Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
I’m feeling a flutter of excitement as I sit waiting in the lobby of a swanky Knightsbridge office block. Next to me is an electric blue Honda motorbike, above me a chandelier made up entirely of glass bubbles. I’m about to meet Dr Sonia Hannoun, a woman responsible for de-wrinkling the brows and tightening the jaw lines of countless expat Frenchwomen.
Sonia greets me at the door of her second floor office with a warm handshake. She’s an attractive, crease-free 54-year-old dressed in a Balenciaga top, Zara trousers and red trainers. Classical guitar music is playing and the atmosphere is camply upbeat: purple carpet, Miami pink cushions and lots of curvy cream leather.
I am here not for a treatment but to get the low-down on the French approach to Botox. I’ve been to London parties where women are all shining like crescent moons but somehow I’m guessing that the French, if they do Botox at all, do it too subtly for anybody to notice.
‘It’s rare for Frenchwomen to do a full face Botox treatment,’ says Sonia, who divides her time between London and Paris. ‘The English tend to overdo it – they might come once a year – while the French prefer des petites touches every three or four months. I aim for an effect that is so natural that nobody can tell.’
Sonia’s female patients are aged from 30 to 75 and mostly French or French speaking. A third are British. Popular Botox treatments include the forehead, the line between the brows and the crows’ feet. Fillers are also frequently used to de-vein and de-wrinkle the hands and for what the French sorrowfully refer to as la vallée des larmes, those darkish under-eye grooves that afflict women in middle age and earlier. Fearful the chefs at Harvey Nichols’s Fifth Floor restaurant opposite might see them, patients often ask Sonia to pull the blinds down.
I wonder where Sonia stands in the Hollywood vs. France beauty wars. We’ve all read those articles about how French actresses (with a few notable exceptions) don’t have Botox injections or surgery, unlike their more youth-obsessed Tinseltown peers. Can it really be true?
Last time I saw the beautiful Juliette Binoche, 50, on film there was nothing plumped up or frozen about her. Sonia says she treats several French actresses at her Paris clinic but no one would ever know it. It’s all about a less is more approach, what she calls ‘du light.’
In Paris, 30-35% of her patients are men (in London it’s just 10%). I’m so amazed by this I nearly fall off my pink-cushioned chair. I try to imagine Laurent, the adulterous 40-something cyclist, booking himself in for a Botox injection but it’s impossible. He is too real, too unkempt and – too – well French. Would a man for whom a bar of soap or a razor is alien bother with all that?
Sonia is too discreet to name drop but it turns out all sorts of Frenchmen are at it, gay and straight, from bankers and CEOs, to scientists and intellectuals. There is no mention of politicians but I can’t help but wonder. How about Sarkozy or the drop-dead handsome Dominique de Villepin? Why do men do it, I ask. ‘It’s more for work than to attract women,’ says Sonia, who admits to having Botox herself but insists her plump cheeks are very much her own.
Towards the end of the interview, Sonia’s very pretty assistant Stéphanie (45 but you’d never guess) comes in. She’s looking a little flushed as earlier this morning, Sonia gave her a ‘mesoglow’, a cocktail of vitamins B, C and E administered by a silver gun which looks straight out of a 1970s James Bond movie.
I’m longing to inspect the gun but my time is already up. Sonia’s phone is ringing insistently and I can almost see the queue of wrinkled Parisian brows forming by the Honda motorbike. Stéphanie is starting to cast impatient glances my way and I’m even beginning to feel a bit sorry for the chefs at Harvey Nicks. They must be longing for more action. Can I have a few more minutes? ‘Of course!’ says Sonia, who is gamely up for being photographed despite declaring herself ‘timide.’
I show her my box of Frownies (£16.95 on Amazon). At one stage I went to bed with little brown triangles of sticky-back paper all over my brow, feeling a bit like a disastrous experiment in Blue Peter. I woke up looking smoother for about 1hr, but rather pink as the glue irritated my skin and made it itchy. What does she think of them?
She’s never heard of them and puts on her special medical glasses to look at the box. Unfortunately all the Frownies are gone as my toddler niece came across them one morning and had lots of fun sticking them to bits of paper.
The next day I wake up full of vim. I’m already plotting my bestseller French Women Do Have Botox. I email Sonia to ask her if she thinks I might benefit from any of her treatments. How about all those worry lines on my forehead or my far from toned jaw?
I wait with bated breath for her reply.
Dr Sonia Hannoun is generally in London (at 64 Knightsbridge, SW1) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (0753 138 3861, firstname.lastname@example.org). Prices start at £150 for the line between the brows. The vitamin injection is £150 for 20 mins
Essential Botox lingo: my top ten
Just in case you find yourself in France and and in need of un top up here is my list of key words:
1. Crows’ feet – les pattes d’oie
2. Trout pout – une bouche de truite
3. Spock brows – l’effet Méphisto
4. Worry line between brows – la ride du lion
5. Worry lines on forehead – les rides du front
6. Marionette lines – les rides de la marionette or the more poetic les plis d’amertume
7. Smokers’ lines above lips – le code bar
8. Discreet Botox – des petites touches
9. Chipmunk cheeks – joues de hamster
10. The tear trough – la vallée des larmes