For years we've asked ourselves the same question: just how is it possible for French women to look so good all of the time?
It is the Holy Grail of styles; a combination of not caring how you look while still managing to make everyone's heads turn the moment you walk into a room. The only time we've achieved anything similar is when we were unaware our dress was tucked into our knickers.
For years their sophistication and poise has eluded us but no more! We have undertaken some serious research in the name of truly figuring out their je ne sais quoi and have discovered just the formula for the effortless, yet utterly flawless look, with a run-down of France's ultimate style and beauty icons.
From Catherine Deneuve to Brigitte Bardot as well as more modern muses such as Audrey Tautou and Caroline de Maigret, behold the ultimate guide to being chic.
While Catherine Deneuve began her acting career in 1957 in the film Les Collégiennes, she made her name by starring in Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour, as the frustrated and bored housewife who spends her days working as a part-time prostitute. Renowned for playing aloof characters, she earned the nickname 'ice maiden' but that didn't detract away from her striking beauty. With large doe eyes and sleek blonde hair, she is still one of France's most elegant and beautiful women today.
On style: “The thing about a tuxedo is that it is virile and feminine at the same time.”
On beauty: “It is very fashionable for good-looking ladies to say how hard it is to be beautiful, but that’s not true. There are times when it depresses and bothers me to see just how easy things are made for a beautiful woman.”
On wellbeing: “People who know me know I'm strong, but I'm vulnerable.”
On love and happiness: “Love is suffering. One side always loves more.”
Since her big screen debut in Manon des Sources in 1986, we've admired Emmanuelle's allure. Of course, her affect on men (and let's be honest, women too) has been well documented. In 2003, the actress appeared on the cover of French Elle (third picture below) completely nude. The entire print run of 550,000 copies sold out in just three days, which made it the biggest-selling issue in the magazine's history. At that point, the actress had turned 40, proving that you really can get better with age.
On style: “Sometimes you feel more naked when you're totally dressed than the other way around.”
On beauty: “Beauty is not something you can count on. Usually, when people say you are beautiful, it is when there is a harmony between the inside and the outside.”
On wellbeing: “I am a voyager - and the voyage cannot mean that I stay at home.”
On love and happiness: “We've all had that fear, that despair of losing someone, or this fierce desire because it's not reciprocated. The less reciprocation there is, the more desire we have.”
The daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg was never not going to be cool. While she doesn't go for thick eyeliner or figure-hugging clothing, what makes Charlotte so appealing is the fact that she's comfortable in her own skin and doesn't try too hard.
On style: “I have to be honest with who I am, and I like uniforms.”
On beauty: "My mother is a great example of someone who has done nothing, although she was born very beautiful. She said that during the 1960s, due to all the makeup, all the girls looked the same. She said you should stay as authentic as possible."
On wellbeing: “Letting go of things and not being afraid of being ridiculous or over the top - I think that's the main thing for me to work on”
On love and happiness: “When you love someone, you don't want them to suffer at all”
Where do we start with Brigitte? This is the woman who made tousled bouffant hair and thick eyeliner mainstream way before Alexa Chung came along (although we still love her look too). She epitomized sex appeal and made it OK to want to be sexy and also show it off.
On style: “Fashion may not be a weapon of the woman but at least it gives her the ammunition.”
On beauty: “What could be more beautiful than a dear old lady growing wise with age? Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it.”
On wellbeing: “I have understood that the most important things are tenderness and kindness. I can't do without them.”
On love and happiness: “When I love, I do it without counting. I give myself entirely. And each time, it is the grand love of my life.”
A pageboy haircut isn't exactly a synonym for beautiful or sexy but in 2001's Amelie Audrey Tautou made people sit up and notice her cropped bangs and chunky bob. Perhaps it's her innocent look that really gives Audrey her edge or maybe it's because she has an incredible happy smile. Whatever it is, we love it.
On style: Speaking about Coco Chanel: “She really wanted to have freedom of a man, and at first the only way she could find that freedom was through the clothes. They freed her movement; she got rid of the corset. This imposed her not as a decoration but as a real personality. She invented a new way of seductions through these clothes.”
On beauty: “I had a haircut that made me look like a football player, but in the ’80s, you know? Curly but…I don’t know. And I also had a very, very, very short fringe, more in the Spanish style. Yes, it was a terrible experience. I hate going to the hair salon.”
On wellbeing: “I’m really not one to self analyse. I’m curious about the people around me, curious about discovering things, but I’m not curious about myself.”
On love and happiness: “I understand that we cannot make other people happy when they are unhappy.”
Caroline de Maigret
If you're not sure who Caroline de Maigret is, allow us to explain. She was first spotted by a modelling agency in 1993 and soon began walking for fashion houses such as Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. Since then she's launched her own music label Bonus Tracks Records with her partner Yarol Poupaud, and is a muse for Chanel. She is consistently featured in street style shots at every fashion week going, not to mention the fact she's a front row regular. She embodies Parisian chic.
On style: “I think men’s shirts. I love [Alix] Thomsen. She’s a Parisian girl, but she sells online everywhere. And she dresses all my friends, like Léa Seydoux, Cécile Cassel—all the French girls.”
On beauty: “There was a thing about Preparation H—this cream for hemorrhoids—that I used to put on my [under-eye] bags in the ’90s. I also put blush really close to my nose—it looks like you’ve had sex.”
On wellbeing: “I think it’s just part of our culture—we’re used to not having a Prince Charming. You see how people act in life and we don’t lie to ourselves…It’s OK to have wrinkles, but we treat ourselves so that we look better. You’re not going to stab yourself if you have wrinkles and say, “Oh, my life is fucked!” We realize that there is no ideal and that chasing an ideal is exhausting.”
On love and happiness: “As for infidelity the golden rule is denial. "What is good for you is good for your relationship -- basically you're just being a thoughtful girlfriend," they suggest. – From her book”
As the face of Dior, it's no wonder that Marion Cotillard regularly appears on best dressed lists. She's elegant, chic and always well put together. While she isn't preppy (French women don't do preppy), she is particularly well groomed.
On style: “To be honest, I didn't consider fashion to be an art until I became involved with Dior. They changed my vision of fashion whereas I never paid attention to it before. Although I loved to dress and I liked clothes, now I see it as a very special form of art.”
On beauty: “I was raised with the idea of beauty in a different way. To me, it is something that really comes out of you and surrounds you.”
On wellbeing: “If you search and search and stop searching, then ultimately you'll find what you need. It is the experience of living.”
On love and happiness: “Since having Marcel, every day of my life has been alight with him. One of the things I have learned recently is that I have the ability to be happy. I have found that in my family. And that is a new thing. And that hasn't always been the case for me - so I know how lucky I am.”
As the former editor of Vogue Paris, Carine has completely altered the way we dress, either inspiring us from what she's wearing or through the many magazines and campaigns she's styled and edited. While she started out her career as a model, she ended up writing and styling for magazines. Although she admits she wasn't the best stylist, when she met Mario Testino the pair began a working relationship that saw them produce campaigns for the likes of Tom Ford at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. But not only that, we're constantly trying to imitate her classic smokey eye matched with a deep tan look.
On style: “I have good legs, so I prefer my skirt lengths and my high heels. It's like my uniform. Fashion's about extravagance, and everyone needs a bit of that.”
On beauty: “Makeup can help you capture a moment.”
On wellbeing: “I keep my old friends, and get older with them, but push young. It's good to be surrounded by kids, because they keep you young.”
On love and happiness: “When you give a lot of confidence in people and you don't get it back, you are a bit disappointed, but it's life.”
Beautiful Juliette has captivated audiences for a long time, whether than was winning an Oscar for her performance in The English Patient or cooking up delicious desserts opposite Johnny Depp in Chocolat, she knows how to hold a viewer's gaze. While she isn't a go-to for fashion forward styles, she opts for the classics such as a fitted white tux jacket, to really show off her figure. As for her skin, we envy that subtle glow.
On style: “I'm not obsessed by looks. I think you can become a prisoner of your own image.”
On beauty: “The thing is that I never felt beautiful. I really never did. I think I can change my looks and be different things, but I’ve never thought of myself as this face.”
On wellbeing: “I want to know why I'm alive. I want to understand. It's like exploration; it's like someone being interested in a place and its history, digging into the earth and looking for it, searching - it's a passion.”
On love and happiness: “Attraction is beyond our will or ideas sometimes.”
We've been enanoured with actress, singer and model, Vanessa Paradis ever since she made her debut on the single Joe Le Taxi in 1988. Since then we've been highly influenced by her youthful and ethereal style. As if she couldn't get any cooler, in 1998 she even married Johnny Depp, basically making them the most stylish couple ever.
On style: “I just like putting outfits together without much thought and seeing what the outcome is.
On beauty: on her hair: “I wash it twice a week and I don't blow it out because it's super curly, so I just leave it alone. When I'm on a photo shoot or a set, the stylists always blow it out or treat it with lots of products. So when I'm not working, I try to let it rest. I put olive oil on it sometimes to keep it strong and give it shine. But if you're going to do that, do not put olive oil in your hair before you go into the sun. Then your hair will crisp and burn!”
On wellbeing: “My mum told me to have patience. It's about realising that when things aren't going the way you want them to, or you don't have inspiration, it will come.”
On love and happiness: “Sometimes you could be in an unhappy relationship; you are very much in love with someone, but it's making you unhappy and you think things can change and you can work it out.”