Researching the Elements of French Style
It is amazing to be able to say that this blog comes to you direct from Lyon in France. My daughter Silken is spending a year here as part of the International Business programme of Carleton University in Ottawa. Helping Silken to settle in has given me yet another excuse to continue my love affair with France. Several times a year at Kate’s Garden, we run a seminar called The Elements of French Style which we often couple with our passion for sharing information about the world’s most wonderful plant; Lavender. So as much as I am assisting Silken, this has been yet another opportunity to update my research on a few elements of French style and lavender!
Birth of a Francophile
I was lucky enough during my corporate career to have worked for Connaught Labs, a world class biotech company. During that period it was owned by Pasteur Mérieux which is headquartered in Lyon. For almost a decade, as part of my responsibilities, I was allowed to travel to France several times each year, most frequently working near Versailles, in Paris and in Lyon. In addition to this key formative period in my life, several previous and subsequent trips to France have made me a self-proclaimed Francophile.
Dressing Like a French Woman
What have I learned this time? I continue to love the simple elegance of the way French women dress. Style is important but comfort is key. For casual wear, boyfriend dressing rules i.e. understated colours, loose shirts, rolled up jeans and flat shoes rule. For women of a certain age, hair styles are simple, and makeup is low key. It is both timeless and seems to be effortlessly elegant as they always look put together. Even matrons as they shop in their flattering summer frocks seem somehow more elegant. I am now vowing never to be caught again in my active wear as I run to Longo’s!
Le Marais in Paris
This trip also allowed us to visit an area of Paris with which I was less familiar called Le Marais. It is an historic district within walking distance of La Gare de Lyon, spreading across the third and fourth arrondissements of Paris. Victoria magazine featured it in an article called The Secret Haunts of Paris so I followed their advice and decided to explore the Village St. Paul with Silken as my willing accomplice. It is street after street of antiques, collectibles, brocante (second-hand treasures) and vintage finds. Well worth another visit, or six!
The Colours of France
Getting to know Lyon better was our primary goal this trip. It goes without saying that it is tough to find a bad meal in Lyon as it is the gastronomic heart of France. It is as well a beautiful city astoundingly clean for such a cosmopolitan centre. As soon as you see the colour of the Rhone, one of the two rivers that dissect the city, you can understand the French obsession with the colours of blue and green. We have walked a minimum of twenty kilometres each day here, exploring several of the arrondissements crossing back and forth over the various bridges over the rivers that are the colour of the sea.
Avignon and Lavender
A personal highlight for me was our time spent in Avignon which I am determined to visit for a much more extended period. It is cliché to attempt to describe anywhere in Provence but sun-drenched seems most apt. This trip advanced my knowledge of Lavender as well. Having run some form of Lavender Fair for more than 15 years, I thought I was pretty well-informed. I learned so much more by visiting a shop in Avignon owned by Le Chateau du Bois. The company is owned by the Lincele Family who have produced fine lavender and its products since 1890. An hour spent viewing a documentary and discussing Lavender with a very well-informed store manager made me understand the important distinction between fine lavender and lavandin. The purest essential oil with the strongest qualities in terms of its medicinal, cosmetic and antiseptic properties comes from fine lavender as opposed to lavandin. My next trip to France, I hope to visit their Lavender Museum which is located in the heart of Provence. I just have to make certain that I get there in July during the actual harvest as I would love to see the distillation process to convert lavender to hydrosol and lavender oil on such a massive scale. I have visited several lavender farms in Ontario and, of course, the biggest Canadian producer of Fine Lavender in the Eastern Townships of Quebec in Fitch Bay called Bleu Lavande. Still, I would love to see this process when they are distilling three tons of lavender every hour!
And what can I say but weddings are such a thing for me. They seem to find me when I am not even looking. Silken and I stopped for a cool drink at a bistro in La Place d’Horloge in Avignon and watched wedding party after wedding party tumble out of L’Hotel de Ville on a sunny, Saturday afternoon. It was lovely to see the happy groups of family and friends and to discern the distinctly retro vibe for the brides, their flowers and the bridesmaid’s dresses. Allowing the bridesmaids to wear dresses in the same hues but suited to the individual size and shape of the woman is not just a North American trend. I was, however, struck by the number of brides and their parties garbed in very flattering styles reminiscent of fashion from the forties and fifties. Tightly fitted tops with very full skirts and lots of floral prints.
Flowers in France
Speaking of flowers, the easy access to inexpensive flowers makes it clear why flowers seem to be such an intricate part of French life and style. There are so many flower shops and floral vendors and flowers in little supermarkets. They are inexpensive compared to the prices we pay in Canada! It was, however, reassuring to see how current we are to European styles. Part of the reason that Kate’s Garden was recently voted the Best Florist Shop in Markham is our unrelenting desire to stay on top of floral trends in both our shop and in the workshops we provide.