With the runways all Yves Saint Laurent-inspired pussy-bow blouses and prim court shoes this season, Gallic icon Catherine Deneuve is tête-à-tête with Brazilian bombshell Gisele as the fashion front line's belle du jour. But for those of us who didn't acquire natural chic in our maman's milk, pulling off the pulled-together Parisian look can be more than a little daunting. Well, calmez-vous, mesdames: Here's how to live ladylike chic an ocean away from those BCBG beauties looking down their perfectly powdered noses.
For starters, slip on those Christian Louboutin slingbacks, grab your Jamin Puech boat-print bag, and sashay on down to Patisserie Claude for the best croissants in le tout New York. Greet the endearingly grumpy Claude with a brisk Bonjour as you push past the line of glaring customers and order one of his flaky-yet-fluffy pastries and a café-crème. The newsstand at the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 4th Street sells Le Monde (France's Gray Lady) and the fabulous weekly French Elle, excellent companions for a leisurely petit déjeuner in Washington Square Park.
All those fresh, French figures in their lacy lingerie: It's enough to make a demoiselle shiver under her YSL trench (or is it the Allegra da Verio version, $245 at Variazioni?). Time to replace your Calvin Klein gray marl ensemble with something a little more ooh-la-la at Le Corset, the SoHo boutique that could have you thinking you were in the 1er arrondissement, if it weren't for the ultra-friendly service. Affect an air of studied nonchalance as the sales assistants hand you Selima's elegantly fluid satin-silk tunics ($242), Fifi Chachnil's coquette-kitsch baby-doll bras ($115), Carine Gilson's pick-me-up pink and burgundy lace garters ($220): "Frenchwomen pay attention to zee little things," purrs shapely shop manager Pascele. "Zey know 'ow to pleez zer man. Chic is all in zee details."
For more of the details, drop by A.P.C. (a SoHo twist on the chichi Champs Élysées) for its classic stiff indigo jeans, trinket store Agatha for some très-glam rhinestone earrings, and Sephora for a pot of Bourjois sparkly shadow (made by Chanel but sold at a fraction of the price). Also, French general store Le Gamin is chock-full of "zee little things": chocolate-caramel bars, called Carambars, stuffed into old pots of crème fraîche, tubes of Elgydium toothpaste (a must to keep any wannabe Parisienne's pearly whites comme il faut), and pairs of "Tropeziennes," faux-crocodile thongs that will bring a touch of Saint Tropez to Southampton ($145).
On to a late lunch at Les Deux Gamins (the Robert Arbor-owned chain is spreading faster than Nutella on a Balthazar baguette), where the air contains more tobacco smoke than oxygen. Order something léger, perhaps a frisée aux lardons (a.k.a. a bacon salad). Don't eat too much; better yet, don't eat at all -- just sip Perrier and smoke Camel Lights between courses. ("I know it's bad for you, but it's such a graceful gesture," as Jean Paul Gaultier so wisely put it after sending his models cigarette-in-hand down the spring runway.)
A glance at your Cartier Tank tells you it's time to head uptown for an appointment with Gérard at Louis Licari (the one rendezvous for which it is not fashionable to be late). Louis may be the king of color, but Gérard is the count of cuts. His tip for achieving a fashionably French look? "You have two options: a straight Louise Brooks bob or a gamine Ines de la Fressange." Either way you'll fit right in with the grandes dames who sip tea (forget ladies who lunch) at Payard Patisserie.
As you make your way along 57th Street, indulge in a spot of lèche-vitrine (or window-licking): The storefronts read like an A-Z of Parisian chic: Chanel, Dior, Vuitton. Payard's delectable chocolate mousse and crème brûlée Élysées ($4.75) will inspire an aching need in the pit of your stomach. But recall that lingerie and order a small macaroon ($1) and pot of Lapsang Souchon ($3.50) instead.
You thought tea and sympathy was a purely English prerogative? Stand corrected, ma chère: Mariage Frère's Earl Grey ($14 at Dean & Deluca) is the only thing to serve on lazy mornings with those biscottes, President butter, and Bonne Maman jam (all available at Balducci's). On your way downtown, stop by très recherché beauty haven Aedes De Venustas for L'Artisan Parfumeur's silk teabags of all-natural slip-in-your-pocket perfume ($10): essential aromatic accessories for ce soir's tête-à-tête at Casimir.
Let your date know you prefer the more bohemian ambience at this Avenue B bistro to that of either Pastis or Balthazar -- don't bother mentioning that it's much easier to get a reservation here and that it's half the price. As you arrive with a nonchalant "Is that the time?," air-kiss your way around the close-set tables and head for the banquettes. Order a steak tartare (the raw egg comes on the side) with a bottle of Moulin-à-Vent. When the dim globe lights and lazy ceiling fans have lulled you into a fine fatigue, bid au revoir to your date and head home. Hastily kicking off your heels, pour a tulip glass of Camp Romain Single Distillery cognac and surrender to the persistent pensée du jour: Coco may have liberated ladies from their corsets, but the replacement rules are equally binding.
Patisserie Claude, 187 W. 4th St. (212-255-5911); Variazioni, 37 W. 57th St. (212-980-4900); Le Corset, 80 Thompson St. (212-334-4936); A.P.C., 131 Mercer St. (212-966-9685); Agatha, 610 Fifth Ave., near 50th St. (212-586-5890); Sephora, 636 Fifth Ave., at 51st St. (212-245-1633); Le Gamin, 114 W. Houston St. (646-654-6685); Les Deux Gamins, 170 Waverly Pl. (212-807-7357); Louis Licari, 693 Fifth Ave., at 54th St. (212-517-8084); Payard Patisserie, 1032 Lexington Ave., at 74th St. (212-717-5252); Casimir, 103 Ave. B (212-358-9683).