As you’ve probably worked out by now, I’m hopelessly head-over-heels in love with Paris. It all started at the age of five, when my parents and I holidayed there for the first time. Mum and dad are committed Francophiles (her for the glamour and literature; him for the politics and history; both for the food and wine), so I was destined to fall in Gallic line. It was also genetically programmed, too; Mum’s family is part-French, and I grew up hearing that all the best things in this world come from Paris, or very close by (like, say, champagne and stinky cheese). What I most remember from that first trip are glistening glimpses of glossy cherubs and gilded domes; Paris was my City of Light before I’d even heard the expression. My souvenir was, appropriately, a glitter dome, and for the next few years I’d often stare into it, watching the sparkle whir around the miniature Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, sighing into this scintillating parallel universe. I lived in suburban Melbourne, and imagined Paris to hold the secret to a more wonderful life. After several more family holidays there, I knew that Paris wasn’t just a shimmering mirage; the city was as much substance as style, and I was determined to explore it in every way possible. I studied French at school and university, and read as many books on French history and from French literature as I could. I was practically dreaming in French. Paris became my life goal, the twinkling light at the end of every tunnel. If I worked hard enough, saved enough, I would treat myself to another trip there, even if just for a week or two.
So was it any surprise that I became a beauty editor? Paris, of course, is the capital of beauty. It’s the City of Light — and light-reflecting concealer (YSL Touche Éclat, I salute you). Only a place of such beauty itself, and only one that truly madly deeply appreciates beauty in all its forms, could have become the spiritual home of perfume and lipstick. As the beauty editor of a young women’s magazine, I received goodie bags filled with Parisian gorgeousness on a daily basis. I regularly interviewed French perfumers, makeup artist and skin therapists, quizzing them on the secrets to looking à la parisienne. And I got to go to Paris for work, too, and examine the mythical French Girl in her natural habitat, in all her effortlessly soignée glory. Over time, I noticed how French women age, gracefully and naturally, albeit with loads of good grooming, of course. And I’ve seen how Paris is a city that embraces women, no matter their age.
I’m currently at one of those crossroads in life. Having been a beauty journalist for 20 years, I obviously love my industry. But I also want to explore more avenues — many of them Parisian, of course. That’s why I wrote this book, and plan to find other ways to share my love of the City of Light. Because I so fervently believe that Paris can enhance life. And you don’t even need to be living there. Parisian, for me, is a state of mind, not an address. No matter where we spend out waking hours, we can always dream Parisian.
“It’s just such a dream of a city. You really do feel as though you’re in a dream state there. Everything seems surreal, and it’s not surprising that this adjective was invented in this city. Perhaps it’s because Paris is arguably the most written about, painted, photographed and filmed city in the world. You feel like you’ve somehow already lived it. But then it’s so close to its mythology, so ridiculously beautiful, that it almost doesn’t feel real. So perhaps you’ve just dreamed it, not lived it. You almost have to pinch yourself at times. Every scene you set eyes upon is a photo waiting to happen. Every tilt of the head reveals something new to gasp at. The all-encompassing beauty of the city is almost overwhelming. As a woman, I also love Paris for its femininity. The curves of the buildings. The jewellery-like lampposts. The decorative touches. But it’s a classic kind of beauty, and perhaps this timelessness is why the city seems to welcome women of all ages. You never feel old in Paris and perhaps that’s why the city never gets old for you.”
“Any language expands our mind, gives us another way of looking at the world. Even learning another culture’s simple everyday proverbs is illuminating. I think it’s about learning the language that most appeals to you. Which culture’s books speak to you, which do you want to read in their original language? Perhaps it’s Italian or German or Mandarin. But French offers up an especially rich and inspirational trove of learning aids, from olde-worlde literature to modern films. The French language is also celebrated for its abstract nature, its love of simple yet grand concepts. There are fewer synonyms in French, for instance. This is why French has excelled so well as the lingua of diplomacy. It’s elegant and eloquent, and really inspires you to express yourself in the most beautiful way possible.”
“I discovered Brigitte Bardot at the age of sixteen and she had a huge impact on me. Firstly, on how I wanted to look back then. But, after I realised I wasn’t in fact a Bardot-like bombshell, what still appealed to me was the insouciant approach she had to life. She wore dresses and ballet slippers because they felt comfortable and liberating, and lived life according to her feel-good barometer. She was naturally beautiful but she let herself age, and she wasn’t afraid to leave stardom behind to devote herself to animals. I have always admired that true-to-selfness of hers. During my university years, I had a girl-crush on Simone de Beauvoir, which was passed down to me from my feminist-but-feminine mother. I’ve also admired Madame de Pompadour for her rococo aesthetic and for kick-starting so many lovely trends. Eleanor of Aquitaine is one I more recently discovered. I knew her name because my French family lore has it that an ancestor was one of the knights who swore to look after a young Eleanor on her father’s deathbed. As I’ve got to know her story, I’ve realised what a power woman she was, who really needed little protection — a double queen, a multi-timed mother, a genius political strategist, and a lover of living well. She really was the whole package, and still a role model nine hundred years later.”
“This one is as much myth as reality, I must admit. Paris wasn’t always the centre of style. But in the 17th century, when Italy was the cultural trend-starter, Louis XIV, the Sun King, decided it would be beneficial for the French coffers if France took over as the capital of chic, and soon after came the haute industry: cuisine, couture, parfumerie, along with all sorts of elegant accessories exported the world over … So this reputation that French women have for being genetically stylish, well it was originally at heart about cold hard economics. But it has also become a self-perpetuating myth, because Parisian women do seem to like to live up to the reputation. Paris is a beautiful city, where everyone works hard to keep up glamorous appearances, from the garbage collectors early in the morning to the chocolatiers who create window displays that rival those of jewellery stores. So this city is a stage. It isn’t for dressing down but up. Which is one reason Parisian women don’t leave home unless they’re immaculately dressed, coiffed and made up (albeit in an understated way). Good grooming is like a civic duty!”
“Of course, there are the much-blogged-about makeup essentials for cool-French-girl style, such as smudgy black eyeliner and classic red lipstick, worn with messy hair just so things look effortless and balanced and modern enough. But when you scratch this laissez-faire surface, you find that Parisiennes are obsessed with quality skincare and haircare — that’s how they can get away with looking so uncomplicated. It’s like the beaten-up handbag they might tote around — it’s probably in fact a vintage Hermès. Beauty is, at heart, about looking after yourself, pampering yourself. To see skincare and facials as a treat, to see grooming as something that’s enjoyable. At the same time, it’s not obsessive. Parisiennes don’t seem as fixated on ageing as other cultures are, and perhaps that’s because beauty is in check here, in perspective. Sure, they might make a few tweaks along the way, but you rarely see older French ladies with painfully tight skin. They’d rather age as gracefully as possible, with scarves, lipstick and a good haircut helping things along. So I think that my most important take-home from French beauty experts, and French women in general, is that it’s okay to age. Australia for me is obsessed with youthfulness and makeup when it comes to beauty, so on a personal level, as I’ve aged, I have really appreciated learning how to view beauty through French eyes.”