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The Fabulous Clarins Girls

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From left, Prisca, Claire, Jenna, and Virginie at their summer home in St.-Tropez, circa 1994.  

“But the hair stylist, he’s cute, no?” asked Claire.

“He’s 27. He’s Mark,” someone said. “And straight.“

“I got his number,” said Claire, smiling, as if getting a number was the least one could do if someone was nice. “Just fun, anyway. He was nice. It’s nice to have someone who knows you and knows your hair.”

When they were photographed, the girls behaved not like models but like sexy girls who know their best sides. They feel lucky, and it shows. But they are determined to establish that luck isn’t everything—each with the spirit to set herself apart. I saw ­Virginie arguing for her ideas at the Clarins factory. I saw Prisca facing the vexing demands of running her own business. I was there with Jenna as she tried to work out how to improve her technique through obsessive rehearsal, like any young photographer. And though it may sound strange to readers imagining ­gossamer heiresses, I was riveted by the work at Claire’s studio: Her geometric designs and artworks prove she is an exciting and stimulating artist, too.

A book of Man Ray photographs was sitting by a sofa, and Prisca looked at it and nodded. “My sister is a wonderful photographer,” she said. “She has been taking pictures of me. So sad. I sit in the bath, and Jenna takes pictures.”

“Pensive,” said Jenna. “A little bit sad. A little bit alone. I want them to be authentic.”

Someone asked Prisca, who co-owns a trio of nail salons in Paris called Nail Factory, if a beautiful person knows they are beautiful, and did she know it?

“I was so ugly,” she said. (Beautiful people always say that.) “No, I was. Very ugly, and I had no confidence. Now, I am all right.”

The next day, Claire, Virginie, and Jenna joined me for lunch. Melissa Barrett Rhodes was there. They ate lobster salads and talked their heads off about fashion, about how the French couture shows, happening that week, didn’t interest them much. “They’re for old ladies,” said Virginie.

Melissa asked what shows they would want to see in New York in February. “Do you want a stylist,” she asked, “like the one from last year, who can bring things and organize stuff and put it on a rack?”

Claire: “I would like to choose things. You should see our bedroom during ­Fashion Week. A disaster area. We go to the Crosby Street Hotel. It’s like a bomb has exploded in our suite.” Claire was wearing a pair of Acne jeans, flip-flop sandals, a T-shirt, and a beanie by Alexander Wang. Her cardigan was rainbow-colored; she had been pleased to find it in a street market in Guatemala.

Jenna was thinking it through. “I want to wear a French brand.”

“French?” said Melissa.

“Yes, because I’m French.” She said this not tartly but decisively, as if her own priorities should be factored in.

“I love Acne,” said Claire. “Love it. Because it’s so simple.”

The girls agreed that they wanted to go to the Wang show, plus Rag & Bone, plus Marc Jacobs.

The people in the restaurant seemed bored and uninterested in being themselves. They seemed as if they’d prefer to listen to the girls’ plans.

“I love Michael Kors,” said Claire. She ate her salad and ordered a Diet Coke and seemed to drift away, only coming back to the conversation to say that London was an ugly city. “I don’t like tiny windows,” she said. “Tiny doors. It is a midget city. I feel it is a city for people who do not like light.”

Jenna and Prisca’s apartment is on the Left Bank, on the Rue du Vieux–­Colombier. The sitting room is large and white with high ceilings and a general air of family pictures, prized furnishings, and DVD-watching. Jenna had a glass of Champagne, and she walked me round with pride. “We love the past and the future!” she said. In the sitting room there are two raspberry-colored chairs by Hans Wegner with cushions from Conran. There is a large L-shaped gray sofa from Linea Rossa and a geometric coffee table. An orange lamp and various pieces come from the Galerie Clemande, owned by their mother’s friend Rose-Marie Burgevin. The shelves are full of things they love, like a little Leica camera and an old telephone the girls found in London (number KNIGHTSBRIDGE-6351).

There is a blown-up modeling picture of their mother from the seventies. She is Swedish and is 25 years old in the picture, the same age as her daughters are now. The girls began getting dressed to go out to a party that Tod’s was throwing in the Hotel Amour. “We won’t stay long,” said Prisca. The best part for them was getting dressed. On the way to Jenna’s bedroom there is a painting, a watercolor by Marie Laurencin, who was a friend of Picasso’s. “She was a lover of the poet Apollinaire,” said Jenna as we passed.


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