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Lessons from Madame Chic

20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris

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Inspired by Paris, this lighthearted and deceptively wise contemporary memoir serves as a guidebook for women on the path to adulthood, sophistication, and style, perfect for any woman looking to lead a more fulfilling, passionate, and artful life.

Paris may be the City of Light, but for many it is also the City of Transformation. When Jennifer Scott arrived in Paris as an exchange student from California, she had little idea she would become an avid fan of French fashion, lifestyle, and sophistication. Used to a casual life back home, in Paris she was hosted by a woman she calls “Madame Chic,” mistress of a grand apartment in the Sixteenth Arrondissement.

Madame Chic mentors Jennifer in the art of living, with elegance and an impeccably French less-is-more philosophy. Three-course meals prepared by the well-dressed Madame Chic (her neat clothes covered by an apron, of course) lure Jennifer from her usual habit of frequent snacks, junk food, sweatpants, and TV.

Additional time spent with “Madame Bohemienne,” a charming single mother who passionately embraces Parisian joie de vivre, introduces readers to another facet of behind-closed-doors Parisian life.

While Francophiles will appreciate this memoir of a young woman’s adventure abroad, others who may not know much about France will thrill to the surprisingly do-able (yet chic!) hair and makeup lessons, plus tips on how to create a capsule wardrobe with just ten useful core pieces.

Each chapter of Lessons from Madame Chic reveals the valuable secrets Jennifer learned while under Madame Chic’s tutelage—tips you can master no matter where you live or the size of your budget.

Embracing the classically French aesthetic of quality over quantity, aspiring Parisiennes will learn the art of eating (deprive yourself not; snacking is not chic), fashion (buy the best you can afford), grooming (le no-makeup look), among other tips.

From entertaining to decor, you will gain insights on how to cultivate old-fashioned sophistication while living an active, modern life. Lessons from Madame Chic is the essential handbook for a woman that wants to look good, live well, and enjoy that Parisian je ne sais quoi in her own arrondissement.

Lessons from Madame Chic
Introduction

I relax in the upholstered living room armchair. The smell of tobacco lingers in the air. The grand windows are open, allowing the warm Parisian night breeze to flow through the room, and the exquisite tapestry drapes end in an elegant puddle on the floor. Classical music plays on the vintage record player. The dishes are nearly cleared away but the last coffee cups still remain on the dining room table, along with a few crumbs of that day’s fresh baguette, so eagerly consumed earlier with a slice of Camembert cheese—the roi du fromage.

Monsieur Chic sits smoking his pipe in tranquil contemplation while nodding his head slowly to the music as though conducting the orchestra in his imagination. His son paces by the open window, holding a glass of port. Madame Chic walks in, removing the apron that so efficiently protected her A-line skirt and silk blouse. She smiles contentedly, and I help her remove the final coffee cups from the table. It has been another satisfying day in Paris—where life is lived beautifully, passionately.

In January 2001 I went to live with a French family in Paris as a foreign exchange student. I left the casual comforts of Los Angeles, boarded a plane with my fellow students from the University of Southern California (with two very large, overstuffed suitcases), and embarked on an adventure that would alter the course of my life in the most profound ways.

But, of course, I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I was going to spend the next six months in Paris. Paris! The most romantic city in the world! I confess my excitement was clouded by some concerns. When I left California, I had only taken three semesters of French—my command of the language was clumsy at best. Also, six months is a long time to be away from one’s family and country. What if I got homesick? What would my French host family be like? Would I like them? Would they like me?

So a few nights after I landed in Paris, when I found myself sitting in the formal and austere dining room of Famille Chic, partaking in a five-course dinner, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and precious antiques, I was already in love with my new, fascinating family. This family who was beautifully dressed, eating a well-cooked homemade meal (in courses!) on their best china on a Wednesday evening. This family who took tremendous enjoyment from the small pleasures in life and who appeared to have mastered the art of living well. This family with their nightly rituals and immaculate customs, built on tradition. How could this simple California girl, who was so accustomed to flip-flops and barbecues, have found herself living amongst the Parisian aristocracy?

Yes, Famille Chic (the name I will use to preserve their anonymity) were of an aristocratic heritage. Their tradition of fine living had been passed down to them from their illustrious ancestors, and generations upon generations of Famille Chic had practiced their art.

And who was this enigmatic Madame Chic? She was a mother and a wife. She worked part-time and volunteered. She was very traditional in her style; she never wore jeans. She was a brunette with a no-nonsense Parisian bob. She had very strong opinions. She was kind and nurturing and she could be bold and blunt (as you will see). She was a woman who knew what was important in life, and her family was the most important thing of all. She was the head of this household that lived so well. She made all of those delectable meals. She managed the intricacies of everyday life. She steered the ship.

In the beginning of my stay I thought all French families lived like Famille Chic—in a traditional and ceremonious manner. Then I had the pleasure of getting to know Famille Bohemienne (another host family in my study abroad program). Their household was run by Madame Bohemienne, a single mother with curly hair, a rosy outlook on life, and warmth and charm that illuminated her wild dinner parties. In contrast to Famille Chic, the Bohemiennes were casual, relaxed, boisterous, and well, bohemian! Yes, the two families lived their lives very differently, but both families lived passionate lives and lived them very well. It was my pleasure and privilege to observe them both.

This book originated on my blog, The Daily Connoisseur, when I did a series called The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris. I received so much interest from readers, I decided to elaborate on the lessons I learned from Famille Chic and Famille Bohemienne and record them in this book.

Each chapter presents a lesson I learned while living in Paris. Many of these lessons were learned directly from Madame Chic, whom I had the pleasure of observing in her own home and who so kindly took me under her wing. I learned some of the lessons from Madame Bohemienne. Some lessons I learned from the City of Light itself.

As a young college student, I had many ideas about what I’d learn while living in Paris, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about how to live life. How to really live it. How not just to exist, but to thrive. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself . . .

Lessons from Madame Chic

Le Recap

• Boost the quality of the meals you do have to reduce the craving for snack foods.

• Make dining well a priority.

• Decorate your home for not snacking. Go for aesthetics first and comfort second. (After all, if you feel like lying down, you can always go to bed.)

• When you do snack, pick only high-quality foods. Never settle.

• Never eat while walking, driving, or standing. Avoid eating on the go at all costs.

• Allow yourself to feel a little bit of hunger to build up a healthy appetite.

• Stay hydrated throughout the day with water.

• Always consult your doctor before starting any new eating routine and work out what is best for you.

• Make preparing balanced meals a priority in your life and keep your pantry stocked.

• And remember: mindless snacking is so not chic!
Photograph by Kevin McIntyre

Jennifer L. Scott is the New York Times bestselling author of Lessons from Madame Chic, At Home with Madame Chic, and Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic and the writer and editor of The Daily Connoisseur (DailyConnoisseur.com). She lives in Southern California with her family. Visit JenniferLScott.com.

"A guide for women who yearn to channel Audrey Tautou. . . . Personable, anecdote-filled, and studded with lifestyle tips . . . its vivacity and sincerity have struck a chord among women who would like a French role model of their own, but don't have a year to spend apprenticing with one in Paris."

– The New York Times

"Part tribute to the effortlessly glamorous Parisian way of life, and part tutorial . . . on how to emulate the French je ne sais quoi."

– Daily Mail (UK)

“Downright intriguing. . . . You’ll close the book feeling inspired.”

– The Plain Dealer

"The writing here, a combination of elegance and breeziness, seems to reflect Madame Chic’s personal philosophy that life is to be lived fully and elegantly."

– Smoky Mountain News

“Winningly combines sincerity and self-deprecation . . . sweet-natured and well-intentioned . . . full of advice.”

– Kirkus Reviews

"Scott's book encourages American women to live simply and beautifully by eating well, slowing down, simplifying their lives and enjoying life."

– The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)

"Scott blends vignettes and fun encounters with philosophies and lessons that helped her evolve a sense of style and aesthetics. Lessons from Madame Chic is a fine pick for anyone interested in women's fashion, style, and how the French have recreated style lessons."

– California Bookwatch

More books from this author: Jennifer L. Scott