Fashion and I never really did hit it off — fashion people don't seem to eat anything, for one — but thanks to an editor with a great sense of humor and my youthful enthusiasm I managed to pass myself off as a minor authority for a couple of years.
When I first started writing about food professionally more than 20 years ago, the newspaper I worked for also assigned me to the fashion department. It wasn't that I had expressed any interest in fashion: at that time, hard-nosed news editors considered both food and fashion to be "women's subjects," ie. fluff, and lumped them into the same category.
Fashion and I never really did hit it off — fashion people don't seem to eat anything, for one — but thanks to an editor with a great sense of humor and my youthful enthusiasm I managed to pass myself off as a minor authority for a couple of years. My fashion writing days ended when I came to France, where patisseries held far more allure for me than Prada. Now my only concession to style is my weekly subscription to French Elle magazine, which I devour cover to cover without taking the fashion pages very seriously. Who has the time or money to change wardrobes every week?
This is where Ines de la Fressange comes to the rescue. A 1980s model turned designer and fashion writer, she is an icon of Parisian style who seems to get better and better with age without the aid of Botox. Her two teenage daughters are just as unbearably beautiful as their mother (I can't imagine the crisis in the de la Fressange household if anyone gets a pimple), yet it's impossible not to like this perfect trio as they swan through the pages of Elle at their bastide in Provence. In interviews Ines likes to emphasize how normal they are, and I almost believe her given the fresh faces of her daughters (one of whom is pictured above).
When Ines published Parisian Chic (first released in French as La Parisienne) with Elle journalist Sophie Gachet, I couldn't help being intrigued: I might be far from obsessed with fashion, but the chance to be a little more like Ines is not something I can pass up. Ines is not about keeping up with changing trends, she is about classics that never go out of style. Though she is not afraid to take risks, she always dresses appropriately for her age. She is a woman who always seems at ease in her body, even if I think that an extra patisserie or two wouldn't do her any harm.
As I flipped through the book for the first time, it seemed to be more or less a catalogue of her favorite shops. But a closer read revealed much more than that: since this book was first written in French, it had to go beyond what most Parisiennes already know. As well as revealing her secret boutiques, Ines gives advice on how to hold the perfect dinner party (keep your guests hungry until the meal is served and they are guaranteed to think it's delicious) and how to add stylish touches to your home (place apples and oranges in clear glass vases).
One day after spending a morning at the Musée d'Orsay I found myself in front of the Eric Bompard boutique, a favorite Ines haunt. Following her advice, I chose a classic navy blue cashmere sweater that I could wear with white jeans in winter, breaking a fashion rule with her permission. Feeling pleased with myself, I wandered down rue du Bac towards the Bon Marché, not even stopping to savor a cake at La Pâtisserie des Rêves. Instead of going into the department store, I turned left on rue de Sèvres and walked straight into the glittering Guerlain shop, as if this were a perfectly natural thing for me to do. Immediately I was surrounded by 20-year-olds with flawless skin who hovered around me, brushes poised. But I already knew what I wanted: Terracotta powder, one of Ines's secret weapons.
The salesgirl brushed the bronzing powder onto my face with a deft hand, and at that point it seemed silly to hesitate. "I'll take it," I said.
At the counter, I nearly gasped at the price: 60 euros. Slightly numbed, I went home and stripped off the layers of packaging. "Contains pure gold," announced the label. A little shocked at myself I rewrapped it, deciding to thriftily use up every speck of my old powder before starting this one.
Terracotta powder has now become part of my daily life and I can't say that I have any regrets. A little goes a long way and several people have actually commented on my glowing skin. Thank you, Ines, for reminding me that there is a little more to life than food. Well, sometimes.