In which we consider the relative merits of workboots or Christian Louboutin stilettos for life in the French countryside
Say the words France or French to most women and images of petite figures in Chanel suits gliding elegantly before the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower will inevitably float into their minds at some point or another. It is impossible to separate the idea of my adoptive country from it’s glamorous history of divine couture, mouthwatering accessories and personal chic at its’ most enviable. Instituts de Beauté – beauty parlours – abound in every town and shopping centre and even our tiny local village boasts 3 different ‘coiffeurs’ or hairdressers. A reputation for impeccable grooming is as much a matter of national honour as the excellence of one’s cooking and the results of the national rugby team.
Even in the more everyday world of the countryside there exists a very special breed of Frenchwoman who will retain her chic and hauteur at all times, regardless of weather, season or terrain. I recall with a smile a particularly redoubtable French estate agent with whom we worked some years ago who would clamber into attics and scramble with awe inspiring elegance to the top of farm ladders in her pencil slim skirts and kitten heels to get a better look at the condition of someone’s roof timbers. No amount of farmyard muck would encourage her to sacrifice personal style for practicality. We would emerge from these adventures as classic representatives of our countrys’ own particular styles – she with lipstick intact, manicured nails flashing and not a hair out of place, just a little brushing down and readjustment to the hemline required; I with cobwebs in my bird’s nest hair, no two nails the same length and my sensible shoes and trouser legs covered in mud . I am sure she considered me then a typical English woman, a hopeless case, a fashion disaster.; now, several years down the line, I know that I am precisely that.
I’m afraid I just cannot be French about these things. I have given up the sartorial battle and approach my fashion choices from the strictly practical perspective. Two cats and two dogs can play havoc with even the simplest item of new clothing. Cat hair and doggy slobber do not look good on a pair of black trousers. Italian leather shoes do not survive the mud in the courtyard and the chewing attentions of a labrador. The nicely tailored trouser suits and expensive leather bags from my working life in England now languish forlornly at the back of my seriously diminished wardrobe. In my daydreams I walk elegantly across the courtyard to greet customers in Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein, accessorised of course with Gucci loafers and a billowy scarf from Hermès. In reality I choose each morning from my various pairs of jeans – faded to less faded depending on how frivolous I’m feeling – pull on a sensible sweater or a t-shirt according to the temperature and address the tricky question of whether it’s the trainers or the jackboots today. The most I can hope for is to be English, presentable and tidy. I do wonder though if Christian Louboutin has ever thought of designing a wellington boot collection?