This piece originally appeared on Refinery29.com.
French women are legendary for their style. (One need only glance at Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon for evidence.) With French heritage on my mother’s side, I grew up hearing the language spoken in my family and dreamed of living in France one day. But, I wanted the authentic Parisian experience, beyond the sights and smells of the Champs-Élysées, the Parisian equivalent of New York’s tourist-jammed Times Square. I would daydream about windy cobblestoned streets, dimly lit out-of-the-way coffee shops, secret gardens, four-course dinners cooked by a husband and wife, soft jazz, and all the romance and mystery of The Real France. I wanted to master the accent, effortlessly toss up a low chignon, throw on layers of black in assorted textures, and eat a baguette every day. I wanted to own some of that style.
So, after launching my own company that allows me to work from anywhere, I bid au revoir to the hustle and bustle of my Manhattan life to move to France for six weeks and write. I planned to fully immerse myself in French heritage, whether that meant reading Balzac or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, discussing Coco Chanel’s fashion philosophy (still very en vogue today), learning to cook macarons in a private home, purchasing all my food from farmers' markets, speaking for hours over espresso about French culture and customs, and nibbling cheese in a park. I was determined to get to the bottom of French women’s seemingly effortless, innate style. But, as a new friend who lived in an eighth-floor walkup overlooking the Eiffel Tower told me, French style is very complicated. So, I learned by example. I watched, I listened, I questioned, I took notes, and eventually, I took my knowledge to the streets. I had more than a few mishaps, but by the time I was ready to fly back home to New York, I had achieved the ultimate compliment: An elegant French madame approached me to ask directions.