Top critical review
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Deceptively described - more shopping and travel guide than fashion book.
on April 15, 2011
I bought this based on the reviews, product description, and product video here on Amazon, and was very surprised when I actually received the product. Everything suggests that this is a guide to dressing like a Parisian. For the most part, it is not. Here's why
1. My most important point is that most of this book is not a guide to fashion or style, it's a guide to shopping and travelling in Paris. I did a breakdown, of the 239 pages in the book (many of which are blank, or contain very little text and big cute drawings) 77 pages is comprised of shopping guides (for clothing, housewares, children's goods, almost exclusively shops in Paris, although many have websites), and 55 pages is an idiosyncratic travel guide, listing hotels, restaurants, and some museums and other tourist stops. There is a 16 page guide to home decor and entertaining, 14 pages of beauty tips, leaving only 62 pages discussing fashion and clothing.
2. The fact that only 25% of the pages address the apparent topic of the book wouldn't bother me if those 62 pages provided some really keen observations and solid advice, but the whole thing is very glib and basic. Almost all of the information can be found in nearly any modern style guide. I was hoping for some advice on composition - putting clothes together and accessorizing well - which seems to be the real skill of French dressers. The closest I got was the "mix high and low" chestnut, and advice to dress simply and not be too matchy matchy. So essentially a basic description of what French style is, not how to achieve it. Most of the other advice was of the truly revelatory "you must own a trench and an LBD" variety. Um... thanks.
3. Like many guides to dressing, eating, whatever like the French do, the text is annoyingly reductive. "All Parisians" do this, "all Parisian women" do that... as the author conflates her own experience with every other French woman's. The author is a former supermodel, and at one point claims that all Parisian women are either a size 2 or 4 (they are not). I offer this point as a caution for two reasons. First, this book offers absolutely no advice particular to the challenges women above size 4 might have in dressing well, and many of the suggestions (like shop in the menswear or children's department) are likely inadvisable to the bulk of women. Second, please understand that there is more variety to stylish French dressing than is presented here. The "voice" of the book is pure Ines - which is interesting in its own regard, but more idiosyncratic than she lets on. The only other woman's style or experience discussed is of her mini-me daughter.
4. Many reviewers describe the book as being "like a Moleskin journal." That may be true of the French/European version, but I would describe the North American publication as "sort of looking like a Moleskin journal." It is a fair bit larger, and much thicker, and has a soft, flimsy cover, and matte, slightly rough paperstock inside. The paper has a nice feel, but gives the colour photographs inside a slightly dark look. That's okay, though, since the vast majority of the pictures are silly illustrations and pictures of the inside of boutiques, spas and hotels and are not intended to be instructive in any way.
Overall, Ines de la Fressange seems like a fun enough lady, and the tone of the book is conversational and easy to read. Unfortunately as a fashion guide the book leaves much to be desired. The major advice seems to be, "to dress like a Parisian, buy all your clothes from shops in Paris." Which I probably could have figured out on my own.
Ultimately, the greatest value of this book is as a guide for fashionable people travelling to Paris to go shopping. Even as a travel guide it has its limitations as it lacks any of the basic information one usually requires, like maps or guides to basic transportation. Unfortunately, like any travel guide - especially one discussing fashionable boutiques and with a section sharing the hottest and trendiest current restaurants - I think the practical lifespan on the book is very limited. Guides like Lonely Planet are updated every year for a reason. Since I'm not currently planning to return to Paris within the next couple of years, I fear this book will be of little use to me even as an eventual tourist.