I must start with a few disclosure disclaimers. First, Jamie Cat Callan, Ooh La La’s author, is in my blogging group, and I actually like her a lot, so if I were not inclined to give her a good review, I would not have reviewed the book. Second, and perhaps more relevant, I was married to a Frenchman for a number of years. He’s the father of the fabulous daughter Sarah, about whom I am not allowed to blog. Although Yves-Andre (get the picture?) lived most of his life in the United States, he is very, very French. I have been to France more times than I’ve gone through tollbooths, so you can imagine. Also, I’m very, very American — that is, not French — and the thought of reviewing a book called Ooh La La did not thrill me. To be honest, I found the French less than friendly, especially when I was ordering Diet Coke in a five-star restaurant. Or when they wouldn’t let us fly over France to bomb Libya, which they really should have done themselves, but were afraid to do. All that bitterness aside, I do so very much admire French women — the way they carry themselves, and the way they wear their age with grace and joy. Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the book.
I didn’t expect to take Ooh La La seriously. The name alone sent me running. I’m more of a “Really?” person. Not Ooh La La. Lightweight, I assumed snottily. Frivolous. Fun, but without depth. Just goes to show you should pay attention to the old adage that says not to judge a book by its cover. This book is an important look at American women and how we may be selling ourselves short, and how the women in that strange land called France may have much to teach us. It may change you.
It is filled — filled, I tell you — with self-help tidbits told in charming, easy-to-stomach prose and stories that illuminate a subject that has been the Holy Grail for so many of us here across the pond in America — aging gracefully. “Aging gracefully” is an oxymoron where I live. You must be young to be graceful and relevant. Not so in France, and the book takes us behind the scenes to show us why. Combine it with Lean In, and you could change American women forever.
“Oh, and she’s old, so she’s got all that experience,” says someone Cat Callan interviews in the book. Right. Experience. That’s worth something? Oh my! I realize now that I need to wear my experience on my sleeve, and that I needn’t hide my age in nondescript clothing the way I do. Step to the front no matter what your age! Stand out! It reminded me of shopping in France and noticing that Valentino goes up to a higher size in Paris than it does in the U.S. I once asked Valentino why, and he told me that thin American women do not like to see larger women in the same clothes they are wearing. I am sure you are wondering why I was in a position to ask Valentino anything, and I’m not going to answer that. As we age, we women step to the back of the bus to give up the front seats to those who are younger. We dress down. We speak less. Ooh La La shows another side of us, a side that celebrates age and shows that you grow in worth with your age. Amazing.
In the same section, Cat Callan goes on to describe another woman’s home, and all the objects she has on the walls representing things that move her. She has clearly accumulated these things over the course of a lifetime. She talks about greens and browns and golds, and she says her living room is “awash” in those colors and objects of personal meaning. When I read that, I immediately got up to hang a few things that have been leaning against my wall since I moved in more than a year ago. I’m not kidding. Surround myself with things that make me feel good? That make me feel? Oh la la! And they somehow come together to tell the story of me? Forget the Story of O. I am going to start telling the story of me.
She talks about finding clothing pieces that are your icons. For Jamie, it’s a sailor shirt. For me, I guess it would be pearls. No, maybe a black cashmere sweater and pants. I love black on black, but I am happy to know it’s my iconic clothing image, rather than the darkest color I can find. It defines me. I was never defined by fashion before. Ooh La La taught me the context for my own personal style. Love it.
Jamie, you lost me in the lingerie department. Lingerie, Cat Callan’s interviewee states, is for the person wearing it, and no one else. Someone in France once told her that Americans, when they came to Plymouth Rock, needed to lose that part of themselves to survive. Well, that explains it. I’m a Mayflower girl — sixteen generations ago my people came to this land, so it’s no wonder I’m a black Victoria’s Secret cotton hipster person. Nonetheless, this is the one area I do not feel enlightened after reading about. I’m into comfort. But there was something I liked about the idea of wearing what you want underneath for you, not for anyone else. It’s like making your bed when you live alone, when you know no one is coming over. You feel better when you go to get into it. Note to self: Find undergarments (I don’t have the will to even call them lingerie) that are functional but a little different. I want to find something unexpected that no one else will see, but I will know is there. I will try some and see if I feel differently. Maybe it will nudge me to leave that ice cream to some other aging woman who doesn’t wear underwear for her own pleasure.
Perfume. I used to wear Hermes’ Amazon (Amazone), and I have no idea when I stopped. Most perfumes smelled too fru-fru for me. But when I smelled Amazon on one of those trips to France, I knew it was “me.” I finished the book and ordered it from, of all places, Amazon.com. I crack myself up. Buying $200 perfume at Amazon.com. I’m sure it would have been better if I’d gone to Hermes as part of the “experience,” but I live on Cape Cod and didn’t want to wait a month until I’m in New York to do it. I’m wondering if that might ruin its nuance. More importantly, I’d forgotten that I loved the way it smells, and the way I smelled wearing it. The book reminded me of the importance of saying, “It’s me, Christine, and this is the aroma I want to leave behind.” Wow. I can’t wait for it to arrive.
Bring it all together, everything the book talks about — fragrance, clothing, aging, environment, and yes, sex (that is a chapter I will leave to your private review; it was mind-blowing) — and you have a new you. The you you were meant to be. Ooh La La is a reminder that you get to choose so many, many things about who you are and how you want to be seen. Your own personal elegance. Jamie starts each chapter with a well-chosen quote from some French fashion person. I will leave you with my favorite.
Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.
– Coco Chanel
This book will help you do just that. Take possession of your future. Buy it. Read it. Gift it. Hurry.