Friday, 11 February 2011

Lipstick, and the dark seduction of la culture de luxe

Since I have been in France, I have discovered the decadent pleasures of lipstick. Good lipstick, luscious lipstick. It all started when I wandered into the Sephora store on the Champs-Elysées.  It’s like a theme park for grown women: lit up like Christmas, with row after row of luxury products and teeming with staff just waiting to imply how fabulous you are.

Once you are convinced that you are fabulous, you feel inclined to start buying fabulous cosmetics to make yourself even more unbelievably fabulous than you – clearly – already are. All of a sudden, you believe that you really are sufficiently breathtaking to wear that sultry cherry lipstick which will have all eyes on you. This is not, however, as vile a hazard as it might first appear: a judicious investment in top-end French cosmetics will usually suffice to ward off any unwelcome collisions with reality. The fact that your own mother might not recognise you by the time you leave the store is only a mild side-effect.
Thus, I was seduced by Sephora, and a very pleasant infatuation it’s proving to be. How could I have lived all these years without lipstick? I feel like the wolf-child coming out of the woods. How could I not have appreciated the easy sophistication bestowed by an understated glossy rose-beige? Or the femme fatale allure of siren red?
I am converted, and feeling exceptionally feminine.
In fact, feeling exceptionally feminine now strikes me as a particularly French state of being – if you are a woman, of course. French women are renowned for being thin, feminine and wonderfully dressed, and after a few months of immersion within the fantastically bourgeois parameters of Paris proper, you begin to see that their mysterious aura might not be so mysterious after all. The culture de luxe is so ubiquitous, so unavoidable. You begin to assimilate.
And yet, there is a dark side to the luxuriously feminine pantomime of the City of Light. This celebration of femininity is deeply ingrained in Latin culture – just ask any Frenchman as he propositions you, ever so gallantly, on the street. The problem is thus: the more that you are, as a woman, celebrated for your femininity, the greater the risk that you will not be valued in other ways. It’s an insidious and seductive pigeon-holing; a social spectre disguised in Chanel.
It’s fabulous being a woman in Paris – and yet all young French women seem terrified of marriage. They see it like the death of all independence and fun, to be put off until the very last minute on your biological clock. It took six months before I finally began to be convinced of the genuineness of this feeling; I thought, at first, that it was simply a feminist aversion to out-moded institutions... but it is not. Apparently, marriage – or any sort of committed, de facto relationship – amounts to death, darkness and the end of fabulousness.
There is something rotten in the State of Chanel.

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