Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
I am dedicating this blog to my late French grandmother, Monique. She had very little cash but always dressed with great chic, rigging up knock-off Dior outfits on her Singer sewing machine.
A steely, blue-eyed blonde with the classic beauty of Grace Kelly, she was a formidable cook. I still remember the heavenly scent of her tarte tatin and the endless miracles that came out of her tiny gas oven.
During the war she cycled over 200 miles from Angers to Paris on an old bicycle she kept hidden in her mother-in-law’s attic in order to bring my grandfather potatoes from the kitchen garden. She travelled at nightfall to avoid the Germans, unsure if her husband, who was marooned in Paris, would be dead or alive when she got there.
After the war she and my grandfather, who as an older son had not been sent to the front, spent many years in London, living in a series of Nash properties near Regent’s Park, while my grandfather worked for a French bank.
She adored London and loved its shops, its rose gardens and even its grey skies. At 5 o’clock every day she drank tea with lemon accompanied by very burnt toast, pale French butter and the thickest and most ambrosial of strawberry jams. She was always dressed to the nines, stole everybody’s parking spots (and got away with it), spoke English like Inspector Clouseau and was quite incapable of not drawing attention to herself.
I loved her style. Even in old age, when she moved back to Paris to a small flat above a Felix Potin supermarket in the wrong part of town, her standards never slipped. She always looked as if she was dressed head to toe in haute couture. When she went out in the evening she drenched herself in L’Heure Bleue, dabbed her cheeks with rouge from a tiny, highly-scented pot, then dusted her skin with Caron from a giant powder puff.
Monique would have been as fascinated by the influx of French people in 21st-century London as I am.