Sunday, October 11, 2009

Drum roll The new My Inner French Girl site is now up!

This is not a test. I repeat, this is not a test.

It's done! The new My Inner French Girl is now up and running on its own site. You can't even imagine how incredibly relieved and excited I am to actually write that.

Henceforth, I'll be posting and reviewing and doing all that good stuff on the new site, so please head on out there for the latest updates. Today is a really special day for MIFG, too, because my first, official post (after the Welcome post, that is) includes a surprise podcast interview with a well-known author and journalist.

Note: Those of you who've been subscribed (either via a news reader or email) will also need to re-subscribe, using the options on the right sidebar on the new site. I wish I could just transfer everybody, but unfortunately that isn't possible at this time. It takes just a sec to subscribe, though, so I hope you do! And please let me know what you think!

Thanks a million to everyone who's supported and cheered me on throughout this blog's two-year (!!) life. See you on the new site!

Click here to visit the new My Inner French Girl site.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rachel Zoe in the City of Light

I do not understand the fascination with stylist-to-the-stars Rachel Zoe. Ms. Zoe is a teeny-tiny ball of lightning and fire, so combustible I fear for her luxe blonde locks and their ability to survive surefire conflagration in the wake of her manic workaholism.

And yet. And yet. I'm utterly obsessed with her reality show, The Rachel Zoe Project on Bravo, which is now in its second season. Ms. Zoe darts all over Los Angeles in her black SUV, her two hapless and bickering stylist associates (the infamous Brad and Taylor, best known for their childish antics as much as for their sartorial assistance and savvy) in tow, sporting her massive sunglasses and letting spill such gems as "I. Die." and "Bananas!" out of her puckered mouth.

Does anyone else share this keen interest in what I acknowledge is otherwise a very, very shallow show? Mind you, I don't think Ms. Zoe herself is shallow -- I have nothing but utmost respect for her as a working professional, a self-described creative artist who has clearly figured out the secret to making a ton of money doing what she loves most, i.e., shopping, and who wouldn't want that job? -- but the way the show spins the drama of, say, picking out a celebrity's outfit for a press conference or (God forbid!!!) an awards ceremony into something on the level of importance of, oh, the Japanese surrender to the Allies on the USS Missouri is insane.

Insane, as in, this week's episode reveals Ms. Zoe's physical breakdown following a crazy awards season, during which she styled the likes of Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore, Chanel Iman, Eva Mendes, and a few other A-list actresses and models. Ms. Zoe's physician diagnoses vertigo and prescribes lots and lots of rest, but then this is Reality TV World, not to mention Los Angeles and the rarefied world of show business, where sitting on one's derriere, no matter how well-toned or bony or bejeweled, is considered a mortal sin. (I'm a Catholic, albeit a lapsed one. I know from whence I speak. Mortal sin = bad, baaad thing.) It's just not done.

And yet I can't help but watch, and watch I do every week. The wonderful thing about reality shows is that their seasons last a fraction of the length of traditional, scripted shows, so you're really only subjecting your precious brain cells to about 10 hours or perhaps even less a year on such fluff, minus commercials. I don't ever feel the need to defend my particular reality show interests (Dancing with the Stars? Nah. Survivor? Is that still even around? Give me Tori & Dean anyday.), but I will say that one big draw for me is the chance to see powerful women at work. I mean, really at work, as opposed to watching them play someone working, like Julianna Margulies as lawyer Alicia Florrick in the awesome new drama, The Good Wife.

People both within and without the stifling confines of Hollywood might consider the likes of Rachel Zoe and her folks as being superficial, shallow, vapid, and chronically self-absorbed, but one thing they can never accuse her of is being lazy. Watching her show is a bit like imagining what life might be like for a Project Runway designer to actually go on to enormous success -- what we see on the runway might be all glitter and glamour and the dreamy flicker of popping flashbulbs, but the reality of styling, like any other job, involves lots of schlepping, schmoozing, late nights, early mornings, deadlines, events, publicity, marketing, branding, networking, purchasing, management, human resources...all the endless responsibilities under the umbrella of even the smallest company, just magnified on television and, yes, overly dramatized but still quite real.

Ms. Zoe has clearly spent countless, tireless hours of her life building her empire, and it's been no small feat. Although The Rachel Zoe Project (of which the titular star is also a producer) highlights only a small fraction of that empire -- the show stars Ms. Zoe; her husband Rodger, himself a multimedia entrepreneur; Brad and Taylor -- she obviously has a bigger, more robust staff working behind the scenes, including her personal assistant, Marisa; a few other styling assistants; her makeup and hair assistant, Joey; and an online consultant named Jessica, all of whom make occasional appearances on the show. She also has her camera crew, production assistants, and the unseen, unnamed people who maintain her online Web presence and daily newsletter.

The Rachel Zoe Project
may ostensibly be about celebrity fashion -- and there's plenty of that, both in L.A. and New York, where Ms. Zoe also spends a good deal of time -- but it's really mostly about the running around behind the scenes, the not-so-glamorous infrastructure of overflowing closets, fourteen-hour-days, endless meetings (even if they are with people like Diane von Furstenberg and Giorgio Armani), and the occasional mean mention on Page Six. It's about work and what it takes to become successful, and while Ms. Zoe and Co. may sometimes seem like inhabitants from an alien world, underneath it all they're still just hardworking women trying to carve out a niche and a name for themselves. Just like you and me. Except, you know, dressed in Chanel and sporting a seemingly endless collection of Hermes Birkin bags in all different colors and sizes.

For those of you interested, October 12th will be the season finale, but in the meantime, Ms. Zoe and her entourage hit Paris for Fashion Week. They'll be attending shows from Galliano to Chanel and choosing possible outfits for their clients for another round of award shows in the spring. And of course, they'll probably be indulging in a little more drama for the cameras, too. New show next Monday, 9 Central/10 Eastern, on Bravo TV.

By the way, I discovered a new blog and store, courtesy of Ms. Zoe's show this previous Monday. If you live in L.A., you've probably already heard of Decades Two, which sounds like my idea of heaven. (That is, if Heaven meant I had a limitless supply of money.) Decades Two is a designer consignment shop, while its sister store, Decades, is a vintage couture shop. I caught a glimpse of their offerings on the show and have had a little chance to peruse some of the posts and photos on their blogs (here and here) and am already planning my next trip to the West Coast. It may not involve a lot of actual shopping, but there will definitely be lots of window licking shopping. In fact, I've already picked out the dress I plan to wear when I win the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Very Gigi, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Instant Gratification

I'm a big, big Starbucks fan. There. I've said it. And I'm not ashamed of it.

Of course, it's not a big secret. Anytime someone wants to meet me on a Sunday for a cup of coffee and a chat, for example, my default go-to location has often been the Big Bucks, not the least because so many indie coffee shops choose to shutter on the Lord's Day. Patronizing indie coffee shops is tres chic, tres French, but of course, even the French have embraced the Starbucks concept. It might sound like the beginning of the end of the historic Parisian cafe, but I suspect that there's plenty of space in the vast, coffee-loving Parisian landscape for Starbucks to settle into a nice niche.

Anyway, one of the main reasons why I love Starbucks is the customer service. What can I say? I'm totally American in the sense that I really do like a friendly smile and generous spirit with my cafe au lait. And believe it or not, a surprising number of indie shops don't place a high enough priority on that simple concept. Evening and expanded weekend hours are just a part of that.

This morning I popped into a suburban Starbucks after a particularly stressful morning dealing with Dallas traffic. As a lot of you are probably aware, the coffeehouse giant is rolling out their new instant coffee, Via, nationwide, and if you've had a chance to visit your neighborhood branch, you'll probably be offered a fresh, piping hot sample. I was, but I initially declined, explaining that I'm not really a straight-coffee drinker. (I often say that I like a little coffee with my steamed milk.) The cashier/barista offered to make a "Via Misto sample" (Misto being Starbucks lingo for cafe au lait), but I demurred, instead opting for a small sip of the sample he already had.

What impressed me the most about the "raw" Via is the texture. I spent half of my childhood and adolescence in the Philippines, where instant coffee probably makes up about 95% of all coffee that's drunk in the entire country, and I remember well those dark, reddish-brown granules that you poured by the tablespoon into your cup. Via, however, is extremely fine, almost like a mineral powder, and is the color of very dark chocolate. Its aroma is relatively mild, not bitter or overpowering. The flavor itself doesn't really match Starbucks coffee at its best -- sadly, the quality of the brewed coffee can still vary, depending on the branch and the barista -- but it's actually quite good in its own right. At $2.95 for a pack of three, it's cheaper than a Tall coffee but still pricier than instant coffee at the grocery store. In these recessionary times it can still be too dear for many people on strict budgets, but for someone jonesing for a Starbucks, it's worth a nice buck.

By the way, after I had taken my little sample sip, another sample cup materialized in front of me, this time looking suspiciously like a miniature cafe au lait. Apparently the barista at the other end of the counter had heard me mention that I prefer my coffee with steamed milk and prepared that Via Misto sample after all. And yup, it was even better with the hot milk. See what I mean about the customer service?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cara Black's book spills out of YSL bag! News at 11!

One of my favorite mystery authors is, bien sur, Cara Black, author of the awesome Aimee Leduc series and a lovely Francophile currently based in San Francisco. (If I didn't love her and her writing so much, I'd probably hate her.) If you haven't had a chance to read any of her books, what in heaven's name are you waiting for? Our brave, fiercely intelligent and incredibly stylish Aimee is a French-American private investigator in Paris with nine successful cases under her Hermes belt. What I love most about her books, though, is how much research Black has packed into her stories. The woman doesn't just sit down at her typewriter and write -- she roams the back alleys of the City of Light, interviews real police detectives, experts, shopkeepers, and the usual "man on the street, and conducts extensive research on the history of everything from Parisian canals to the war in the Middle East to inject her stories with rich detail.

Cara kindly forwarded me a copy of an advertisement in a recent L'Officiel issue that features an advertisement for the gorgeous (and tres chere!) Yves Saint-Laurent handbag. You don't need an eagle eye to note the title of the book. (That would, of course, be, Murder in the Marais.) Congratulations, Cara, on this great exposure! (I'd be lucky to have my own book spilling out of a Target tote in a local ad!)

Check out Cara's newest novel in the Aimee Leduc series, Murder in the Latin Quarter, published in March 2009. Also stay tuned for an interview I conducted with Cara earlier this summer about her research, writing routine and her love of Paris history, to be featured in the new MIFG!

Au revoir, Prescriptives

How could I have missed this news?

As many of you probably already heard, Estee Lauder will close its Prescriptives brand as of January 31, 2010. Now, normally I'm not one to sign non-political petitions, but if anyone wants to set one up, do let me know because that's a cause I'm definitely eager to get behind.

A very perceptive sales associate of the brand was interviewed by The Epoch Times listed some of the reasons she believes underlie the failure of the cult favorite: poor branding, dearth of marketing, and its refusal to offer samples and free gifts, unlike its other, more popular sisters under the Lauder umbrella, including Clinique. (If the Lauder folks are smart, they'll hire this girl as their next product manager-in-training. Seriously, she's on to something.)

While not devastating on the scale of, say, the 2004 Asian tsunami, the news definitely left me quite saddened. I first tried Prescriptives' color-matching foundation the day before my wedding in 2003, when I was determined to find a base that would perfectly match my Asian skintone so that I could walk down the aisle without worrying that I look like a Noh actor in Western costume. (And yeah, I know, I waited until literally the last minute to get the foundation, but hey, I had four months to plan my wedding. I'm lucky I made it to the altar on time.)

The makeup artist/sales associate who worked with me that afternoon at the Prescriptives counter at NorthPark's Neiman Marcus spent over an hour and a half trying to find the perfect -- perfect -- match to my skin. He'd scrutinize my face like a scientist observing cells under a microscope, turn to his large palette of colors, do a little mixing here and a bit of mixing there, then swipe a stripe or two across my chin. He'd then expertly blend it with a brush -- blending, blending, blending -- before taking me outside in the late afternoon summer sun to analyze the results under natural light. I think we went through this ritual about five times before he finally found a blend that satisfied him. Afterwards, he spent almost as much time doing much the same thing with the matching powder.

By that time I couldn't even tell the difference between the last two or three samples he had tried on my face -- I was just hugely impressed with his dedication to his work. (Did I mention that he was gorgeous? Another reason I didn't mind hanging around for so long, despite all the other things I had yet to do in preparation for the big day.)

I bought both the foundation and the powder for a total of just over $100, a rather big expense for me as B. and I were paying for our wedding out of our own pocket and I'd just landed a job after being laid off only three months before. Still, it was so worth it. The most memorable compliment I received was when B. remarked at the reception that he couldn't even tell that I had makeup on. That he actually liked the results -- a big change for him, as he's always insisted that I looked better without makeup. Now that's magic.

I've tried other brands, including Clinique, Neutrogena, Estee Lauder, Bare Minerals, Jane Iredale, Paula's Choice, L'Oreal, Revlon, Everyday Minerals, and tons more whose names I've long since forgotten. The Prescriptives set that I bought in 2003 lasted me a couple of years, but after that I kept switching brands, mostly to save money, but each time I'm always, always disappointed. I've never found a single drugstore or department store or boutique brand that comes even close to providing the flawless look that I get from my custom-blended Prescriptives. It was expensive, sure, but I still say it was totally worth it, especially if you have challenging-to-match skintones like mine. To twist around that famous phrase: If I don't look good, I don't feel good.

Any other Prescriptives fans out there? What do you think of its premature demise? Do you think Lauder should have made more efforts to market the brand, especially given the increase in the number of ethnic minorities in this country? (Many, many women of color I know spend countless hours trying to find the perfect foundation, to no avail.) Or do you think it's past its prime?