Splitting my time between Paris and London, you would think that more of French glamour would have rubbed off on me. If any place were to persuade me of the virtues of a beauty routine, surely it would be the French capital where women are well-coiffed and never seen without make-up. Unfortunately sleep does tend to get in the way!
Like many of my girlfriends in Paris, I prefer an extra snooze to juggling anti-cellulite cream, foundation and hairdryers. Instead my mornings consist of a cup of tea, a shower, some toothpaste, a 5-minute facial routine (including the moisturiser), the hunt for a pair of un‑laddered stockings, a dozen strokes of the hair brush and the slam of the front door behind me. My only real beauty indulgence is nail varnish but this I usually apply on Eurostar journeys or during light night conference calls in the office.
In an attempt to understand French ladies’ fascination with lotions and potions, I wandered into Gallerie La Fayette one lunchtime. Even during the working week, the Estée Lauder and Clarins counters do a roaring trade in pots of morning and evening creams, tubes of anti-cellulite unguent, eye serum, anti-wrinkle ointment… The concessions with their immaculate if highly maintained young ladies are quite intimidating. Also, they are not really the place to indulge my label habit.
My obsession with labels is not of the type that would find free rein in a place like La Fayette, Printemps or Le Bon Marché. You see, I read the small print on labels rather than buying the big ones. A nut allergy means I scour labels both on food and toiletries. This habit has over the years had a major impact on what I buy and what I put on my skin. No matter how pretty or stylish the Dior and Lancôme pots and jars look, I cannot get over the list of ingredients that sound like something out of an inorganic chemistry book. Instead, my purchasing policy for toiletries is based on simple rules: the shorter the list of ingredients the better; ingredients that sound like real words rather chemical elements; and glass containers ahead of plastic.
My favourite toiletries include time-honoured liquids that my great-grandmother would recognise, like witch hazel with its soothing feel is a perfect alternative to make-up remover and rose water with its cooling yet fragrant effect. Add to that home‑made solutions like oat and honey scrub – safe for the face and the body – and fresh rosemary tied under the bath tap. At the more manufactured end, I am a big fan of Oliva pure olive oil soap, which does not lather up but leaves the skin feeling squeaky clean. And I have most definitely fallen for the green bottles of Citrus Refreshing Bath Milk from Weleda. Instead of saving it for my infrequent baths, I douse some on a flannel and use the liquid in my morning shower. The intense smell of Sicilian lemons kick-start my day and I am convinced that the smile induced by the scent of summer does more for my complexion than any number of creams and serums.
As I looked round our London bathroom this weekend, I realised that although where skin care is concerned I prefer the simplicity of the English and German organic tradition, Paris has had a lasting influence on the bathroom. Our choice of new tiles was directly influenced by the simple interwar tiles of the Paris metro, revealing that French do appreciate beauty in simplicity.