If you’ve followed my blog from the start, you will be well aware of my quite obvious girl crush I have on Katrina Lawrence, the former beauty writer and now author and travel consultant at Paris for Dreamers. After the book launch of her first book Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick., Katrina realised she had much more to say on the subject of Paris, and was happiest when advising others on how to get the most out of their next Parisian jaunt. Which is why she wrote a book on walking tours with a difference — Paris for Dreamers: Whimsical Walks Through the City of Light’s Delights — as well as launching the website, to give other Paris dreamers the inspiration they need to have their dream Parisian experience.
With Bastille Day coming up on Sunday, I couldn’t not speak with Katrina about everything Parisian, and of course her covetable french beauty staples!
What does Bastille Day mean to you?
On a personal level, I’ve been in Paris for Bastille Day numerous times: with my grandfather when I was young, with girlfriends when we were all footloose and fancy-free, and a couple of times with my young sons. So I have a variety of memories of this fun and festive day.
But from the point of view of a Francophile — a lover of French culture, history, food, everything! — Bastille Day represents a celebration of the human right to a good life.
Bastille Day might not at first seem like it should be a happy event. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison, a bloody siege that led to the Revolution and the so-called Terreur, a time of such frightening and indiscriminate violence that it gave the world the word ‘terrorism.’ But although the French Revolution saw some truly evil men commit atrocious acts, it was above all a fight by the people for equality.
What I love about the legacy of the revolution is that it wasn’t about dragging everything down so much as elevating everyone up to a better life. Old aristocratic habits weren’t killed off by the guillotine. Restaurants boomed after the revolution. Opera kept playing. The fashion industry kept spinning. People continued to drink champagne. I adore that about the French, their firm belief that everyone has the right to drink champagne, that we should all be able to have a life worth celebrating.
So Bastille Day is about saluting the freedoms and the rights that allow the French to live well. In France there is free education and healthcare. People are highly taxed for it, of course, and income is not particularly huge in France. But most people get by, and have the time and money to enjoy picnics with friends, long family lunches, holidays here and there, those seemingly small pleasures that end up being the big things in life. And when you’re in France on Bastille Day you see this, everyone out enjoying life’s little joys — the picnics, the pétanque, the macarons, the rosé!
You were a beauty journalist for many years — what did the French teach you about beauty?
Oh, so much. I loved interviewing the perfume ‘noses’ in particular. They’re such artists and I now really appreciate a beautifully crafted fragrance, especially one that leaves a lasting sillage — that scent trail that Parisiennes love to wear like an olfactory scarf!
I also interviewed many beautiful French women, from skincare formulators to actresses and models, and what I soon came to realise is that the effortlessly chic look they do so well actually does require a certain amount of effort! But they know when to draw the line, so to speak — they’re not chained to their bathrooms. They know which beauty tasks require the most attention. So, for example, they’re ultra-diligent with their skincare, and regular facials, which means they can get away with a quick daily makeup routine of minimal foundation (if any), followed by a smudge of liner or swipe of red lipstick. Similarly, they use good-quality haircare, so that if they air-dry their hair, it will still look healthy even if messy. It’s like carrying around an old Birkin bag — it might be battered but, hey, it’s Hermès!
A Parisienne once told me that she can’t spend too long on her beauty regimen as she would miss out on too many other things that are important to her, such as reading the newspaper or catching up with friends. The key for her was in knowing how to do the minimum work for maximum results.
For most Parisians, looking groomed is a social duty — they like to live up to the gorgeousness of Paris. I love this about them, the pride they take in themselves as much as their city. Grooming is also a form of self-care here. After all, it was a French brand that came up with the tagline ‘Because you’re worth it’!
What are your favourite French beauty products?
- Anything from the wonderful Bioderma. Especially their cult cleansing water, of course, but also their anti-redness skincare, which I find soothing for my rosacea.
- An Embryolisse moisturiser followed by Embryolisse Secret de Maquilleurs — I usually need coverage on my cheeks for my aforementioned redness, and these two products combine for a great base.
- Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt. I am nothing short of obsessed with this shampoo. I love the exfoliating action and how it makes your scalp feel so fresh, but also that at the same time it’s super-gentle on hair, especially of the highlighted variety. Also, the lather is exceptional for a sulphate-free product.
- Suncare by La Roche-Posay. The formulations are as lightweight as they are high-coverage.
- Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. I adore a thematic perfume, a fragrance with a beautiful back-story, and this is the ultimate for me. It was inspired by Paris’s famous blue light, that vaporous, violet-tinged twilight. Cue a powdery sparkle that dissolves into a seductive muskiness, with a potent sillage that takes you well into the after dark.
Finally, can you share any Paris travel tips?
Of course! It’s my favourite thing to do! I have thousands of them but if I had to pick out a few tops, they would be …
- Just go. Whenever you can. Don’t think you must sync your holiday to a particular season if you have limited timing options. Of course, Paris is sublime in April, when the pink cherry blossoms are in full bloom. But it’s a city that is exquisite in every season. You just need to make sure you’re fully equipped for that season (say, pack Uniqlo thermals for winter), and tailor your itinerary to suit the conditions. In other words, don’t plan for late-night picnics by the Seine if you’re going to be there in December!
- Pack walking shoes. Or a few pairs. Paris is for wanderers. It’s relatively flat in surface, it’s doesn’t take too long to criss-cross, and there are so many picturesque ways to get from A to B — there’s always something to swoon over, such as a pretty flower-laden balcony. This is how you find a Paris of your own. I always recommend leaving one day on the itinerary completely blank — this is the day for just walking wherever your fancy takes you. And in Paris, a city of so many portals to a past time and of so much beauty, that fancy will always take you somewhere amazing. Oh also, all the walking works off all the macarons and cheese!
- If you’re heading to Paris in peak season, consider pre-purchasing tickets for the larger museums and more popular monuments. Just be aware that, with most of these, you’ll need to commit to a specific date, possibly even a particular time slot, too. That might be tricky at first, but you’ll be thankful for the forward thinking once you’re breezing through the fast lane.