There is a huge market of marketing all things French to Anglosaxons and in that respect the title of today's post is in part taken off a popular "French lifestyle guide" aimed at Americans. Even though I have serious doubts about the factual veracity of both the "glamour puss" image of the French or the "gauche" approach of Anglos on all matters lifestyle (or is it?), there is something to be said about the interest that is generated about the use of perfume the French way in the hearts of fragrance lovers who devour all perfume advice with an insatiable appetite! In that regard I have amassed some excerpts from various sources which I will present to you in installments.
Allure Magazine recently published a beauty article called "French Lessons", by Judy Bachrach, focusing on perfume choosing and application rules. Even though most of the "rules" are field for heated discussion (especially since they rely on a certain national stereotype that seems to perpetuate a humiliating response in the American reader, following the trendy viewpoint of dumping on everything American), we thought it might provide fodder for discussion for our readers.
So here are the 7 Rules on How to Wear Perfume the French Way, according to Allure magazine:
1. There is only one reason, if you're French, to wear perfume. And that reason is seduction.
2. In France the scent you dab defines who you are.
3. A girl who picks a fragrance at 12 doesn't have to remain true to the scent for life.
4. There are times when you simply have to divorce your perfume.
5. Try not to wear the same scent as your mother.
6. Never leave home without it.
7. Never ask a Frenchwoman what perfume she's wearing. They don't want to share their signature scent.
On the other hand, even in books which rely rather on expanding the above mentioned social divide that lies between these two very different countries (and in general between Anglos and continental Europe), there are interesting tidbits about perfume use. The reason probably is that even though it's the French who made perfume the marketable good that it is, cultivating the fragrance industry early and seriously, it's really the Anglos who have a keen interest in fragrance, smelling it, owning it, collecting it and alternatively enthusiastically embracing it or shunning it with just as much passion.
Writes Helena Frith Powell (an author on the subject): "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."
In Fatale, How French Women Do It by Edith Kunz, the seminal little guide into all things French which spawned a legion of similar style volumes, (some more serious than others), there is a chapter devoted to French perfume use. In it, the author rightfully demonstrates how the habit of perfume wearing began in France as a temporary cure for a general state of filth and expands into describing the (supposed) French ritual of wearing fragrance for purposes of seduction. Even though the procedure isn't particularly novel ~bath soak in aromatic oils, followed by scented body lotion and scented dusted powder, with fragrance as an end note~, it does present a couple of interesting tidbits: According to Kunz French femme fatales apply perfume to the pulse points with a generously moistened cotton puff instead of fingers or the stopper (My own suggestion of a better way to do that would be to use a small silk handerchief on the stopper, which can then aromatize your handbag). As to where to put that perfume, perhaps the most famous quip comes from Chanel who suggested to a client asking "wherever you want to be kissed". Not to quench anyone's imagination, but there is a plethora of (unusual) key points to consider in your fragrancing ritual:
heels, arches and between the toes
the inner and outer ankle bone
behind the knees
the underside of the derriere
the pubic area and the navel
under each breast and between the breasts
the shoulders and upper arms
inside the bend of the elbow
the pulse points at the inner wrist
the back of the hand and between the fingers
the hollow at the bottom of the neck
all around the collar bone
under the chin
along the jaw line
behind the ears and on the earlobes
on the temples
along the back of the neck to the shoulder blades
around the hairline
If this isn't enough for your routine, I don't know what might be! Surely a loaded, decadent perfuming process, but one which would make one unforgettable. Whether that would be in a positive or negative light remains within the grasp of your actual perfume choice and one crucial detail, in the words of Powell "don’t overdo it, perfume has to give a hint of sweet things to follow, not knock your date out". Eh, bien sûr!
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Drapeau tricolore: Quintessential French Perfumes Selection, Stars & Stripes: 10 Quintessentially American Perfumes.
art illustration via makeupandbeauty.com