Seduction a la francaise
When I lived in England my preferred seduction technique was as follows. Drink as much alcohol as possible. Make the man I was trying to seduce drink as much as possible as well.
Pretend to fall over in his general direction and see what his reaction was. If he repelled me with an “ohmigod what on earth are you doing?” I would quickly stand up and pretend nothing had happened.
If on the other hand he caught me affectionately and looked rather pleased, I knew he liked me. Foolproof, eh?
Or so I thought, until I moved to France five years ago and wrote a book about French women. Now I realise my method was seriously un-sexy.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner you might be planning to seduce the man of your dreams. So here is how to do it French style…
Are we Brits really so hopeless about the gentle art of seduction, or can we teach the French a thing or two? Click on the reader comments below to have your say.
Let’s start with the most important thing: Your brain.
When my French friend Emmanuelle wants to seduce her boyfriend (or anyone else’s), she relies on her brain. Of course she looks great as well, but according to her, the most vital seduction tool is esprit.
“You need to be lively, engaging, intelligent and amusing,” she tells me. “No man can resist a woman who makes him laugh, who interests him.” Perhaps this is why French women are so obsessed with going to the latest exhibitions and reading.
Last time I was in Paris I saw a vast queue of mainly women outside what I assumed was a designer discount store. I asked one of the women queuing what it was. I thought I might join them and pick up some bargains. ‘The Maillol museum,’ was the reply. Maillol being a French sculptor. And not even a very famous one.
Of course they have a great literary tradition of temptresses. Colette, one of France’s most famous authors, was still seductive in her sixties, dancing on tables and marrying her son-in-law. Age is no barrier to seduction French style.
I met an attractive elderly lady in the underwear department at Galeries Lafayette in Paris once while I was researching a piece on French women and underwear.
“What are you looking to buy?” I asked her.
“Sexy underwear,” she told me. “I want to look good when I undress.” For the French, a bit of seduction keeps you young. As the actress Jeanne Moreau (78) says: “Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.”
In England some of my friends feel they’re over the hill as soon as they have children. They just give up. They never lose the weight they gained during pregnancy, they are too tired to make an effort and anyway who needs all that seduction business after childbirth? The French attitude couldn’t be more different.
“After you’ve had a baby is exactly the time you need to be seducing your husband,” says my French friend Marguerite. “This is when he’s most likely to feel abandoned and go and sleep with someone else.”
She has had four children and is still thin as a rake.
One way to minimise the risks of your husband straying is to adopt a French attitude towards underwear. French women wear very sexy underwear, which is always matching, most of the time. So Valentine’s Day apart, it might be time to throw out your faded knickers and start again.
I don’t mean you need to wear stockings and suspenders, although as a seduction aid, they are second to none, but you could at least go for matching smalls that haven’t been washed so many times they’ve gone a non-descript grey colour.
French women also believe underwear should be under your clothes. So none of your thongs peeping out over the top of your jeans or wearing your bra over your T-shirt please.
There are of course exceptions. A little bit of a bra strap showing is sexy. A whole D-cup revealed is not.
France’s leading lingerie designer Chantal Thomass suggests wearing a corset with a pair of jeans and a shirt buttoned low over it. This can look great, but remember it’s the mixture of the casual (the jeans) and the dressy (the corset) that is seductive. If you go for a corset and a short black skirt for example, you risk looking like a tart.
French women use everything they can to seduce men, including perfume. They’re mad about it. Most of them won’t leave the house without it. If you go into a perfumery in France once the sales assistant will offer to ‘perfume’ you.
I can see why. Their men are equally mad about the way women smell. I once sat next to a French man at a dinner. Half-way through the starter he turned to me and whispered: “Your perfume is intoxicating.” As an English girl I’m not used to that sort of comment. It half made me want to throw up, but it also made me feel rather, well, intoxicating and seductive.
If you’re wondering where to spray your perfume, take some advice from Coco Chanel herself.
“Wherever you want to be kissed.” In fact if you’re not sure which perfume to go for, Chanel is a safe option; always elegant and chic. But don’t overdo it, perfume has to give a hint of sweet things to follow, not knock your date out.
Lotions and potions
French women also swear by allies such as creams, lotions and potions when it comes to seduction. Their skin is beautifully soft due to all the time they spend exfoliating and preening.
Sabbia Rosa, who runs a lingerie business so knows all about seduction, says she has a massage once a week, exfoliates three times a week and moisturises every day.
If you’re going for the big seduction, it’s very important not to neglect parts of you that might otherwise go unnoticed. Your feet for example. Spend some time massaging cream into them a few nights before the big event and filing your toenails neatly shaped.
Paint your toe-nails, personally I like fuscia pink, a colour I would never go for on my hands. You never know; the man of your dreams might be a foot-fetishist and spend most of the evening sucking your toes.
Talking of nails, if you’re going for French seduction, of course the nails on your hands must be perfect too. But they should always be painted a subtle colour.
At last it’s time for the clothes. The only thing you need to remember here is the author Françoise Sagan’s dictum. “A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to take it off you.” But here I am talking about a dress that inspires seduction, not one that makes you look undressed before he’s even started.
Seduction French style is all about femininity and subtlety. A world away from the British ladette style. An English friend of mine who lives in Paris says he prefers French women to English ones purely because of this difference.
“If I want someone to sit and drink lager with and watch the footie, I’ll see one of my mates,” he says. “If I want to be with a woman, then I’ll find a French one.” This Valentine’s Day get in touch with your inner French seductress and surprise him with a truly French experience.
Top Valentine’s Day seduction tips
• Go big on your smalls – elegance, sex appeal and chic. Remember more is often less.
• Go big on grooming – from your nails to your bikini line, everything must be perfect.
• Go small on the booze – if he wants to get drunk he’ll do it with his mates.
• Go big on the charm factor – be interested in what he says and smile a lot.
• Go subtle on scent – small touches wherever you want to be kissed.
• Go big on detail – give some attention to every part of your body. And of course your outfit.
• Go shopping before the big date – there’s nothing like a new outfit to make you feel confident and seductive.
• Go big on your hair – French women go to the hairdressers once a week, even if it’s just for a blow-dry.
• Go big on culture – remember the key to seduction is on the conversation. Talking about EastEnders won’t necessarily turn him on.
• Go big on your feminine side – French women like to be treated like women. Let him open doors for you and act like a lady, not a ladette. Go easy on the football banter.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
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Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
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The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019