Audrey Hepburn, École nationale des chartes, École Normale Supérieure, Coco Chanel, Grace Kelly, Greenpeace, hypokhâgne, Institute d'études politiques, Lycée Jean-Pierre Vernant Sèvres, Thierry Mugler, Ville d'Avray France
Clémence Descours, student, was born in Paris and has lived in Ville d’Avray, a suburb near Paris, since she was three years old. She received her high school Baccalauréat diploma in 2011 from the Lycée Jean-Pierre Vernant in Sèvres, where her general studies were in the Section Littéraire for literature and the humanities. She is now in her year of hypokhâgne, a classe préparatoire, the year-long preparation course that determines the student’s placement in a school. Functioning similarly to ACT or SAT tests in the U.S., hypokhâgne is more intense because the French education system uses grades and class rank to determine the student’s specialization, even at the Baccalauréat level. Students prepare for the competitive entrance examination to one or more schools: École Normale Supérieure, École nationale des chartes, business schools, or the Institut d’études politiques (also called Science Po). For now, Clémence is seeking to volunteer with Greenpeace, in Paris.
AWP: Name the books and movies, works of art and music, fashion or cuisine that have inspired you.
CD: I’ve been inspired by the following:1984, by George Orwell. It is a dystopia, an imagined place where everything is unpleasant, denouncing the boundary between social classes, the manipulation of the crowds, the incitation of tattling. Cervantes’ Don Quixote because the madness of the main character is so poetic, and I think there is a beauty in the way he is absolutely disconnected with the reality. Homer’s Odyssey shows the archetypal hero, half god and almost perfect. I like reading utopia or dystopia; it makes me dream. In the Name of Honour, by Mukhtar Mai, inspires me often. The book contains memoirs of a Pakistani who has lived an awaken nightmare, just because she was born as a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. She has fought for women’s rights, which always reminds me of how lucky I am and puts personal problems into perspective. And, the movie, The Boat That Rocked; the music of The White Stripes and The Kooks; my grandmother’s cooking; and Maje’s clothes.
AWP: Do you have any role models?
DC: Coco Chanel, as she is the epitome of chic and French style, and of course Audrey Hepburn, the perfect blend of glamour and elegance. As Blair Waldorf tries to look like Grace Kelly, I attempt to reproduce their qualities. Not that I am close, but they are my examples. My grandmother is also a very important role model for me, for her unlimited kindness and generosity.The Beatles, for their retro side, so British! Their music is classic, and that will never go out of fashion. In fact, I am found of what is timeless.
AWP: What is the last book you read?
CD: The Misanthrope, by Molière. It’s a classic, and not for nothing! It is still very modern in the relationship between the characters: we laugh at the love of Alceste, the hero with principles completely out of step with the times, for Célimènce, a beautiful and clever young woman, who wants to enjoy life and who manipulates men.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
AWP: What is the best (or worst) advice you’ve ever given or received?
CD: “Do as you feel,” is both the best and worst advice I’ve ever received. The worst, because I’m hugely undecided and I like to have specific advice, the best because it forces me to take charge, to make my own choices.
AWP: What childhood experience has served you many times?
CD: I have traveled a lot with my family, which formed most of my memories. I particularly remember our trip to Egypt. I was, and am still, fascinated by the culture of ancient Egypt. Visiting the temples and pyramids, small-boat rides on the Nile, the heat wave; each experience remains imprinted in my memory!
AWP: In your youth, what did you imagine your adult life would hold? What influenced this vision?
CD: I imagined I would become a veterinarian or wildlife photographer, because I was passionate about animals: their instincts, their independence, and how they are so logically a part of nature. With time, I realized I hated math and I gave up my idea of becoming a veterinarian, and then my “animal phase” ended. I still like to take photographs, especially when I travel, mostly landscapes and portraits.
AWP: In your early teens, what formed your romantic fantasies of adventure and love?
CD: Books: from Harry Potter to Twilight, and all the novels by Meg Cabot. As a child, I was fascinated by Harry Potter’s super powers and heroism and I waited for my Hogwart’s letter for many years. And as many girls, I liked vampire’s romanticism and the stories of girls that found the loves of their lives in high school. Meg Cabot’s work was less absolute, but funnier, and the identification to the characters’ story was easier.
AWP: What were your favorite childhood things to do?
CD: I played a lot with Barbie dolls, with my Polish au pair, or with my friends. I liked to learn about animals, and read cards about different species that I received each week.
AWP: Was being stylish important to you growing up in your teens? Is it now?
CD: I always liked clothes (I played Barbies and not with Corolle dolls). Fashion has become more important to me over the years and I can spend a lot of time looking at fashion magazines and websites. When I was young, I liked prom dresses more than actual fashion. Now, I like many different clothing styles, even though I don’t wear too many eccentric things. I get Glamour, because it is cheap and has a good presentation of new trends. Most of the girls my age read Glamour or Cosmopolitan, and fashion blogs on the internet. I read, almost everyday, the new articles on the website Tendances de Mode. I have never had the occasion to see any fashion shows in Paris, because you have to be invited and work in the world of fashion. But my mother did! She worked in the cosmetic firm Clarins, and she went to the Thierry Mugler show a few years ago. I never go to any store openings showing new lines of clothing. There are too many people and purchasing in chaos is often not lucky!
AWP: How do you define style or fashion?
CD: I have several definitions, depending on my mood: one day a rock star with a leather jacket; another day a bobo with neutral colors (brown and beige). I like variety, like the unique top with baroque motifs I found in a thrift store. I try what I like, and then I keep only what fits me. I don’t have many prejudices about what I won’t wear, except for the cropped T’s or very skin-tight tops.
AWP: Tell us about your cooking and eating habits and traditions.
CD: Most nights, we eat with the family at the table. A dish prepared by my mother (she is the main cook and the rest of the family cleans the dishes), with yoghurt or a piece of cheese as a dessert. I recently became a vegetarian, but it did not change our habits because we eat very little meat at home and everything is organic. It takes a little bit more to get protein, usually from more nuts and cereals.
When we have guests, we often serve an apéritif of wine or champagne and nuts before the meal. After the apéritif, we serve a starter, like a tomato salad, then a main dish, which might be fish with rice or couscous with ratatouille. We usually present the cheeseboard, again with wine (at home, we always have some Comté and goat cheese), and later the dessert — sometimes a chocolate mousse. Finally, coffee is served!
My mother goes to organic stores and to the market on Sunday morning.
AWP: What was your most memorable meal to date?
CD: The last big meal was Christmas Eve, in an alpine chalet. There were family and friends, the thirty people I love, there to ski together. It was the 5th consecutive year that we’ve all met for the Christmas holiday, and it is always amazing. We had the best pumpkin soup I’ve ever eaten, prepared by my parents’ friend with help from a few others, but we couldn’t all be in the kitchen together. A feast! There were small candles on the table, and a little cardboard Santa Claus made by my young cousins. Inside the chalet with the snow outside was idyllic.
AWP: What is in your refrigerator right now?
CD: Yoghurt in many flavors: natural and fat free, grapefruit, coconut, lemon, and raspberry; lettuce, frozen ratatouille, many trays of smoked salmon; and jars of my grandmother’s jam (so delicious!). My favorite is the apple jelly, but her plum and rhubarb jams are also amazing! We also have some galettes bretonnes, which is like a crêpes but with Saracen wheat flour and salty. It’s a specialty of Breton.
ART OF LIVING:
AWP: What do you live for? What do you love above all?
CD: I have two passions that are quite opposite: one is that fashion fascinates me and I wish I could clean out half of whichever store in which I am shopping; and the other is that I feel very concerned about being ecological and humanitarian, and ethical in general. This is very important in my life and is a reason why I am now a vegetarian. I no longer buy clothes that come from countries where working conditions are too horrible (it’s very hard, because the choices are very limited!). So, I prefer clothes made in the European Union more than in China or India, and I like websites like Monkee Genes and Peopletree. When I can, I also like to go to second-hand clothes stores. You can find amazing items in a few of Paris’ trendy frippery!
AWP: What natural gift would you most like to possess? What talent are you most thankful for?
CD: When I cook, that is to say very rarely, I’m pretty talented, especially for cakes. I like baking American cookies, because it is very quick and I can eat them immediately after baking (I’m a bit greedy). The rest of my cake recipes are from the great website marmiton.org (or from my grandmother, like her terrific chocolate cake, but the recipe is top secret!). I also prepared a full meal once that I found in an exotic recipe book. It was prawn and ginger crackers as the starter, mango duck (it was before I became a vegetarian), and banana-chocolate fritters. Even though the bakery-pâtisserie we have on the next street is amazing, my principal inspiration in the kitchen comes from my mother and my grandmother.
I would like to have more creativity, one talent that I wish I had.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, For the love of yaourt (yogurt), by Michelle Hum who writes about her love of French yaourt; this tangy, creamy, dairy product that can stand by itself — although a dab of honey or handful of fresh fruit never hurts. Recipe included for Gateau au Yaourt au et au Citron (Lemon Yogurt Cake) by Ina Garten.
Pain Perdu: Childhood love of French custard and bread, by Barbara Redmond who shares her discovery of pain perdu (French toast), from the boulangerie pâtisserie Calixte in Î’le St. Louis, Paris. French toast: a favorite treat eaten in the gardens of Notre Dame in an air of whimsy and childhood delight. Recipe included for “original French toast,” made by Christophe Raoux of the L’École de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse for Mark Schatzker, ABC News explore.
Diving into Paris Fashion: From famous to fresh, by Paris-based Abby Rodgers, who asks the question, “…with veterans such as Lagerfeld making the move to the street-wear market, where is fashion headed in Paris and what influence does the newest generation have?” Included are fashion brands and stores that are favorites of Abby and her friends.
Shopping? Palais Royal, Paris, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who takes us on a virtual stroll through the Palais Royal, this quite garden in the middle of the city surrounded by arcades in which are some delightful boutiques and one of Paris’ oldest restaurants, Le Grand Véfour. With a pause for a story about Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat and a scene-of-the-crime that is straight from grand opera.
A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre
We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)
Text copyright ©2012 Clémence Descours. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.