Thursday, March 06, 2008

Two Lipsticks, a Lover, and Don’t Forget the Matching Knickers

I recently had the opportunity to interview Helena Frith-Powell, author of, Two Lipsticks and a Lover, Ciao Bella: In Search of My Italian Father, More More France Please, Armas De Mujer/ Be Incredibly Sexy, and Everything You Need to be Impossibly French. Helena has a new book coming out soon, entitled, To Hell in High Heels, which will be released soon (and can currently be pre-ordered on Amazon).

Helena began her career at a young age in modeling and fashion design, later working as a journalist for a financial magazine and then as a recruiter. Helena began writing again after her move to France, and Is a regular contributor to The Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, and other magazines and newspapers.

While you may recognize her as a best-selling author, what you may not know is that Helena has just opened a rejuvination spa in the south of France, aimed at providing a restful retreat for women. The spa, called Renew Retreats, caters to a vacation-style setting, and is the result of Helena’s partnership with yoga teacher and psychotherapist Anna Cooper and holistic dermatologist, anti-ageing expert and nutritionist Tina Richards.

Helena says about the spa, “This is a different kind of retreat because it takes into account not just your looks, but your diet, your mindset, your everyday skincare routine, your style, grooming and exercise. It is designed for your well-being on a mental and physical level. But unlike superficial anti-ageing treatments like Botox, these therapies go deep under the skin to renew and revitalise.”

Given that Helena and I live about as far apart from each other as two people possibly can, we conducted our interview via email. Even over the written word, I could immediately tell how witty and funny Helena is, and how calm and centered, too. It did make me wonder if this part-time Pilates teacher needs to leave to full-time rat race and work in a spa, too. Below are the results of our interview:

Q How has your perception of French women has changed since you wrote your books, “Two Lipsticks, etc.” If you were to write the book today, what would you add/remove?
A Yes, my perception has changed in two rather different ways: One, I realise that they are even more perfect than I first thought they were in the major cities, but also that they most of them simply couldn't care less in the countryside. They even wear slippers to the shops!

Q Is it really that difficult to make friends with French women? How did you meet with the French women she knows today? What do they do when they get together?
A It is very difficult. Where I live, I have one French friend. I met her through her husband who makes a wine I became addicted to and wanted to introduce to a friend who runs wine bars in London. French women don't tend to get together in the way we do, they don't really seem to enjoy each other's company on the same scale.

Q Have French women approached you about your books? If so, what have they had to say about her description of them?
A All the criticism I have had has come from French women! They don't like to be pigeon-holed and hate the cliche that they are faithless and obsessed with they way they look. But as I always point out, cliches start somewhere!

Q What would you say the biggest pitfall or misconception American and British women have about French women?
A That they are rude. This is of course true of some of them, but really at worst they can be described as haughty.

Q How would you define that certain je ne sais quoi that French women seem to possess? Can it be taught? How (if at all) can it be achieved outside France ?
A I would define it as an inner confidence that comes from growing up in a country where women are revered. The symbol of France (Marianne), is a woman, for example. I also think it comes from knowing you are making the best of yourself, mentally and physically, and yes of course anyone can do that.

Q What misconceptions do women outside of France have about the slimness of French women? How do you feel about this slim reality/ideal?
A The slim ideal is changing, sadly. But still, French women are much thinner than their UK counterparts. I once asked an Englishman who lives in Paris what the main difference between a French and an Englishwoman is and he said "about 10 kilos."

Q This is the “desert island” question: if you had to leave France for an extended period, what would you stock up on before you left? What types of skin care, food stuff, clothes, underwear, something else?
A Matching underwear! That's the first thing. Then some of the wine mentioned above, lots of sunblock, moisturizer and bath oils. As I write about beauty, the products I use are not by any means exclusively French. My total favourites are both American: Philosophy and Laura Mercier.

Q What is your favorite piece of clothing or outfit? How has your wardrobe changed since moving to France ?
A My favourite piece of clothing at the moment is a small furry waistcoat my husband bought me in a local underwear shop for Christmas. I think you're meant to wear it in bed over your pyjamas but I wear it all the time. Yes my wardrobe has changed radically! I was told I was eccentric when I first came here so I think I am more classic now, I tend to look at Elle every week to see what's going on.

Q What are the advantages for her children of attending French school? what are the disadvantages?
A The advantage is discipline, the disadvantage is that they grow up thinking Napoleon was a good bloke!

Q What are your favorite French film(s)? French actress, actor and/or director?
A I have to admit I find most French films totally incomprehensible but I do love Jules & Jim and Belle de Jour. I think Juliette Binoche is my favourite French actress, she is so naturally beautiful and difficult to deal with - very French.

Q What French traditions have you and your family taken up since moving to France ? What traditions have you dropped? What French traditions do you not bother with/understand/ dislike?
A We always eat at midday now and we have bread with every meal. We no longer have a traditional English Sunday roast every Sunday. I quite like the French rhythm of life, how everything shuts for lunch, some expats find that infuriating but I think it's very civilised.

Q What are your favorite Parisian shops/department stores/food havens? What do you buy when you visit them?
A Galleries Lafayette - the biggest underwear space in the whole of Europe and thousands of creams. Chantal Thomass (also underwear) very Parisian and intimate. The classic food haven Hediard near the Place de la Madeleine, an Aladdin's cave of goodies.

Q What do you miss about the UK/British culture?
A The sense of humour, flexibility, friends, M&S, Waitrose.

Q How difficult was it to move to France? In general, the logistics of it. Is it easy to be a resident of another country and take up residence in France ?
A Very easy, now it is even easier, there is no need for a carte de sejour even.
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You can find out more about Helena’s spa here:

Helena’s blog and more information about her can be found here:

© Anna Larsen 2008. All Rights Reserved.


elle said...

Anna! I owe you an email - things have been insane beyond madness here but I miss you and I love reading your blog and hearing tales of all your centering adventures. I promise to write this week - spring break, time to catch up on my life (and research). Ack! What a great interview. I loved "Two lipsticks" - I remember thinking yes, this jives more with reality and less with the fantasy of France...although I still think that her version of being French involves having serious pocketbook assets unknown in the realm of grad students!

vanillaetchocolat said...

thank you sooo much for taking the time to di this, Anna...

elizabeth said...

Thank you for posting this interview! I love Paris and all things French and especially enjoy reading about the French lifestyle. Your interviewee's experience is very much like the author of Almost French.

Allie said...

What a great interview. Thanks so much Anna for doing this! :)

Anna said...

Thanks, everyone! I'm glad you liked the interview; it was really fun chatting with Helena.