Diana Vreeland is said to have quipped, "To have style you have to be born in Paris." Dommage for Vreeland and the rest of us Americans, non?
Fortunately, for the past nine years, we've had Mireille Guiliano as our guide to all things French. Her first book, "French Women Don't Get Fat," sold over 3 million copies and landed on the New York Times best-seller list. In her latest book, the soon-to-be released "French Women Don't Get Facelifts," the author delves into what makes our European counterparts age so gracefully. We sat down with Guiliano recently to discuss just what Americans can learn about aging à la française.
As the former CEO of wine importer Cliquiot at Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, Guiliano has spent the past 40 years living in America, taking note of our grooming idiosyncrasies. Though some of the tips she doles out require more money and energy than most women are willing to put forward, she says you don't need hours of preening or a $300 jar of cream to look good. Just stick to the basics: Wash your face and moisturize everyday. No exceptions.
"There are these little rituals that don't take much time or effort," she says. "But they do matter if you accumulate the mistakes."
Be confident -- looking young starts with feeling young
Beyond simple grooming tips, what we can take from the French has more to do with attitude than anything else. Giuliano says that Americans tend to consider women in their 40s "old," while a self-awareness of their persisting allure keeps French women in their 50s and beyond looking and feeling young. The confidence jolt Giuliano gets each time she goes back to Paris, she says, is palpable.
"There's a lot of flirtation and seduction that goes on in a very complex way that wouldn't happen here," she explains. "My husband says, 'You should keep going to Paris. It will keep you young forever.' Maybe not forever, but it certainly boosts your morale."
Giuliano herself has what many consider a "French" look: At 67 years old, she's tall, thin and has an expertly-cut bobbed hairstyle that would make Anna Wintour jealous. Her clothes are timeless, yet subtly sexy. And yes, she still wears high heels, even though she makes sure to bring a pair of flats to change into for long walks. It's certainly not hard to imagine a gentleman paying her a flirtatious compliment.
Try not to fixate on aging
As for the catchy title of her new book, Giuliano claims it came about after seeing how quickly ladies stateside would turn to Botox, facelifts and other procedures to maintain a youthful appearance. "They're very self-critical, but they're also under tremendous pressure from society," she says, adding that the media culture in America, which tends to put aging under a disparaging microscope, is partly to blame.
In France, staying young is not a topic of conversation, she explains. Women just know how to do it -- gradually and naturally. Plastic surgery just doesn't have the same draw as it does in the instant gratification culture of the States. (To provide some perspective, France had 207,049 cosmetic surgical procedures performed in 2011 compared to America's 1,094,146. Adjust that for population, and that leaves the US with about 10 procedures for every 1,000 people and France with 7 procedures for every 1,000 people.)
"I don't want to pass judgement, because everybody does what they want to do," she says. "But to a French person, [surgery] would be a last resort. There are lots of things you can do before that."
Like we said, Giuliano isn't peddling pricey products or time-consuming regimens. In fact, her favorite at-home anti-aging remedies include argan oil to moisturize her face ("one drop makes a huge difference") and olive oil as a hair mask. As for makeup, she operates under the less-is-more philosophy, claiming that if women stopped caking on the concealer and red lipstick, they would look "five years younger."
Embrace what makes you beautiful at the age you are
Perhaps her best piece of advice, however, is just to be bien dans sa peau, comfortable in your own skin, a phrase that crops up throughout "French Women Don't Get Facelifts." "I think every woman is beautiful," she says. "So you have to find what is it in you that makes you beautiful and play on that, as opposed to try to be trendy or want to remain young and dress like your daughter."
We think Diana Vreeland would agree that you certainly don't need to be born in Paris to do that.
Mireille Guiliano's "French Women Don't Get Facelifts" comes out on Dec. 24th.
This post has been updated with additional information about the per capita incidence of plastic surgery for the US and France.
If you needed more inspiration...