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  • Debra Palmen

The Three Secrets of French Style

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

At last, after years of visiting Paris and observing an endless array of Glamazons in their natural habitat, I have unlocked The Three Secrets of French Style. And because, bien sur, I am a true and wonderful friend I am sharing them with you.

You would pay a stylist a load of money for this advice. And for those unkind souls who are currently thinking Ha! What style? – just remember you are not anonymous. I know who you are.

Yes, looking at you.

But enough with the death threats, here are the three things you need to master French style:

1. You need fabulous hair, fabulously styled. No frizz in sight.

2. You need clothes with a simple, elegant cut in a very good fabric. No lurid colours, please.

3. You need to be dang skinny. Dang skinny.

And if you really want to rock French style let’s add one last tip, for extra points:

4. You need really good shoes, in good condition.

For men or women, it’s as simple as that. And as hard as that. Fortunately, I have fabulously straight, shampoo-commercial hair right now, so I tick Point 1. But dammit! against all other points.

I always wander around Paris looking like a bag lady, partly to avoid being mugged when I’m carrying a large amount of jewellery after a buying spree, but also because I have never mastered trudging for miles in anything other than runners. But Parisians don’t bat an eyelid at the eccentrics who walk among them.

So when Doug and I strolled into the Dior shop on the Champs Elysee, looking like we’ve been travelling for a few weeks (what could politely be called a little dishevelled) we were nonetheless greeted with big smiles and solicitous attention. And even though they couldn’t help me – fancy the Dior shop in the middle of bleedin’ Paris not stocking all blends of Dior perfume – the attractive young man helping me practically took my hand to walk me just down the road to Sephora.

Sephora, for the ultra-chic among you (do I have ultra-chic readers? Of course I do!) is Cosmetics Nirvana. I don’t wear a great deal of makeup, but if I did I would have been just as thrilled as all the stylish ladies – and some men – thronging the store. It’s famous around the world, and has anything you could ever wish for on the cosmetics front. Including, yay!, the Dior perfumes that I haven’t been able to source in Australia for years.

So now I shall be fragrant at every opportunity. And the young lady who helped me also gave me samples of other Dior perfumes that I might like to consider for my next, visit plus a variety of potions that might not do any good but they sure feel nice on your skin. Who knew that I would love a shop like Sephora? But I’m a total convert and it’s absolutely on my list to visit during my next trip to Paris.

So our stroll along the Champs Elysee turned out to be an expensive expedition. But to my credit, I did walk straight past Cartier, Tiffany, Mont Blanc, Guerlain, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and many other desirable boutiques. One little stop in Dior (and Sephora) was my only lapse. Then we ensconced on a batobus to cruise along the Seine for a while, picnicking while taking in all the major sights. Seeing Paris from the water is a quiet, gentle way to reacquaint yourself with the city.

Early next morning, smelling wonderful dahling, it was off to the Porte de Vanves market. It wasn’t long before we had loaded up with colourful enamelware, antique copper (including a cool old tubular water bottle), lovely pictures and some stunning French and American costume jewellery.

I haven’t bought a lot of jewellery since we stopped running a retail outlet because it’s not the sort of thing that does well in markets. But while we have a pop-up shop, I thought what the heck. I enjoy buying it and I found some lovely pieces. And yes, they’re coming home in my luggage.

I also bought a nice range of Christmas Tree brooches, vintage style rather than really old, because really old Christmas Tree brooches have become gobsmackingly expensive. Jeez! I couldn’t believe some of the prices, so I invested instead in pieces that look pretty good to my eye. Mine is an experienced eye, if I say so myself, and if I didn’t know they weren’t old I would be hard-pressed to tell. I’ll offer them at great prices, and we’ll see what everyone else thinks.

Excellent buys for us included a Qing Dynasty Double Happiness ginger jar for a fraction of what it’s worth, and a show-stopping 1920s Chinese brush pot. I’ve been looking for an early 19th century Double Happiness ginger jar to replace one I purchased from a Chinese dealer years ago. It was damaged enroute to my house and prices have risen so much I’ve never been able to afford to replace it, even going straight to the source in Hong Kong. So finding one in Paris for less than 10% of its actual value was exceptionally lucky. And it proves, yet again, that you've got to get up really early for the Paris Markets. I found this piece just as the dealer put it out, and as I was examining it two other dealers were already circling. Both of these treasures are staying at our house. But plenty of other fabulous things will be appearing in the shop.

On Sunday morning we visited the St Ouen Puce (also known as Clignancourt). But boy, prices haven’t gotten any cheaper there over the years. I saw plenty I liked, but absolutely nothing I could afford. Even in Vernaison, the segment of the Puce that’s a rabbit warren of tiny lanes branching in all directions, packed with tiny shops that traditionally offer the cheapest prices, I came up empty. Still, it’s good to know where you can and can’t shop.

Then it was a wallowing trip in heavy swell back across the Channel to England, for the business end of the trip. The Lincoln and Newark Fairs are the two biggest in Europe, and if you can’t get a load of shopping done there you’re just not trying.

But oh no! Zoltan the Magnificent, my main source of fabulous enamelware, emailed to tell me that he’s not coming this time! You should have been able to hear me wailing from wherever you are. He told me last year that with Brexit things were too uncertain and he might try America instead. And obviously he meant it because right now he's in Texas.

I can only hope that Robert, my second-best enamelware supplier, turns up. Who knows? Despite what I just said about how good these Fairs are, it might be slim pickings for me this time. Still, all I really want now is enamelware and some enormous French wooden chopping boards. I’ve already shopped up a storm everywhere else, so my needs are few at Lincoln and Newark. Now let’s see if they deliver.

Meanwhile, I've included a random sample here of Paris Market buys. I think I'll have a bit of fun styling the pop-up shop with the goodies I've found. More photos, with descriptions and prices, on FB.

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