To the rest of us, French women seem to live a kind of charmed life: they ooze style while seeming not to care a bit about trends, they feast daily on baguettes, pastries and cheese and never gain a pound, they are born with a special je ne sais quoi that non-francophones apparently have no access to. Lucky for us, Mireille Guiliano, beloved author (and real-life French woman!) has let the cat out of the bag. Ever since her first book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” shot up the bestseller list in 2005, women all over the world have looked to Guiliano as the patron saint of Francophiles in search of the French way of life. Five years and 3 books later, Guiliano is back with the “French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook,” a personal cookbook filled with childhood memories, philosophical tidbits and easy French recipes she cooks at home herself. “I’m not a chef, I’m not trying to pretend to be an expert but I am a home cook,” she says. “All my life I had the same challenge: I’d get home at 8pm, tired and hungry, and I didn’t want to spend 3 hours cooking, but I always made something fresh, every night, in 20 minutes…and its possible!”
Read on to learn more about Mireille Guiliano’s simple and inspiring approach to food, life and style.
How is the American approach to food different from the French approach?
Well, I live in both New York and Paris, and in New York people don’t cook, they take you to a restaurant. They don’t have the time, they don’t know, they’re afraid to cook. But when I go to France, my French friends (and they work, they have kids) always invite me over for dinner. They say bring a bottle of wine or some bread, they make one dish and we have a great dinner together. The table is more than just sitting and eating—it’s conviviality, its sharing, it’s conversation, its relaxing, its humour, its so many things that people here have not yet realized that it is. In America, people have become fascinated by food—they go to restaurants and watch all these TV shows…but they don’t cook! Until you connect with food and start cooking for yourself, you really can’t change your life. I’m not saying that all my French friends cook like my mother did, three times a day, every day of the year, that’s no longer true, but even the ones who work and travel a lot, at least two or three times a week, they make a statement and they cook dinner at home. I always say, cooking is an act of love and that’s the best thing you can offer to anyone.
With women doing more and more these days, how can we find balance?
The one thing we control is our time. If you decide that you want to devote half an hour, three times a week, to cooking a meal and then sitting with your family and eating together, you have to decide what you can cut, and there’s plenty! Whether its watching TV or going shopping, something has to give at the beginning but you’ll soon see what a difference it makes in your life.
The 21st century unfortunately is a trap because we’re not doing less, especially us women, we’re doing more. All these gadgets only give us more work. So we have to take time for ourselves, and we shouldn’t feel selfish about it, because as a result we’ll better wives, better mothers, better colleagues, better everything.
You’ve let us in on the secret to French women staying slim, what’s the key to French women’s style?
The first book was about changing your relationship with food. The second book was about applying the same principles to anything in your life like style and fashion. There are a few basic philosophical points you can apply: less is more, quality over quantity. If you have a little black dress, you don’t need to buy a new one every six months, you can accessorize it with jewelry or a beautiful scarf and you have a whole new wardrobe. French women like classic and timeless, but we try to add a little touch of fun, whether it’s in colour or design.
How would you describe your personal style?
Simplicity in all things. I love to be well dressed but I’m not a shopper. I like to read about trends and look at magazines and take some ideas but basically with a few pieces I can make myself look “fashionable” every season with very few changes. I think it’s a discovery of yourself over the years and learning what suits you best.
What are your five key wardrobe pieces?
I LOVE leggings—I have dark purple, black and grey leggings and with that, I can go anywhere. And I love layers and scarves because you can really have some fun and play with it. A perfect white blouse goes a long way and this season has some marvelous white blouses, longer ones you can wear one top of leggings. And I have a few colourful blouses as an in-between. And for me, stilettos are no longer part of my wardrobe—I rarely wear them. This season it’s again flats, loafers and now Derbys are coming back big time in Paris. They’re very comfortable and you can even wear them at night—they look really great!
Who is your style icon?
Maybe because I’m French but I still go to Coco Chanel, Madame Carven and Schiaparelli as the greatest women. They understood the human body better than anybody else.
Any favourite designers?
If I were younger and had to go out a lot (and could afford it!) I would wear Lanvin. What Alber Elbaz does with drapes is amazing. It doesn’t suit my size and personality exactly today but I love what he does for women. To me a good designer is a mix of an architect and an interior decorator—the clothes really have to be well cut and few designers can do that really well.
If you are in Toronto, don’t miss the rare opportunity to meet Guiliano on April 19, 7pm at Indigo at Manulife Centre (55 Bloor St. W.) where she’ll be sitting down with our Editor-in-Chief Rita Silvan to discuss her new book and how to find pleasure in all things a la Francaise.
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