Sunday, February 27, 2011

Secrets of Style: French Chic

If you need some real-life French inspiration, take a few minutes to play this video. French women are born with it. The rest of us need a little assistance.

Cue Marjorie...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How to Seduce

Yesterday I had a hair appointment to keep. In the almost three hours I was there (I know) I read a lot of magazines. Thankfully they had plenty of new Australian Vogues and Marie Claires. One magazine, Grazia, had a great article on -

How to Seduce a Man

Well, I had to take notes. All the suggestions were so good, I thought they would benefit me in day-to-day life and also, even though I am already married, with my husband. You see, they aren’t all just about seduction, but how to be attractive generally. I really love articles like that.

I wrote down the headings, and now I’m going to remember, paraphrase and add my own notes.

Wear red. This colour makes you more attractive to men. I too often notice how nice a woman looks when they wear red. It makes your skin look a little flushed perhaps, in a good way. Whatever colour you wear (on your top half at least), picks up the colour on your face. That’s why pinks and peaches are so flattering as well, and perhaps could be a less intense option for a top. And why black is not ideal, even though we all love wearing it – it picks up black circles under the eyes!

Show 40% of skin. I think this was aimed more at dressing up for an evening out. 40% is the ideal amount. Anything less and you risk sinking into dowdy territory, any more and you will end up seducing your man in a less chic way, and showing yourself off as being very available. It probably would work for daytime too. A French women is famous for showcasing just one part of herself, whether it's great legs, toned arms or a silky-smooth decolletage. If every single part is covered up you wouldn't really notice, but imagine a women in well-fitted jeans and slender-cut t-shirt, that when she turns around shows a back-revealing detail. Ooh la la.

Be well-rested. This article claimed that men were shown pictures of women from two groups – one group had plenty of sleep and one group had no sleep. Of course they chose the well-rested group as more attractive. I can’t argue with that. And for heavens sake don’t wear a black top on a day when you didn’t get enough sleep!

Smile 35 times an hour. Women who smiled every 1.7 minutes were considered more attractive than those who smiled less. Does that seem like a lot of smiling? I remember from my (second) wedding day I had sore cheeks the next day from smiling for photos and well-wishers. So perhaps a little less smiling than that. The charity shop near me has the most pinch-faced old bat behind the counter. Even when I am dropping off really nice donations she can’t force a smile out. I bought a book from there a few days ago and she handed me my book and change and I actually waited until she made eye contact with me and then smiled at her and waited for the return smile... it eventually came, a tight, miser-ish little smile. Geesh, they don't cost anything love. I feel a bit mean about 'making' her smile, but it was fun. And on the other side of the scale, people I've met who I often think 'aren't they just so nice' are the ones that smile, a lot.

Touch him subtly. When you’re talking to a man, whether it’s someone you met in a bar, your boyfriend or your husband, make a point to subtly touch him to make a point. Perhaps on the arm or shoulder. Not too much though, don't be one of those women (an over-toucher Seinfeld would probably call her). I think non-bedroom touching is very important in a relationship. A quick shoulder-rub going past your man when he's sitting down, a touch on the hand, quick kiss on the neck.

Wear a spicy-floral fragrance. Apparently you will appear 5kg / 10 pounds thinner. And who doesn’t want that? I was pleased to see that Chanel No. 5 has spicy components as well as powdery florals. There are many other spicy-florals that aren’t as heavy as straight out oriental perfumes. Dolce Vita I know is one, from my days at Dior, as is the original Dior Addict in the dark blue bottle. One of my husband’s friends used to give me a hug when he saw me and exclaim in raptures whenever I wore Dior Addict. After he met his wife, he did it a few times and then stopped. I think she had words with him that she'd rather he went into raptures over her instead. I don’t blame her!

Be charitable and a better person. Even if they don’t know it, men are always sizing up a potential female partner as the mother of his children. If he sees that you are a kind person he is likely to think more of you. I’ve read often that men want their women to be a better version of themselves. They put us up on a pedestal and look to us as the moral guider. That’s a tall ask I know. It also makes me try and be a better person. Again, in my observations of other women, isn’t it a not-nice shock to discover that someone you admired and thought to be lovely ended up being a bit sneaky or mean-spirited? I don’t want to be one of those women. I want my husband to think I am saint-like, heavenly and kind-hearted.

Talk to him with head slightly tilted forward. Something about looking up at him and being slightly submissive. It sounds quite hard to do without looking silly. What I do know though, when you see aggressive women on tv (likely in a reality show like Top Model) they talk with their head held back and up, and look arrogant and aggressive. They don’t exactly come across as feminine or even remotely likeable.

Wear a little makeup. Finally, the article says men may profess to like women a la naturale, with no makeup at all. The study shows another story though. The women with scrubbed clean faces were rated as less attractive as women who were very lightly made up. The key point was a contrast between features and skin. So mascara, lipstick, blush and defined brows are important. What I think it is that men don't like is makeup put on with a trowel and spider-leg eyelashes.

What would you add to this list? Care to refute anything? I would love to hear your comments. Wanting to be feminine and have men find you attractive is quite controversial in our modern Western society. But isn’t that what French women have been doing forever? I know it’s not for everyone, but for me, I love talking about all this girly stuff.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Please keep New Zealand in your thoughts and prayers. A massive earthquake hit the Christchurch region today. There have been many aftershocks and earthquakes since the first big one in September last year but this is the most dreadful yet. Sadly people have lost their lives and the damage seems to be far worse.

Thank you so much to readers who emailed to see if I was ok. I live in the North Island so am not near the earthquake area. As far as I know, family I have down there are not hurt. Many others aren't so lucky though and it is heartbreaking to think of the lives of many that have been ripped apart, again, today.

It changes ones view from insular to global very quickly.

Gaining more energy

I started an outdoor fitness group last night. This unusual behaviour was prompted by a customer who is also a fitness trainer (he used to train me when I went to the gym, quite a few years ago). He now runs his own outdoor fitness company and invited me to join a ten-week programme, for free. He's such a great guy and said 'just come along, join in'. The class started a two minute walk from work, I had no excuses! So I did.

There were eleven other people in the group and we did all sorts of mad things. It took me almost 16 minutes to run up a mountain (as you do). I had to walk/run most of the way, but I still got there. It brought home to me just how unfit I am. Walking and yoga, as much as I love them, don't get your heart rate up.

I had a little bit of a headache at the top of the mountain, and had visions of me all burnt out and shaky like after a full-on aerobics workout, but I will just take it easy and know my limits.

The class is twice a week so I will be off again on Thursday. I'm so happy that I was offered the opportunity to try this class as I would never have gone looking for it on my own. It reminded me how much I enjoy running and exerting myself. It's such a pleasure to exercise outside too. I just can't get excited about being inside a gym, walking nowhere on a treadmill.

After my shower when I arrived home I was like a jellyfish. It felt so good. I slept the sleep of the dead too.

I've been feeling a bit lately like something is missing - and it is high energy. I've been so 'busy' wafting around being serene that I've not been that productive. I need to get busier at the shop and finish all my work projects and I need to be more organised with my time at home.

I've been keeping on top of things at home but my main stressor which I want to resolve is our small home-office. Usually it is reasonably tidy with my sewing machine and overlocker, a bookshelf with my French Chic folders, knitting and embroidery supplies, wrapping paper, ribbons and cards etc.

Then recently my grandmother-in-law went into a rest home (at 98, good effort!) and her home which she had lived in for seventy years was cleaned out. Because I am the only one in the family who is even faintly crafty, I have inherited all her knitting yarn, tapestry wool, vintage sewing and knitting patterns, fabrics, buttons and fascinating old sewing equipment.

It is all wonderful stuff, I feel so blessed to have it, and I have been sorting through it, putting like things together. Next I have to merge it with my 'stuff' and declutter at the same time. The poor little office is rather full right now.

One of my days off I want to pull everything out of the office (which could take over the entire living room it is attached to) and then put back in order, editing as I go. I will have to start this first thing in the morning if I want to finish by dinner time.

But for now, looking at fitting two more exercise classes into my schedule each week is testing my time management skills (and meal planning since we get home an hour later than normal). I am making sure being busy forces me to be more organised and motivated, rather than feeling awash, like I have been lately.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Poodle's Birthday

Our precious wee boy is fifteen today. Just for fun, we (I) decided to borrow Adrienne at The Rich Life (on a budget)'s family tradition. It involves treating the birthday doggie to a McD's hamburger. Here Atlas is on his way to the drive-thru. He alternates looking around (above) with napping (below).

His day started quite well too, with cold roast chicken from last night for breakfast. Roast chicken is his favourite, I'm pretty sure he would do anything for a plate.

First we check out the height restriction. Phew, he will fit under the 2.6 metre barrier, being roughly knee-height tall.

Atlas peruses the menu, even though he knows it's the tradition to have a plain hamburger. We saw the car in front of us's order on the screen. Wow, they spent $41.90. Our total was $2.00. They did have a whole family in the car though and we were only feeding a dog.

It sounds pretty bad when you put it like that. My man looked at me when we were ordering and said 'We are such sad people, going through the drive-thru for one hamburger. It must be their smallest order ever'. But he does what I say, and that's all you can ask of a good husband.

We checked if Atlas thought it smelled good. He did.

As a responsible(-ish) elderly-poodle caregiver I made the decision to remove the bread buns. I didn't want to choke him on his birthday (or any other day, really).

After a hesitant start (one of the few times when a McDonalds burger is actually hot, my husband noted), Atlas was off and scoffing.

Mere minutes later his birthday hamburger was just a distant memory, and a big drink of water was in order.

A typical teenage boy, Atlas walks off leaving his dishes, tripping on the wrapper on the way.

Happy Birthday little poodle! And thanks to Adrienne for a fun idea!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Trip to Paris

In 2001 I went to Paris. I spent a mere two nights/three days there on the way to London, but I’m so happy I have actually been to Paris. I travelled with a female friend who was running the London marathon. She had planned on going by herself and was talking about the trip.

Someone then said ‘why don’t you go too Fiona?’ I was recently single after my first husband deserting me. I had just started a new job and was living in a new, much bigger city (by my choice, I didn’t want to be single in the small-ish town I grew up in). I shared a house with my sister and two other flatmates.

I had the money, I just didn’t know if I could get a month off work. Normally you have to work there for over a year to accrue three weeks, and I had only been there less than ten months. I’d never been to Europe though, and decided that if my boss would let me have the time off, I’d go.

He agreed! Somehow we worked out the extra days, maybe some were unpaid, or he carried them over to the next year.

Paris was our first stopover on the way to London, but funnily enough we flew into London and then onto Paris. From New Zealand it’s a long trip. It was almost a full 24 hours later than we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

My travel companion is much more gung-ho, can-do and gutsy than I am, so rather than pay for a taxi, we hopped onto the train. Amazingly we got to our hotel alright, near the Paris Opera. We stayed in a gorgeous French decor hotel (Millennium Opera), with a tiny lift that the metal cage doors rattled shut.

Our hotel was on Boulevard Haussmann and very central, which meant that Galaries Lafayette, the famed department store was a mere stroll down the road. My travel companion wore knit track-pants, a sweatshirt, running shoes and a bumbag. Oh dear. We weren’t very close friends - my sister had rented a room in her house and that’s how I knew her. In Paris I dressed up more than on any other stop on my trip.

On the first day I suggested we sightsee separately, saying to her that she would be bored with all the shopping I planned to do (she wasn’t a very girly girl and shopping was low on her agenda). Even though I love nice things, I didn’t plan to do much shopping at all, but I did plan to soak up the Paris atmosphere.

I wore a black knit just-below-the-knee skirt, a dark charcoal fine merino round neck long-sleeve top, maxi-net tights (like a large fishnet) or perhaps it was stockings, I don’t remember. High heels, a grey faux-fur scarf, a camel-coloured leather shoulder bag and my blonde hair dried straight and pulled back into a low ponytail completed my Paris look.

I loved just strolling through the shops and up the back streets pretending I lived there and was out for an afternoon’s shopping. Sabine was alive and well ten years ago, in fact I think I’ve always been a day-dreamer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Perfect Watch

Janet of The Gardeners Cottage has shown us her perfect accessory – the perfect black flat. Generously, Janet offered the rest of us to share ours. She asked us 'What is your perfect accessory?'

When asked a question one must always go with their first instinct.

What you see above is the answer for me - the Cartier Tank Francais watch, steel and gold, small size.

I’ve always loved a good watch, and seem to have mostly veered towards a rectangle or square. I never went looking for a non-round watch, but when I bought the Cartier, realised as well as this one, my previous two watches (inexpensive ones) had square/rectangle faces. After coveting the Cartier Tank Americaine for most of my 20s, when it came down to it I chose the Tank Francais for my own 30th birthday present.

I’ve worn it for 10 years now, every single day, and it will hang on my wrist until the day I return to the earth. And it will be worth every cent. To me, a watch is not just useful, it can be a beautiful piece of jewellery too.

On the Cartier website they don’t call it a watch, it’s a timepiece. Of course.

Thanks Janet for a great idea. I look forward to reading others posts on their perfect accessory.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hermes Sale

If you are a lover of the French Chic way of life as I am, you will likely have enjoyed reading Stephanie's former blogs Bonjour Madame and C'est Si Bon when they were around. Stephanie always had fun, chic and thought-provoking topics she posted on, and is an extremely inspirational declutterer. Such focus! And if you can remember the pictures of her petite home sparingly decorated with French style antique furniture... Le swoon.

Recently Stephanie wrote a fantastic guest post on My French Corner about the editing of her scarf collection. She talks about putting almost her entire scarf collection on eBay. But for a few weeks before that (as in now), she has started a temporary blog, Editing My Closet, to sell them to anyone in the US who is interested.

You simply must take a look, even if just to window-shop. Stephanie has many beautiful pieces. Enjoy!

Editing My Closet

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Atlas Update

Atlas hasn't been in these pages lately, so here's a little of what he's been up to. Our little man is very much part of the family, we both adore him (which is an understatement). Above, Atlas is harnessed in his safety car seat-belt. He's off to be groomed. All that wool is a little toasty in the heat of summer.

Here is his before picture.

And after. So fluffy and trim!

And a close up at work of his new look.

With 'poodle feet'.

A few weeks ago Atlas and I took a road trip (about 45 minutes away from where I live) to visit his former owner's partner. She was not able to take on both his dogs when Atlas' owner died, and so Atlas was adopted out. The new owners didn't want him after a while and tried to give him back to Poodle Rescue.

He really is the sweetest boy, I don't know how they could. His little heart must have been broken for the past 2-3 years. I am glad we are now able to make the rest of his retirement a happy one.

His former 'mum' Pamela was so glad and emotional to see him and we had a lovely few hours. I met his poodle 'brother' Samson and heard how much his first owner John loved his poodles. They even went to his funeral.

Pamela gave me a little bag of goodies for Atlas - some of his favourite toys, his vet records, a little jersey for the winter and a framed portrait of Atlas as a puppy (only two months old). Do you think he looks like an owl?

From talking to Pamela I found out Atlas is actually 14, and not 12. What do you say to that? He wasn't young when he came to us, now he's just a little older. After I brought his goodie bag home I thought to myself 'his birthday will probably be on his vet records, then we'll know when to throw him a party'. I checked, it's in a few weeks time - he will be FIFTEEN! Could Atlas be in the Guinness Book of Poodle Records?

Considering his grand age though, he's very spritely and adaptable. He gets very excited about coming or going. Atlas is all bouncy when I put his harness on in the morning to go to work, and equally happy to arrive somewhere, practically launching himself out the open car door when we get there. He's nothing if not fearless.

And here, just because he is very handsome in his new jacket, is Atlas modelling this winter's look for chilly poodles. He won't be needing it for a couple of months at least. I'm hoping I haven't bought it too soon... (I find black humour works well in situations of elderly-to-the-extreme poodle adoptions).

Just in case you think otherwise, we are so happy to have Atlas in our life. He has added much richness and fun. For as long as we have him we will consider ourselves very, very lucky.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chic and Frugal Sewing

I have been sewing a long time, probably twenty-five to thirty years. In spite of that I am not very advanced. It’s because I’m relaxed and also possibly a little lazy. I like it that way.

I made more ambitious things when I was younger than I do now. As a teen watching movies like Pretty in Pink and Madonna’s one (with the lace singlet tops) I was inspired to make my own clothing and enjoyed wearing my creations out to the movies with friends. A few of us made our own clothing – we must have looked quite ‘creative’.

In my twenties I also made clothing but eventually drifted into dressing the home rather than dressing myself. The only problem with making your own clothing (when you’re as slow and exacting as I am) is that you can’t see what it looks like on. And if you don’t like it afterwards then tough luck.

My sister is the complete opposite, she started sewing when her youngest was born four years ago and is now such an accomplished seamstress she drafts her own patterns and sells online. I am happy to sit in the shade created by her capability and output and just continue on my own puttering way.

My chic and frugal sewing is what I use to make my house a home and create handmade memories along the way. I have recovered cushions, made simple patchwork cushion covers (like the ones above, and top), and even tried my hand at curtains. Curtains aren’t as easy as they look, even if they are all straight lines.

My recovered ironing board, above. Below, tablecloth made from a remnant of fabric, hemmed around the edges.

I made a duvet cover once from a sheet set I liked and (it was the nineties) it had ties all along the end. It already had ready-made pillowcases with it. It’s an easy way to get a duvet cover you like, although I would use buttons or domes rather than the ties these days. Imagine buying two sets of white sheets and using one of them to make a duvet cover. What a cloud-like sanctuary the bed would be then!

Every so often when I pass an upholstery or furniture store and notice piles of remnants and samples I take a look. I have found gorgeous, expensive English furnishing fabrics at a fraction of their original cost. These offcuts make great tablecloths, cushion covers, napkins (if thinner), placemats and pot-holders at a tiny price. They look very luxe (because they are) and make everything else around them look fancier.

Below, a table runner made from a piece of fine corduroy. I used the fringe-y selvedges to finish the pointed ends.

It’s funny how if you choose the offcuts that really appeal to you, no matter if you think they aren’t your colours or are too ‘out there’, they all blend together to make your taste. And they do all go together.

Sewing is such a great skill to have. A sewing machine is a fabulous addition to any home and they aren’t that expensive – you can buy them second-hand and have serviced (get a simple one that is mechanical rather than electronic – there’s less to go wrong). But even if you don’t have a sewing machine a basic sewing kit will help you sew on buttons, take up a hem and make minor adjustments to clothing.

Cushion covers below were made with the same $10 offcut I used for the ironing board cover.

Something like a t-shirt neckline you don’t like can be altered by hand-sewing a couple of inches of running stitch from the centre front down into the shirt. Pucker this up (or should I say gather) and you will have created a new look. I also did this with a singlet top where I felt the strap tops were too wide (it looked quite dowdy). I gathered along the shoulder seam on each side and it looked a lot prettier.

Recently a friend of my mother’s gave me two summer skirts. They were mid-calf length and a-line. I shortened them to just on the knee and now I have two new skirts. I have also finally discovered a skirt style that I like on me.

Do you make home items yourself, or reshape clothing you have bought or been given?
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