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The Parisian Way to Be Chic

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So my best friend in New York calls, and she says to me, "I want to send you a book, but it's kind of girlie."

I'm thinking, chick lit? We've shared plenty of books over the years, mysteries, World War II history, memoirs, but chick lit would be a first. I ask, "Girlie how?" She doesn't answer directly: "It's French."

Well, now I'm curious. I studied French for eight years, have been to France half a dozen times. My friend and I once attended a conference together in Paris. Her time there was pretty stressful. She almost passed out from the flu in the Palais Royale and was also thrown out of a cab at the Place d'Italie in the middle of a transit strike. But she recovered and bears no grudges.

"It's about fashion and style," she's telling me. Okay, I'm hooked, because I've read Joan deJean's awesome The Essence of Style about how the French basically invented everything glamorous, from champagne to high-end shopping.

"It's by a model, it tells you how to dress, what to wear, it's changed my life, it's changed how I see everything. I walk into a room and picture what should be different with the decor, I notice who has the right accessories for their outfit. I never noticed things like that before! I went to a party tonight and took a clutch! I never carry a clutch. I wore a black cashmere sweater. When have you ever seen me in a black cashmere sweater? And I wore Oscar de la Renta shoes."

I've never heard my friend even mention a designer, and when she goes on to try and pronounce the author's name, I know who she means: "Ines de la Fressange? She's famous." So we end the conversation talking over each other: I keep assuring her I'll read anything she thinks important, and she keeps warning me not to read straight through. "Dip," she advises.

Well, she's right. When it comes, Parisian Chic has the heft and size of one of those Dorling Kindersley travel guides, and within minutes I discover how much fun it is for someone who's been to Paris enough times to have noticed and appreciated Parisian style and attitude.

It's a sexy, humor-filled passport into the world of chic, revealing the mindset and the maneuvers of Parisian women like the author. Filled with advice for all kinds of occasions and settings, photos of de la Fressange illustrating killer Parisian looks, and listings of her favorite shops in Paris and on-line, the book is addictive. It really is a guide book to another world, one where people belt a tuxedo jacket over jeans or wear a "simple" diamond necklace with a denim shirt.

Even if you don't have de la Fressange's striking looks and height (or her diamonds), it offers advice for looking and feeling chic the French way -- at all ages. You'll learn about the right accessories and the wrong matches, how and where to shop, how to organize your closets and how to organize your life -- it all hangs together under the rubric of chic, Parisian-style.

Is it girlie? Maybe for some people. For me it's like The DaVinci Code: high-energy, filled with fascinating facts, stylish, wildly self-confident and sometimes improbable. My friend used to be given to winter wooly hats with pompoms, hats that look like they were bought at a thrift shop. I think she may be switching to berets. She's already having her hair cut and colored differently, and she's changed her lipstick, all based on Parisian Chic. She's shopping strategically and reconsidering her eyebrows. "I'll never be a size 4," she admits, "but I can carry myself as if I am."

And me, I'm wondering when de la Fressange will start offering advice to men. I'm partway there, no? Most of what I wear is black.