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French Beauty Ideals

I’m in a French frame of mind today – what with it being Bastille Day. So I thought I’d share some of the words of beauty wisdom that I’ve received from two leading French make-up gurus whom I’ve interviewed in the last couple of years.

Both Laura Mercier and Terry de Gunzburg are charming, vivacious and sexy older women who graduated from the legendary Carita beauty school, and made their names as top make-up artists in the 1980s before launching their own lines of cosmetics. (Of course, for de Gunzburg, there was also the small matter of her creation of a “magic wand” called Touche Eclat at YSL ..)

It’s perhaps unsurprising then to discover that they share a similar beauty aesthetic – one which really highlights the difference between how French women and their British and/or American cousins view themselves, their looks and their sex appeal, as they go through life.

Asked to name the movie actresses whose looks she most admired, Laura Mercier said:  “I’ve always had a fascination for people who are not obviously beautiful … Obviously beautiful women like Catherine Deneuve absolutely don’t move me. Yes, she’s gorgeous in Belle de Jour but she has never moved me. However,  I am completely fascinated by the Italian actress Anna Magnani (right; 1908-1973) who can be gorgeous. Sometimes she can be not so beautiful but she’s always so intense. The personality is to die for – I mean, big dark circles, the nose and the teeth. I’m fascinated by that, by all faces. Everybody has the potential to be beautiful.”

Another of Mercier’s beauty heroines is the stylish, but not conventionally beautiful, octogenarian interior designer Andree Putman.  “She looks odd – she has adopted, completely adopted, a make-up and a hairstyle that’s always asymmetrical. I mean, she really goes for it. She imposes a personality. It’s not just about being perfect and symmetrical – it’s also her talent and her personality. Thank God! Beauty’s not like that. Paloma Picasso (below)  is another example. Even if you take Jackie Kennedy (left), yeah she was beautiful but she was not obviously beautiful. Her eyes were very far apart. If you look into the details, you see that they’re not perfect but that’s what makes us all unique. The defect can often become an asset.”

Terry de Gunzburg agrees. “I’ve always said: ‘ J’aime les defaults dans les grands oeuvres. ‘ [I like the flaws in the masterpieces.] I think that some wrinkles and fine lines can give you an internal beauty.”  She named as one of her favourite beauty heroines, whose face she had made-up while she was at Carita, the grande dame of American cinema Lauren Bacall. “I prefer the face of the older Lauren Bacall to the face of the older Goldie Hawn,” she said, recalling Bacall’s own view that she had “earned every one of her wrinkles”.

Laura Mercier sums up by saying:  “No-one can say Catherine Deneuve and Grace Kelly are not beautiful but, to me, they’re slightly boring, they’re a little bland. I like a little more hot pepper..”

* Laura Mercier’s range is widely available. Visit www.lauramercier.com to view her products. By Terry is available in Space NK stores in the UK. Visit www.spacenk.co.uk

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