A Chic French Beauty Editor Shares Her Secrets

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Photo: Sylvain Homo for Nose

Although the Cut's French-themed pop-up blog, Paris in 30 Days, is over, French beauty traditions and practices continue to fascinate us. We delved further into the beauty allure of the mysterious French girl by speaking with Lili Barbery-Coulon, who served as a beauty editor at Vogue Paris for eight years. Currently, she's in charge of beauty at M magazine of Le Monde, and runs the popular beauty blog Ma Recreation. She speaks in her own words about French fashion girls and their almond habits, the misconceptions that Americans have about Parisians, and the direct correlation between Beyoncé and French curling-iron sales.

There is a kind of fantasy about the French women — especially of the girl from Paris. She is seen in all the perfume ads and is everywhere. She is this perfect girl who cuts her hair herself. I read that many times and was like, “No way.” We go to a hairdresser like anyone. We’re not punks. And also, they have this impression that we are all super skinny. I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe overall, since we don’t have as much obesity, but I see more skinny girls in New York than in Paris.

Chic is so important. For instance, if I go to a party and I wear makeup, I always think, Is this going to be chic enough? I’m going to do less because I don’t think it is going to be chic. Less is more is always on my mind. It’s better to be underdressed rather than overdressed.

New York City girls are in control all the time. French girls will indulge themselves with very nice dessert and won’t feel guilty, but then they might go to the swimming pool more often than usual. And we drink a lot. It sounds terrible but there’s always a great occasion to open a bottle of red wine. Denis Phaphitis of Aesop and Mathilde Thomas of Caudalie told me it’s important to drink one glass of red wine a day. It’s been said in France that it’s good for your health and skin.

In France, I think a lot of people don’t know about Kim Kardashian. But the people who do know her are not obsessed because they think she is beautiful but more because they think she is ridiculous. But she represents something, I don’t know what. She really does not represent the French kind of beauty. She has a beautiful face and her body is quite something. Her face and skin look quite perfect but I don’t understand why people are so obsessed with her.

But in France, there’s a strong group of people who love Beyoncé and her style and everything. This is why we’ve been selling so many curling irons; I think she brought that kind of culture. And then you’re going to have another group of girls who are maybe more Parisian and who are going to admire the style of Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The iconic Parisian girl is very strong, whether it be Loulou de la Falaise or the women who inspired Yves St. Laurent. But if you go in the underground and metro, you might think people are dirty. Dating back to the 18th century, there was this belief that water related to disease, so if you washed yourself too much, you would get more disease. My grandmother, in the '80s, used to tell me not to wash yourself too much. We’re not obsessed with germs; we’re not obsessed with being super clean all the time. Of course, we do wash ourselves every day. But there’s something we find sexy about not being perfect every day and every second.  The amount of foundation sold in France is quite ridiculous compared to what is sold in Asia or America. We’re not great foundation users. Anytime you can actually see the tricks, it looks wrong to us. If you see a woman is wearing foundation, this is wrong to us. This is how we were brought up.

Every single girl, especially in the fashion industry, all have a guy. You hear French girls saying, “I have this great guy; he takes care of my back. He’s amazing. I sent him to two other women. I don’t know, he reads my mind at the same time.” We all have these weird people taking care of us, who are more important than your hairdresser or nail person. It’s a reflexologist, someone to take care of your feet so you feel relaxed. Everyone knows a personal masseuse who comes at home. Everyone has a great nutritionist who has great tricks about trying to say slim and not starving.

Right now, a lot of girls in the fashion industry are eating almonds because they were told it’s very good for your skin and appetite. They are doing ten almonds a day so that you might have less appetite when you go for lunch. Coffee is out; herbal tea is in. The idea that beauty is linked to health is very important and dates back to the link with food. Food is never something just to feed yourself but is about connecting with each other, and we’re very obsessed with the quality of what we are going to have and about sensual feelings with food. We have the idea that food is going to make you feel beautiful and what you eat is going to reflect in your skin. This is something everyone believes in: Pleasure is as important as the quality of nutrients. If you don’t have any pleasure, you aren’t going to look good.