All You Need to be Impossibly French
2006 | Penguin Books US
This is the US edition of Two Lipsticks and a Lover.
The allure of the Frenchwoman–sexy, sophisticated, flirtatious, and glamorous–is legendary. More than an eye for fashion or a taste for elegance, the French je ne sais quoi embodies the essential ingredients for looking and feeling beautiful.
With wit, whimsy, and wonder, British expatriate Helena Frith Powell uncovers the secrets of chic living in All You Need to Be Impossibly French, a cheeky guide to releasing your inner Frenchwoman. Delving deep into a mysterious realm of face creams, silk lingerie, and shopping-as-exercise, Powell reveals how French women stay impossibly thin and irresistibly sexy by achieving the maximum effect from the minimum amount of effort. Forget diet and inspiration books and style guides–this is all you need to embrace the wisdom of French living, and learn how to turn every day into la petite aventure.
‘Curled up with a good book’ review
You don’t need to spend time in France to know that French women, particularly Parisian women, have a certain je ne sais quoi. After all, they are (in)famous all over the world for their style and elegance. In All You Need to Be Impossibly French , Englishwoman Frith-Powell explores this world of French feminine culture, with interesting results. As an expatriate living in France, she chronicles her own experiences trying to become more French, and she befriends many a French woman who give her insight into how they live, accomplishing the maximum results with minimal effort.
This witty and intelligent book isn’t just about French style (which, to be more specific, is actually Parisian style). Frith-Powell examines how French women become so elegant, if not beautiful. It has to do with how they carry themselves. They never appear in public wearing sneakers. Exercise is something to be done in private. They won’t even take out the trash without wearing makeup. She waxes poetic on the world of French women’s underwear, face creams, dieting, and cellulite treatments. If this all seems a bit high maintenance, there are still some kernels of wisdom to be found here.
Frith-Powell also discusses how important education is to a French woman and delves into their love lives, which typically include infidelity. In order to be truly French, one must be both passionate and intellectually well-rounded. To prove this point, the author spends considerable amount of time extolling the virtues of French icons such as Coco Chanel, Simone de Beauvoir, and Colette.
This book is rife with pop culture references, which makes it a bit ephemeral. As Frith-Powell points out anyway, French culture is now changing to an extent that may eventually render this book irrelevant. French people are getting fatter. The Puritanical aspects of English and American culture are starting to invade French society. While French women still retain their title as the world’s style icons, they may not hold it forever.
Since Frith-Powell is English, she cannot help making comparisons between French and British women, and even to some extent, American women. I’ll leave you to read the book to discover her conclusions about these comparisons. While I will probably not follow the advice in this book to make myself more French, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable and whimsical read.
All you need to be impossibly French review
I’ll give you 1 guess as to why I picked up and read this book. One guess. Take your best shot. =)
The title is pretty self-explanatory. The book is broken down into 12 chapters. Each chapter covers a different factor of what makes up a typical French woman. The chapters cover topics from style, exercise, beauty secrets, parenting, love and love affairs.
There were many things I liked about this book, and those factors separate this book from all the other How to be French books I’ve read this past year. For one, this book focuses almost solely on French women without comparing them to women of other countries. If there were any comparisons, they were to the author’s homeland of England. It was refreshing to read a book like this that did not beat up on the American way of life (it can be taxing on the American self-esteem).
The other element I liked is that this book did not glamorize the French way of life. In fact, this book was pretty bare bones about how frivolous and superficial French women can be in regards to appearance. Told as a memoir of her years living in French, we see Helena go to a number of shops and speak with beauty and fashion experts to find out just what gives French women that je ne sais quoi. Matching underwear is a pretty key element, as is having a heavily regimented beauty routine.
The third element of the book that I liked what that Powell touched upon the differences between a Parisian woman and a French woman. I think most people like me would think they are one in the same. But that’s like comparing a New Yorker to the rest of the United States. Apples to oranges. Parisians are bred to be more fashionable and more strict in their lives than other areas of France. I noticed traces of this in France during my honeymoon. That’s why I loved the Provence region so much more than Paris. Life and style were more relaxed and easy-going. Even in Paris though, the main fashion hot-spots were by the Champs-elysees.
Reading this book somewhat dampened my desire to want to live in France. I don’t think I’d be able to keep up with the lifestyle there, not that the French make it very easy for any outsiders to live and become citizens in the country. There is lots of jumping through hoops, hoops lit on fire at that.
This book also touched upon the more taboo elements of French society, that of the expected infidelity between men and women. Most other books I’d read tended to neglect this element, focusing solely on how ardently the French love and live with passion.
Powell’s writing was endearing and funny. There were moments when I felt she was a sap for falling for the marketing ploys of “buy this and you’ll be French” in regards to the lingerie and beauty supplies. But who am I to judge? I spent far more money on beauty products than I’m proud of to look stunning for my wedding. What I liked about this book, is that Powell honestly reflects on the changes she’s made to herself to be more French, but with still keeping her British roots alive. She’s inquisitive and adventurous, but knows when to draw the line. I’d love to read other works penned by the author and she has written a plenty.