Despite my Miss Piggy-like fondness for French and Franglais, I’m a raving Gallophobe. Aren’t you? That snotty French superiority! Is there anything more annoying than a frog blathering on about the finer things in life and asserting his cultural preeminence? Rien ! And they’re scary, too. Clichéd notions of Paris–a romantic city peopled by Proustian jeunesse doré and accordion-wielding Maurice Chevalier types–are just a fromage façade . Les grenouilles are intent on concealing their darker side from us right-thinkin’ New Yorkers. Trust me, behind the foie gras and the crêpe de Chine lurks something malevolent and fascinating.
Roman Polanski got it right in his 1976 movie The Tenant ( Le Locataire ). He cast Shelley Winters as an ill-intentioned, fag-smoking, cabbage-boiling concierge and himself as a pathos-and-paranoia-drenched cross-dresser. Shelley’s dour tenants don’t waste their time shopping for accessories on the Rive Gauche or dunking madeleines at Les Deux Magots: They’re too busy dolloping cat shit outside each other’s doors and, inexplicably, burying human teeth in the plaster walls of their melancholy abodes. This is the nightmare Paris of Georges Simenon: grim, yes, but far more interesting. Non?
If you think I’ve lost my petits fours , then you obviously haven’t been following the Broussard scandale ( People magazine, Dec. 18) which exploded last year in Le Vésinet, a suburb of Paris. Kept in a shed for 30 years behind the middle-class home of Françoise and Jacques Saunier, 65-year-old Renée Broussard was finally liberated in early 2000. She weighed less than 85 pounds and was suffering from all kinds of maladies, none of which were imaginaire . This grotesque scenario, like something out of a Balzac novel, confirms my hypothesis: Behind the joie de vivre , the Folies Bergères and the crêpes Suzettes lurks some really scary merde .
According to People , the arrangements between Mademoiselle Broussard and les Sauniers were initially “innocent enough.” In 1969, this nasty couple “offered Broussard a place to stay in exchange for knitting work.” Oh, that doesn’t sound bizarre at all: I’m sure the next time you go apartment hunting in Tribeca, a potential landlord is going to say, “You can live in our shed but you will be called upon to knit.” Anyway, it wasn’t all bad chez les Sauniers; Mademoiselle Broussard was allowed to use the garden hose to perform her ablutions (which, being French, was probably not aussi souvent que as might have been wished for). And, though she was asked to stay out of sight, she was given “modest amounts of food.” There’s that legendary Entente Cordiale !
This chilling scandale has touched a nerve from Deauville to Saint Tropez, probably because so many grenouilles are concealing indentured knitters in their sheds and tout le monde is now terrified of having their covers blown.
P.S.: Lawyers for the Sauniers insist that “shed” is not the mot juste for Mademoiselle Broussard’s accommodation and that “chalet” is more accurate. Typical! Give it a fancy name et voilà , freezing shed becomes chic little chalet!
P.P.S.: You will, unless you’re French, be pleased to know that Mademoiselle Broussard has since vacated her chalet, put on 25 pounds and is attending art classes. Who knows, maybe one day she will have her very own tricoteuse .
I called Paris to ask Victoire de Castellane if she has her own knitter. ” Je voudrais ,” she said. “I would like to have un beau tricoteur [hunky male knitter] chez moi . But, seriously, knitting is dirty–it’s a grandmother thing.” Victoire, the former Lagerfeld muse and Chanel accessory designer, is now designing the fine jewelry at Christian Dior. Run to the new Peter Marino-designed Christian Dior jewelry boutique (17 East 57th Street) and buy yourself a piece of her gaudy and insane jewelry.
In her first collection, Victoire has extracted the essence of pre- and post-Galliano Dior and put it through the prism of her own twisted, infantile, aristocratic psyche. The resulting unrestrained adornments are high on entertainment: e.g., the Ingénue diamond-encrusted neck corsets, the Diorissimo Lily of the Valley bracelet, the Roi Soleil yellow sapphire collar and the leopard-lacquered Mitza rings. The latter are an homage to the deceased Dior muse and demi-mondaine Mitza Bricard: “She wore leopard mousseline to hide her scar, and she was having sex with many men–not dirty but in a couture way.” Victoire’s breathtaking prong-work–tiny leopard paws holding the faceted semi-precious stones in place–make her tarty Mitzas this season’s de rigueur accessoire .
Getting engaged? Don’t bugger about with ditzy, bourgeois conventional rings; get one of Victoire’s Diorettes. Choose from 11-carat white cintrine or amethyst mounted in yellow, white or red gold–by request (each $4,070). There’s also a 5-carat version (for $3,200). The prong-work? Four tiny diamond-encrusted letters spelling D-I-O-R each secure a corner of the chunky stone. Then, for your wedding ring, get the oversized Maousse (translation: jumbo) doughnut, also in yellow, white or red gold (for $1,820).
To those of you who find my enthusiasm for Victoire hypocritical, guess what? She’s not 100 percent French. Cuban and Spanish blood courses through her veins, and her grandmother was a Lady Hennessy (not to be confused with, but possibly a distant relative of, the great Lady Hennessy Brown–that lactating black stripper who used to perform unnatural acts at Suzanne Bartsch’s parties at Bentley’s in the late 80’s).
Just because French people are a bit evil doesn’t mean they don’t still offer some good style pointers. Françoise Hardy, for example: She was the unforgettable Parisian pop star who changed the look of European girls. With her shoulder-length hair and the extra-long, swooping bangs–Juliette Gréco meets Marianne Faithfull–she made her perky and beehived contemporaries look cheap and obsolete. (Don’t mock them! It happens to us all sooner or later.)
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then pump her name into any search engine and a zillion vintage pics of Françoise will pop up: She’s still around and has a loyal fan base who remember her heyday. Hit after hit reverberated through Europe in the early 1960’s, all incroyable , and 80 percent written by Françoise elle-même . When buying her grand succès (greatest hits) CD’s, make sure you get Tous les Garçons et Les Filles and Ton Meilleur Ami . The Union Square Virgin Megastore has beaucoup (from $15 to $20).
But Françoise is not just a pop star; she’s a true enigma. She had that expressionless, is-she-stupid-or-isn’t-she demeanor made popular by Catherine Deneuve. Françoise might be an imbecile, but who cares? Anyone who can look that hip in a prissy Courrèges pantsuit is allowed to be stupid. Which brings me to the point of the story: Your ladylike, more structured spring 2001 clothes need the dégagé of a Françoise Hardy coiffure. Copy it! Call Frédéric Fekkai (753-9500) and book a cut ($135 plus quelque chose â boire ) with Françoise Hardy fan Fabrice.
If you think I’m a racist, and that the French are really O.K., then you probably haven’t read much about the French Revolution. Start with To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson ($10 on Bibliofind.com).
Before they cut off her head, the revolutionary rabble subjected Marie Antoinette to countless well-documented horreurs . To alleviate the boredom of her incarceration, the crazed mob waved the dismembered genitalia of her best friend, the Princesse de Lamballe, on a stick in front of Marie Antoinette’s cell window. There’s that French charm at work again–you turn your back for a minute and they’ve got your vagina on a stick! A tout à l’heure !