Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Temptations of French Lingerie

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

OK, I'm getting rather far from the food theme here. But, since French women are known for being good cooks, staying thin, and enjoying being sexy, am I really? It took me awhile to get into French lingerie. Literally and figuratively. I was pretty much a cotton and Victoria's Secret basics kind of girl. Jockey for Her, etc., Basic, well made, comfortable. When I lived in Paris and went to dance class on a regular basis, I would goggle a bit at the super chic underwear of my fellow Parisian dancers -- magenta thongs, black lace, peacock blue satin... and this under leotards they were then going to sweat in?

But something happened when I turned 40. My body changed. My breasts got larger (which freaked me out just a bit), but my legs and torso didn't (could be all the yoga, but also living on lots of veggies, olive oil, fish...). I also had one of those Eureka realizations that this is as good as it's gonna get. From here on out, gravity will have an every greater say. So, I've never had the body of a model, but I'm curvy, mostly flat-bellied (depending on how much I binge on my bread and an evil and wonderful hazelnut spread by the Jean Hervé called Kokolo) and I enjoy what I have.

That same year Erick offered me a very lovely and no doubt expensive Aubade black brassiere with a little jewel in the middle. Hmmm when could I wear that? He quickly figured out that this gift pleased me far more than yet another heavy coffee table book, and followed suit over the next couple of occasions.

I like to watch people (mostly women, I must confess), observe their fashion choices, their sense of style and the grace (or lack there of) in their movement. I noticed that certain friends had their elegant button down shirts buttoned down to the cleavage, and that their lovely bras were definitely in view. Hm? No one seemed to think them cheap or slutty. Au contraire, they were elegant, classy and ever so alluring. Other lovely friends wore bras with little jewels on the straps, again, very much in view (but of course! if not to show it off, why wear it?). Just another little feminine detail.

Since the 1990s, we've been entertained, as a people and a culture, by a gorgeous ad campaign by the French lingerie company Aubade. Take a look at their chic web site and the history of their "leçons d'amour."


These images are photographed so spectacularly, no one could (or perhaps should) be offended. They are a celebration of beautiful women and the power of seduction. My children have now grown up with these on all the bus stops, in all the magazines, in calendars, post cards. It's just normal and beautiful.

So, I bit back my intimidation, and entered the lingerie stores in Arles. The first time I did this it was summer sale period. This made it a bit easier on the pocket book. All bras at 25-30E and all panties at 10-15E. The normal prices were more in the range of 45 - 105E for bras, and 25-55E for panties -- yes, that wee bit of string and stretchy lace costs more per ounce than either gold or black truffles.

I've a favorite store now, the Clin d'Oeil in Arles. I've gotten to know the woman who runs the store, to be able to chat with her about politics (what else?) breast size changes, the local economy, and so on. She seems to enjoy the infrequent visits from her American client, and I enjoy being known and accepted.

Here in Avignon, I admire, I photograph, I look wistfully. But, for the moment, with my pocket book much reduced this year, I've contented myself with my current wardrobe, and resisted further temptation.

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