Read an Excerpt
Natural. Effortless. Chic. These words are music to my ears. They evoke the very essence of a style that's both simple and elegant. I believe that if you know how to be simple--with your hair, your makeup, your clothes, your lifestyle--you can do anything you want, and never go wrong.
Style is not about age, or height, or weight--it's about a sense of ease, a sense of dignity, and a sense of individuality shining through. The elegant women of my childhood in Provence would dress and style themselves the same way, whether they were young or old. Simplicity is the key to that style, that effortless chic.
So, if I had to describe this book, I would say it's a month-by-month guide to simplicity. But simplicity, of course, is not as easy as it sounds. Take Picasso, for instance. At the end of his life, his work was simple, almost childlike. He could never have done what he did, though, without his classical training, which taught him to observe nature and draw from it. It is the same thing with style. First you have to learn to observe. To notice details. To interpret what you see.
I learned to observe by sitting at the terrace of the famous Deux Garçons café in Aix-en-Provence, my hometown in the South of France. Because Aix is a small yet spirited city, watching its street life is a fascinating spectacle. To this day, I am still spellbound by its colors, its movements, and its sounds--and by the way the beautiful sunlight exalts the shape and texture of almost everything.
I often wondered why Aix is considered one of the most style-conscious towns in France. Is it its glorious medieval past? Its superb 17th- and18th-century architecture? Its intellectual life centered around its chic university? Its famous music festival? Keep guessing. Though Aix richly deserves its ten pages in the Michelin guide, there is more to it than just sightseeing. Recently, I came to the conclusion that Aix is unique because, though sophisticated, the town is not alienated from nature.
Sunshine, tall trees, flowers, and countless fountains babbling on shaded squares bring nature right into the heart of this busy city. At every turn, century-old plane trees line up the avenues. Its main street, the famous Cours Mirabeau, has no less than four rows of these gigantic trees. Ancient fountains in the middle of the street slow down traffic. In the dappled light of this majestic boulevard--a green tunnel, really--people wander up and down the wide sidewalks. To take in the sights and enjoy the serenity of this natural setting, they eventually stop at one of the many terrace cafés, where they linger for hours in front of a citron pressé or a pastis.
The appreciation of nature teaches us to have style because it gives us a gentler, wiser, and more poetic view of the world. I noticed that men and women who have style are often people who are in contact with nature. It never fails: In the course of a casual conversation with some quietly stylish people, I usually discover that they are passionate about gardening, sailing, or horse breeding--or that they are experts in forestry, landscaping, geology, kayaking, rock climbing, flower arrangements, you name it.
Last summer, I was introduced to a wealthy man who lives part of the year in Saint-Tropez. We began to chat, and he took me outside to show me his field of olive trees. Proudly, he began to explain to me in great detail how his trees establish their root system, why their wood is resistant to decay, and when is the best time to harvest their olives. While he spoke, I was watching him: He wore light canvas slacks, a blue plaid cotton shirt, a pair of espadrilles, and a straw hat. There was not a single designer label or brand name on his clothes. I suddenly realized that he had incredible style, not because he was wealthy and could afford to dress well, but because he cared about his trees.
Simply put, this is the ultimate secret of style: Be natural. Don't go against nature--your nature. Don't deny it--work with it. You cannot force things to be what they aren't. From the way you smile to the way you walk, dress, eat, or talk, be authentic. Stay away from what's artificial. I know for a fact that, even more than so-called good taste, what you need to have style is a nature-inspired and unpretentious way of looking at things.
A Year's Worth of Style
Style is natural but never static. In this book, chapters go month by month, and the calendar moves day by day, to reflect the spirit of the kind of adjustments that will keep your personal style fresh and alive. I suggest you welcome each new season with a ritual of your own. Make bouquets of seasonal flowers. Reorganize your closet. Throw away old shoes. Buy a new lipstick. Eat vegetables grown locally. Take a slow drive down your favorite country road.
In Provence, people eat food and wear clothes that celebrate the season--and by the season I mean the specific month. The cherries for clafoutis are incredible in June--sweet, sour, tingling with flavor, so that's when we eat them. In the heat of August, the linen sundresses and the cotton scarves come out, in colors--deep coral reds, rich cerulean blue--that stand up to the heat, that mimic its intensity.
I'd watch the women at the farmers' markets every week, and marvel at the little adjustments they made as the seasons came and went: A young girl who always put her hair up with a pair of chopsticks during the summer would use a pencil instead, once school started. The elegant mother of four who went everywhere with a huge, chic leather bag would change to a straw panier as summer approached. The man in my mother's favorite antique shop changed from thin khakis to jeans to corduroys as the Provençal winds got harsher and colder. The flowers at our favorite café changed every day: poppies, lavender, lilies.
Life is different now, in that we all travel everywhere, at any time of year. So the adjustments we make have to be quicker: You might have a two-week business trip that goes from Dallas to Seattle to Brussels to Miami. Fashion trends change faster, too. The key to staying stylish in the face of all these demands on your wardrobe and your schedule is to accentuate what's best about you. Instead of trying to keep up with the latest fashion, pick only the changes you like and have a ball.
Underneath it all, there needs to be a core of simplicity and even practicality behind those choices. Style is a few great things you can always depend on, from a slipdress that never fails to make you feel sexier and a pair of sunglasses that simply oozes sophistication and glamour, to lavender water sprayed on your sheets and pillow cases to make you sleep like a baby, to a recipe that instantly charms your guests. Remember: Style is just another word for what makes you feel better and what makes your life easier, month after month.