In the small town near my house to in southern France (population 7464) there are 19 hairdressers, five beauticians and four lingerie shops. This should tell you something about French female priorities
In the small town near my house to in southern France (population 7464) there are 19 hairdressers, five beauticians and four lingerie shops. This should tell you something about French female priorities. When I first made an appointment at one of the 19 hairdressers I told one of my French girlfriend Anne why I was going; to get my hair dyed.
“Ssshhhh,” she said, looking anxiously around the café to make sure no one had heard me. “You can’t tell anyone that. C’est pas normal.”
French women are notoriously secretive when it comes to sharing their style and beauty secrets. For a French woman looking good and ageing well is not only an essential part of daily life, but it’s also a part she doesn’t want to share with anyone else.
“I like a nice car,” Anne told me that same day, “but I don’t want to know how it works or how its bodywork is kept in tiptop condition. It’s the same for women, we should look great but why do we have to tell everyone how we do it?”
Anne goes to the hairdresser twice a week to get her hair done (I only found out because I asked the hairdresser, obviously there was no point in asking Anne). Whenever I see her in town she says she is on her way to a “meeting” but I would wager that meeting is to have her eyebrows plucked or some of her non-existent cellulite massaged.
Since living in France I have been amazed by how good French women look. OK, obviously not all of them, in my village we do have the slipper and pinafore brigade (it’s not a good look), but the vast majority are groomed all the way from their heads to their toenails. Just looking at the lotions and potions on sale make you realise there’s more to this French seduction lark than just a pair of suspenders. The chemists sell more creams than medicines; creams to make your thighs thinner, creams to make your tits firmer, vitamins to make your eyes clearer and so on.
While I was researching my book on French women one of the women I spoke to did admit to me that for a French woman looking good can be a full-time job.
“By the time you’ve got down to your toes it’s time to start at the top again,” she told me. “Sometimes it all becomes a bit much, but it’s not part of our genetic make-up to just let ourselves go.”
Part of the reason it all takes so much time is that the French philosophy is that even if the devil is in the detail, so is much of the pleasure. They start in the places that they hope will be seen last. Believe it or not, French even women follow fashion when it comes to what my children politely call “your parts.” Right now the fashion is for cropped “parts.” Just so you know.
Anne is as likely to share her secrets with me as she is to do the school-run with a chipped nail, but maybe because I’m not French and therefore not seen as competition (what threat could an Englishwoman possibly pose?) I have managed to prise some of their top beauty tips from other French women. These are guaranteed to make you more seductive than you’ve ever been.
My friend Nicole says the way to keep your breasts pert and seductive is to douse them in cold water every morning. “Put a flannel in some ice-cold water, then wring it out and place it on your breasts,” she tells me. “It is much more effective than any cream for keeping them firm.”
Buttocks and thighs next. French women swear by cellulite creams. In fact French women swear by anything that keeps them trim but doesn’t involve doing any exercise. According to Brigitte Papin, Health and Beauty Editor of Madame Figaro Magazine one in three supplements sold in French chemists are slimming aids.
When I told Brigitte I didn’t believe in anti-cellulite creams she said I was “so British”. So I tried them. I tried one that you put on for the day and another you put on at night. After three months I haven’t noticed any difference but I don’t have any cellulite so I guess you could conclude that they have done their job.
On an annual basis a French woman will give her body a total service by checking into a spa. Former Prime Minister Edith Cresson prefers a thalassotherapy spa on the Brittany coast where she goes every year for eight days “to unwind and look after myself”. This approach is clearly popular for there are a total of thirteen thalassotherapy spas in Brittany alone. Cresson says she has four beauty treatments a day and comes out glowing.
“My top tip for seductive hands and feet is to rub cream into them as often as you can, there’s nothing more un-sexy than flaky feet,” says Manon, a Parisian friend of mine. “Once a month I cover both my hands and feet in cream and then wrap them in cling film for the whole night.” I have yet to try Manon’s tip, maybe it’s the idea of the cling-film that’s putting me off, but what I have tried is the Metrospa hand and foot facial at Richard Ward’s salon in London where your hands and feet are treated to microdermabrasion (normally reserved for the face) before the pedicure and manicure. This removes the top layer of skin leaving your hands and feet soft enough to be caressed or caress.
For an all-over mid-winter body tan without a trip to St Barth’s, brew some really strong tea, let it stand for an hour and then spread it all over with cotton pads. It smells better than most fake tans and is a fraction of the price. Another tip for all-over-smooth seductive skin from my friend Nicole is to put your body moisturiser on after your shower or bath without completely drying your skin first. This allows it to penetrate much more effectively.
Now to the face. Sylvie Tellier, a former Miss France who now runs the Miss France competition, uses the cream Biafine as a face mask. This is a cream every French mother has in her medicine cabinet and is traditionally used for minor burns and rashes. “I love it,” says Sylive. “It makes my skin glow and is really hydrating. Other than that my top tip is to cleanse religiously, morning and night.”
A tip I got from Laurence, the mother of a friend of mine, is to sleep with a moisturising mask on the night before a big date. But be sure to exfoliate before, so the mask can be really effective. Laurence also told me her mother used to drink camomile tea a lot as it apparently helps reduce the muscular tension that causes dark circles. And of course it helps you to sleep.
Yves Saint Laurent once said; “The most beautiful make-up on a woman is passion, but cosmetics are easier to buy”. But French women don’t believe in overdoing their cosmetics. For a French woman being seductive is all about being naturally sexy. They are big on what they call “le no make-up look.” According to Marie-Pierre Lannelongue, fashion editor of French Elle Magazine, English women are the opposite approach to their French counterparts. “It’s like, oh look at me, I’ve made such an effort,” she says. “You would never get a French woman doing that, for us less is more.”
If you want to be seductively made up a la française go easy on the blusher, use a good base, a little mascara and some lip gloss (quite a neutral shade). Of course your lip-gloss goes with you everywhere. A French woman thinks about looking sexy even if she’s just taking the dog for a walk or doing the school run. When I met Ségolène Royal, who will possibly become the first female president of France this year, she had three things with her; a notepad, a pen and a lip-gloss.
Coco Chanel was once asked where one should spray scent. Her response; “Wherever you want to be kissed.” The same could apply to a French woman’s beauty regime. She takes care of every part of her body and face so that she can seduce anyone from the Duke of Westminster to an invading German general.