Gallic counterparts and while doing so, suggests how French attitudes towards the beauty - of the inside and out kind - can be beneficial for all of us. This wonderful sentence sums up her take well: "Over and over, they prove that what is pleasing to the eye is uplifting to the spirit, and that what is nourishing for the spirit is what makes life worth-living." Wow. Yes, please.
Now here is the thing. Tish, an American journalist and author of the wildly popular blog A Femme d'Un Certain Age, has lived in France for over twenty-five years and has a dizzying resume - she moved here to become the style editor of the International Herald Tribune and was the last editor of American Elle before the magazine was transferred to New York. So she not only has a clearly established point of view based upon extensive experience (I believe that I have already griped about "expat authors" who publish "authoritative" tomes after having trotted through la Belle France for a few months) but she has the Open-the-Doors might to take you right to the very top experts in each field she is discussing (such as Jean-Louis Sebagh for skincare/plastic surgery and Christophe Robin for hair color). Their advice can be surprising and gathered together (something I have never seen before at this level), it is a gold-mine. Plus - and this is something very appealing to me - 90% of the ideas kicked out have nothing to do with "cash flow" as Tish calls it.
With my redhead temper, I hate to be told what to do (just ask Remi) but at the same time, I love to have things clearly broken down for me, to have options. Tish is brilliant at this. Forever Chic is published by Rizzoli and so it is no surprise that the layout is gorgeous and the illustrations that pop up through the river-swift text help the medicine go down. The chapters range from skin and makeup to hair, diet and exercise, wardrobes and accessories to...une mode de vie or way of living, what makes the inner life tick.
I am 44 and am feeling the physical and mental changes that have arrived already with age. Also in the past year, I have, admittedly, let myself go a bit. Too many days have been spent working in front of the computer sporting yoga pants and that messy Garance Doré bun. When I do make an effort, I feel better about myself. And when I feel better about myself, my confidence lifts and I feel...happier. With her book, Tish is giving us options on how to feel just that, tools for our arsenal if you will. And while the book is geared towards those of us over 40, this advice is certainly applicable to a far younger set (and indeed, Tish mentions how the French start young).
I was lucky enough to meet Tish and her fabulous daughter Andrea this past summer (they too have a loving and fun Mother-Daughter relationship). I saw first hand that not only does she practice what she preaches but that it works. Like Claudine, she is just...beautiful. I never thought about her age for a moment but rather on what an amazing woman I was spending time with. She is funny, gracious and grounded. Never pretentious or preachy (I threw down "French Women Don't Get Fat" in disgust two chapters in). And generous too. Now I understand why she worked so very hard to make this book happen - and she did - for she wanted to pass on the goods to as many people as possible. Now, for me that is the definition of "forever chic."
While this certainly would make an excellent last minute gift for a girlfriend, Sister or Mom in your life, for my female readers, I think it would be even better...for yourself. Something to read and savor over the holidays in order to run into 2014 with a fresh perspective and a healthy attitude. Pas mal, non?
To buy "Forever Chic":
On Amazon US, it appears to be sold out in print (I told you it was good!) but for a Kindle edition, click here. But on Barnes & Noble there are hardcover editions, click here.
For my French speaking friends, there is availability on Amazon FR here.
For Amazon UK, click here.
To discover Tish's excellent blog: voila
And to read an interesting interview with Tish by the ever faboo Vicki Archer: ta-dah
How is everyone doing? Are you holding up? Enjoy your weekend and don't forget to breathe...only five more days until Christmas...
PS. Thank you all so very much for all of your amazing comments on my previous post. Both my Mom and I were very touched!