Desert island books: Ines de la Fressange
Inès de la Fressange, the former French supermodel, shares her literary choices with Helena Frith Powell
Inès de la Fressange was the original French supermodel. Born in the Var region of France in 1957, Inès Marie Lætitia Églantine Isabelle de Seignard de la Fressange, or La Belle Inès as she is known in France, is the daughter of a French marquis, André de Seignard de La Fressange, and an Argentinean model, Cecilia Sanchez Cirez. Her grandmother was the heiress to the Lazard banking fortune. Her book, Parisian Chic: A Style Guide, is out now. In the 1980s she was known as the face of Chanel and became Karl Lagerfeld’s muse for several years. In 1989, she followed in the footsteps of the French actress Catherine Deneuve to become one of the models on whom the French national symbol Marianne is modelled. In June this year she was awarded France’s most prestigious award, the Légion d’Honneur. She runs the exclusive designer shoe label Roger Vivier in Paris. She shared her desert island book choices with Helena Frith Powell.
ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe
Mainly because it is one of those books, rather like The Three Musketeers and Don Quixote, that is hugely famous and I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t read. But I also want to take it along to find out how to meet Friday. My second choice would be the Bible; there are lots of good stories in it and also it will be useful for me to swat up on who’s who, as I can never remember. In addition, on a desert island there’s plenty of time to deal with God.
THE ILIAD AND THE ODYSSEY by Homer
You’ll notice I am only taking extremely thick books. I seem to spend my life saying I have never found the time to read this or that. The Iliad and The Odyssey are books I decided I should have read years ago and haven’t; so now I will finally have the time. Also, there will be a distinct lack of culture on the island so I will bring my own. I suppose I could also use them as a table should I need one, or maybe I will ask Friday to make me a table, or bring a practical manual out with me and learn how to make essential items.
ANTHOLOGY OF FRENCH POETRY
I would find the biggest and most comprehensive anthology I can and spend the long afternoons learning Villon, Du Bellay, Éluard, Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine and all the others. I think that, with age, you become sensitive to poetry. A few weeks ago I read some Baudelaire and was astonished by how beautiful it is. I won’t always be rushing about so I will have time to appreciate poetry. Also I will need beauty, and poetry will give me that. Finally, when I come home, I will impress my daughters who will have been struggling with poetry at school and I will just know it all.
MÉMOIRS D’OUTRE-TOMBE by François-René de Chateaubriand
Julien Gracq called them a “sublime romantic sunset”. There are 42 volumes. I read some of them when I was young but rather under duress, like I read Proust. When I started re-reading them I really appreciated them. I want to dedicate myself full time to completing all the volumes and not just dip in and out while reading other things at the same time. If you focus on something that is well-written, the language enters you and you assimilate it.
THE ART OF HAPPINESS by the Dalai Lama
I will need to create my own happiness on the desert island and so I would take along the Dalai Lama’s book along with all the books written by a friend of mine, Sophie Fontanel, who makes me laugh more than anyone else I know. She is the funniest girl of her generation; her choice of words is extraordinary and utterly original. I would bring Sophie with me so I can laugh alone. There is too much violence in the world, and the Dalai Lama’s book is like a medicine, a magical potion which helps me to imagine life without violence. It is better than an aspirin.
LE MUSEE IMAGINAIRE by André Malraux
Finally. I want to use the time to become more cultured and intelligent so I would take this book. I have lots of literature but I am missing art and my culture. I will be somewhere where there is no past, which is terrifying. It will feel as if it is the end of the world. None of my usual cultural references are there, no old stones, no museums. When you have that all the time you don’t notice it but when it’s missing something doesn’t feel right
L’HOMME QUI PLANTAIT DES ARBES by Jean Giono
Is it a novel? An essay? A fairy tale? Actually, it is a short story National Geographic asked Giono to write. He was supposed to describe someone he had met. The story was a huge success, but when the magazine understood it was fiction they were very angry; Giono was surprised one could reproach a writer like that. However, the idea is that a man alone can transform a region – ideal for a desert island book!
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.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019