Behind the apparent effortless beauty of French women lies a strict set of grooming rituals.
A few years ago, I found myself alone in Paris after a press trip. It was my birthday, so I took myself to lunch at Hôtel Costes on Rue Saint Honore. The hotel is so synonymous with cool that the wait staff look like they should be carrying modelling portfolios instead of menus. Seated at the table next to mine, a group of Americans attempted to dissect the considerable allure of French women and the heavy flirtations
taking place all around us. One of the Americans leant over and asked, “Why do you think all these couples talk so intensely? We’ve noticed this everywhere in France.” I clocked each duo and realised they were all completely in the moment.
Unlike the tech-obsessed couples back home in Sydney, I saw no distracted checking of mobile phones. Flirtation wise, it was clearly game on. Mathilde Thomas, the French entrepreneur who penned The French Beauty Solution, explains the philosophy behind the scenes of seduction. “In France, we’re ruled by the pleasure principle. It informs everything we do, especially beauty. We’re about glowing, great-looking skin, so we can have this no make-up look, and it works. You learn this from your mother – this idea of emphasising skin, treating it to consistent skincare. In the US, I find women looking for quick fixes that leave their skin dry, peeled or damaged, so they’re buying more make-up. The French secret is more about simplicity.”
Violette, make-up designer at Dior and a regular on French Vogue shoots, agrees. “For me, skincare is like the most important thing,” she says. “The idea is to be, as much as you can be, yourself.” Why not parlay the pleasure principle into a primping practice? Whether you take a French approach to make-up, by which your look simply consists of a red lip and a lick of mascara, or you enjoy your make-up like you enjoy your champagne – bubbly and abundant, the best way to achieve that bien dans sa peau (well in one’s skin) inner glow that French women are famous for is through nourishment and care. The French consider regular facials and massages an investment in wellbeing, not a luxury. “I’m a strong believer in massage as a way to keep your skin toned and improve elasticity and circulation,” says Clémence von Mueffling, founder of website Beauty and Well Being. Make regular facials and massages a priority and you’ll find little use for cellulite cream.
“For the French, skincare secrets and
grooming rules are passed down from
generation to generation.”
David Jones has an array of beauty services to help get your skin in good shape. Ella Baché’s Hydra Plumping Facial will refresh dry skin in just one hour – plus it’s complimentary when you purchase three skincare products. If you’re experiencing breakouts, try Ultraceuticals 45-minute Vita-Clear Facial ($175 or redeemable with product purchase). Lancôme’s glow-giving Hydrating Soothing Treatment ($65 or 60 minutes redeemable with product purchase) will revitalise pallid skin through facial massage.
Question any French woman on her beauty routine and you’ll find discipline plays a big part. They don’t believe in fast fixes, because self-care involves following strict grooming routines. “Even if it’s 5am and I’m a little bit drunk, I will never go to bed without taking off my make-up,” says Violette. “I put a ton of milk cream cleanser on my face and then massage, massage, massage. I also use La Mer’s The Renewal Oil for the face.”
For the French, skincare secrets and grooming rules are passed down from generation to generation. “My mother would send me to summer camp in the States. I was just 13, but already very aware of which products to use,” says von Mueffling. There were also strict rules about eyebrow maintenance: “My mother taught me to never touch the lines of your eyebrows or your brows will never grow back the same way.”
In a culture fixated on seduction and self-knowledge, fragrance also plays a part. “French women love fragrance because of its honesty,” says actress Clémence Poésy. “It sends a very obvious message about who you are and how you want to be perceived.” Written by Chanel muse Caroline de Maigret and three friends, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are defines the Parisian approach to beauty: “In Paris, the rules are clear: you anticipate, you prepare for the future, but you never totally correct. Play with what nature gave you. Make the most of it. This is what your mother passed on to you. Along with her science of creams that verge on witchcraft.”
Words by Danielle Jackson
Photography by Steven Chee
Styling by Thelma McQuillan