At Racked, Eliza Brooke looks at that enduring style icon — the French Girl — and the big money to be made riding her aspirational, stylishly flyaway coattails. Not sure who the French Girl is? Here you go.
Who is she? She’s intellectual, cool, and a bit of a romantic, but she doesn’t give her approval easily or smile too much. She might run around in black-tipped Chanel slingbacks, or barefoot if she’s on vacation. She has a signature perfume. She eats cheese without abandon and nurses a single glass of wine all night because she’s a master of reasonable indulgences. She’s almost always white, hetero, and thin, and you can only conjure her by willfully ignoring the many French women whose daily routines do not involve bicycling along the Seine in miniskirts with baguettes tucked under their arms.
But the French Girl’s influence is tangible. She makes money for big American drugstore chains, department stores, independent brands, book publishers, magazines, and digital media companies. She definitely has something to do with the fact that rosé, sales of which outpaced the rest of the wine market last year, has become so popular in the US.
“The most stylish chef in the industry,” according toVogueParis. “A fairy tale child,” according to fashion editor André Leon Talley, “straight out of a gothic novel.” The grandson of Maxime de La Falaise, a 1950s beauty who wrote for American Vogue and played muse to Andy Warhol. The nephew of Loulou de La Falaise, the afflatus of Yves Saint Laurent. The great-nephew of Mark Birley, who ruled London nightlife with Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar. And on and on.
Daniel Le Bailly de La Falaise has always had much to live up to.
Yet even from his younger years, Daniel parried the pressure with aplomb. He modeled for Vogue Paris as a wispy seventeen year-old. He acted in plays on the West End alongside Michael Gambon. It was the same path of aristocratic, creative urbanity that his forebears lived so well.
But one day, he realized it wasn’t quite the life for him.
“I asked myself the question of whose career I coveted and I couldn’t really come up with the answer,” Daniel told me over the phone from Bolinas, California. “I wanted control over what my life would be and cooking was something that I had always done.”
So cook he did.
He was slated to start work at the River Café, a respected Italian eatery on the banks of the Thames, but his great-uncle Mark Birley challenged him. “If you’ve got the balls, if you’ve got balls, Danny, you’ll start at Harry’s Bar,” Daniel recounted him saying in reference to the members-only Mayfair restaurant founded by his great uncle. “He thought I’d make a week and in the end I did years there.”
Today, Daniel lives mostly on an estate near Toulouse, France, with his wife, Molly, and infant son, Louis. He manages Le Garde-Manger de La Falaise, an exclusive line of oils and vinegars sold at Selfridges in London and at Claus in Paris, and he is the author of a recent book from Rizzoli called Nature’s Larder.
But his central work remains cooking. He cooks for himself, his family, and his friends, but he also caters celebrity and fashion events, which take place mostly in Paris, London, and Milan. He catered Kate Moss’ wedding and, most recently, he was in charge of a 125-person dinner at the Château de Courances in northern France for the Olsen twins’ fashion brand, The Row.
Although Daniel’s provenance is one of sophistication and blue blood, he eschews pretension. His favorite food is spaghetti alle vongole and, as he puts it, “there is no better luxury than really distilled simplicity.”
Daniel spoke to me about the pressures of aristocracy, the sexuality of food, and what cooking for the rich and famous really takes. Read more…
At the end of November 1974, a friend from Paris called and told me that Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would probably die. I said that this must not be, not at this time, German cinema could not do without her now, we would not permit her death. I took a jacket, a compass, and a duffel bag with the necessities. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself. What I wrote along the way was not intended for readers. Now, four years later, upon looking at the little notebook once again, I have been strangely touched, and the desire to show this text to others unknown to me outweighs the dread, the timidity to open the door so wide for unfamiliar eyes. Only a few private remarks have been omitted.Read more…
The Longreads Exclusive below is based on Frances Leech’s ebook of the same name, published in 2013 by Vintage UK.
To make chocolate mousse, enough for 150 people, say, first whip the cream — liters and liters of it. Then, separately, whisk the egg yolks. Boil sugar and water and add to the yolks, still whisking, in a thin drizzle. Melt the chocolate, then stir, fold, and whisk everything together with some gelatin.
What is missing from this description, the bare-bones sketch in the red address book that alphabetizes all of my work recipes, is the physical sensations. When I started my apprenticeship in Paris a year ago, I learned that baking can be at once precise and vague. Measure everything to the last gram, simple enough. Harder to describe what the meringue mixture should look like when it is just right, hard to put the steady pressure of a hand piping cream into words. I looked and looked and was frustrated over and over.
The lurid works of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, who lived from 1740 to 1814 and died in a mental asylum, were banned in France until 1957, and the diabolical aura around his literary output has lifted only gradually. In fact, according to Hugues [a modern descendant of the Marquis, currently living in Paris], his ancestor’s very existence was erased from the Sade family memory. Hugues’ parents had not even heard of him until the late 1940s, when the historian Gilbert Lely turned up on their doorstep at the Condé-en-Brie castle, in the Champagne region east of Paris, looking for documents relating to the author. “For five generations, the marquis’ name was taboo in our family,” Hugues marveled. “It was as if there was an omertà (conspiracy of silence) against him! The family no longer even used the title marquis.”
Intrigued by Lely’s tale, Hugues’ excited parents, then young newlyweds, began to explore the rambling Condé castle, and soon discovered that a wall had been bricked up in the attic. When they broke through, they found a jumble of dusty valises filled with documents hidden some time earlier by ashamed family members—the Marquis de Sade’s letters, papers, even shopping lists scrawled on scraps of parchment.
“The letters showed Sade the man, how he was a decent human being,” Hugues said. “How he wrote touching love letters to his wife, his two sons, his daughter.”
From that day on, the Sade family dedicated itself to vindicating the memory of its forgotten ancestor, mounting a crusade that coincided with the loosening of censorship in France in the 1950s. Sade’s work became widely available in the rebellious ’60s, and the door opened for the once-disgraced marquis to become France’s most decadent cultural hero, a frenzied aristocratic libertine who is now hailed by some as a literary genius and martyr for freedom.
You know who else loved Shakespeare and Company and who wasn’t a writer with skin in the game? Frank Sinatra—according, that is, to Ed Walters, a former pit boss at the Sands, in Las Vegas, who was taken under Sinatra’s wing in the 1960s and offered this account for a forthcoming history the store plans to publish:
What few Sinatra fans know is that he loved books, especially history books. He was in the casino at a 21 table, playing blackjack and talking with his friends. He told the guys, “I’m giving Eddie some books to educate him. He needs it.”
He asked about a book he’d given me, was I reading it. He said, “Eddie you must travel and when you do, go to Paris, go to the Shakespeare bookstore. I know the guy there… . Go see the guy George—he’s a guy that lives with the books.”
A New Yorker with limited French skills gets dropped into an advertising agency in Paris:
In French class, I did well in spoken tests, but my written French was appalling. The conditional tense confused me, and the French loved the conditional tense, French conversation practically being founded on relativity—perhaps, maybe, I don’t know. In kissing, some people were ripe, others were not. Whole groups could be off-limits.
It definitely wasn’t appropriate to kiss your boss, except when it was, though it was correct to kiss your underlings, except when it wasn’t. Young men generally didn’t kiss other young men, unless they were friends outside work. But older men did, sometimes. You never knew. Also, these kisses were intended not to touch the cheek but to glance it. People kept their eyes locked on the middle distance and seemed, while kissing or being kissed, very bored.
In 1908, teams from four countries — the United States, France, Germany, and Italy — raced from New York to Paris by driving across the American west, and the frozen Bering Strait:
The contestants represented an international roster of personalities. G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray, driving the French De Dion, once organized a motorboat race from Marseille to Algiers that resulted in every single boat sinking in the Mediterranean. His captain was Hans Hendrick Hansen, a swashbuckling Norwegian who claimed to have sailed a Viking ship, solo, to the North Pole. He declared that he and his companions would reach Paris or “our bodies will be found inside the car.” Frenchman Charles Godard, driving the Moto-Bloc, participated in the Peking-to-Paris race without having driven a car and set an endurance record by driving singlehandedly for 24 hours nonstop.