By Philippa Campsie and Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

Defining France exhilarates those awaiting their first visit and surfaces in the dreams of those planning their return. For some, France represents the world of fashion and gourmet cuisine—bursting at its seams with the new and the unusual. For others, it is about exploring the history of its people, arts, and culture―rich in its tradition of sophistication and refinement.

It is easy to imagine the jewels and dresses, the dinner parties and interiors behind the façades of Paris, Versailles, and Fontainebleau, keenly documented in museums, literature, and the arts. These symbols of timeless elegance excite our imagination, making their way to modern fashions, décor, cuisine, and traditions that reflect the patina of everyday living.

There are plenty of resources to choose from, but here are a few from our bookshelves that you might enjoy, whether you are reading on the beach, at a café, or in your favorite armchair. To share your favorite books, email:


Spécialitiés de la Maison The American Friends of France. New forward by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. (Hardcover – May, 2010.) (First published – 1940.)

Imagine the conversation you will have when you serve your dinner guests what the wealthy and famous American celebrities, artists, socialites, and other noteworthy taste makers from the 1940s cooked when eating en famille―offering their guests a delightful range of spécialités de la maison. This captivating French cookbook, written in English, is filled with more than 200 recipes that were originally published in 1940 by a now defunct war-relief organization, The American Friends of France, which was established in 1917 by J.P. Morgan’s daughter, Anne.

More than 150 celebrities and society figures contributed to this collection, which includes: Eleanor Roosevelt’s recipe for Mrs. George Washington’s Crab Soup and Katharine Hepburn’s recipe for Chicken Burgundy Style, and among others, Gigot à la Périgord (a French XVIII century recipe) provided by Christian Dior, Smithfield Ham (an old Virginia recipe given by Madame Jusserand to Madame Joffre when she was in the United States), and duPont Pâté (this recipe came into the family with the marriage of Sophie Dalmas to E.I. duPont in 1791). 176 pages with original illustrations by Clement Hurd, Alajalov, and Jean Pagès. Collins Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Art of Vintage: An Aesthetic Odyssey Through 20 Vintage Perrier-Jouët Champagnes Serena Sutcliffe, Jean-Pierre Devroey, and Federico Simonti, with photography by Makiko Takehara. (Hardcover – November, 2009.)

Luxury is not about what we wear or how we travel but about how we live. It is a celebration of something joyful and long remembered for its splendor. Champagne, the unique sparkling wine from Champagne, France, is at the heart, more often than not, of our most memorable occasions and rites of passage. This exquisite book leads us on a journey through the legendary vintages of Perrier-Jouët champagne, from the oldest vintage champagne of 1825 to the first vintage of the new millennium in 2002. Perrier-Jouët champagne, celebrated for its Cuvée Bell Époque and Cuvée Fleur de Champagne (Flower Bottle), is one of the most famous champagne houses in the world.

Through the acclaimed vintages of Perrier-Jouët champagne, distinguished experts Sutcliffe, Devroey, and Simonti share their creative insights into history, artistic trends of the time, women’s lifestyles of the day, and offer comments on wine and harvests of the season. 400 pages with exclusive photography by the world-famous Japanese photographer Makiko Takehara. Serena Sutcliffe is a master of wine and head of Sotheby’s international wine department, and a prominent writer on wine. Jean-Pierre Devroey, doctor in history, is the dean of Philosophy and Literature in Bruxelles University and is considered one of the main specialists of champagne and history. Federico Simonti is an historian in architecture, modern, and contemporary art. Aurum Press, Jacqui Small LLP publishers.

Jewels in the Louvre (Musée du Louvre) Adrien Goetz and Claudette Joannis. (Hardcover – January, 2009.)

Who, among us, hasn’t felt the transformative expression of glamour and the dramatic―through statement-making pieces of jewelry that have the power to propel us out of anonymity and into the limelight? However modest in size or form, these pieces are instantly distinguishable and set us apart from the crowd. They are pieces that convey a strong sense of personal style. This beautifully illustrated book guides us through a critical selection of jewels and works of art held by the Louvre and provides examples of various royal jewels, which were worn by many kings and queens of France. With each turn of the page, we are drawn to the splendor of great historical figures and jewels that were symbols of royalty and power.

Jewels in the Louvre celebrates this inexhaustible theme with the symbolic meaning behind the attire of powerful rulers. It delights us with a portrait of Catherine de Médicis, queen of France (1547-1559), and the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain, queen consort of France and Navarre (1660-1683), and “Le Régent,” as the diamond came to be known, which was stolen along with other crown jewels of France in 1792 during the revolutionary furor in Paris, but was later recovered.

Goetz and Joannis offer an original look at the collections from one of the world’s finest museums. 80 pages with 40 color illustrations. Adrien Goetz is editor-in-chief of Grande Galerie and Le Journal du Louvre, and a prominent French art historian. In 2007 he was decorated with a prestigious award from the Académie Française (le grand prix François-Victor Noury of the Institut de France). Claudette Joannis is a head curator at the national museum of Malmaison in France, where she is responsible for textiles and jewelry. She has curated several exhibitions on jewels and contributed to an international dictionary of jewelry. Additional books in the same series include, Love in the Louvre, Cats in the Louvre, and Dogs in the Louvre. Flammarion publishers.

Walks Through Marie Antoinette’s Paris Diana Reid Haig. (Hardcover – July, 2010.)

Travel through the pages of Walks Through Marie Antoinette’s Paris and experience the historical drama of the 18th century French queen, Marie Antoinette, whose indulgence in all the wealth Versailles had to offer has become legend. At first the young Queen, showered with jewels and fine clothes, was much adored by the Parisians, but eventually her extravagance attracted the hostile criticism and outrage of the people.

Walk through historic Paris and the royal palaces of Compiègne, Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Rambouillet, and follow Marie Antoinette’s life from her arrival in France in 1770 to her journey to the guillotine in 1793. In this captivating book, Haig leads us on four guided walks. She introduces us to the historic sites connected by the history and tragic story of Marie Antoinette. This attractive pocket-size book will appeal to travelers and lovers of history. 144 pages illustrated in color. Haig is an award winning songwriter, annotator, and audio producer. She is a member of the Napoleonic Society of America and the Napoleonic Alliance. Haig is the author of Walks Through Napoleon & Josephine’s Paris. (Little Bookroom, 2003.) Ravenhall Books. (Marie Antoinette’s Paris.)

Mariage Frères French Tea: Three Centuries of Savoir-Faire Flammarion. (Hardcover – February, 2010.)

Tea, after its introduction in Europe in the 17th century, was tremendously popular in France, arriving in Paris in 1636, twenty-two years before it appeared in England! Cardinal Mazarin, the most powerful man in France under Louis XIV, took tea regularly. In 1660, Nicolas Mariage was appointed by Louis XIV to convince the Shah of Persia into commerce with France. By 1665, the Sun King himself became a tea drinker. Mariage, the son of a merchant family who traded in exotic goods, soon became well known as the most important purveyor of tea for the Parisian high society during the Second Empire.

This book traces the history of Mariage Frères, the esteemed teahouse, from its early beginnings in the 17th century. The tea and vanilla import firm, Mariage Frères, based in Paris, was officially founded in 1854. In 1983, Henri Mirage’s granddaughter, Marthe Cottin, then in her 80s, guided two young tea enthusiasts, Richard Bueno and Kitti Cha Sangmanee, into the world of grand teas. Bueno and Sangmanee purchased the legendary firm in the early eighties. They envisioned a “French-style tea” and searched for the best tea buds from around the world, and created a gourmet cuisine to go with tea. This beautifully illustrated coffee table book shares the secrets of the Mirage Frères tea ritual and the pleasures of tea. 261 pages with illustrations. Flammarion.

Pampered in Paris: A Guide to the Best Spas, Salons and Beauty Boutiques Kim Horton Levesque. Photographs by Kristyn Moore. (Paperback – May, 2010.)

Elisabeth has beautiful skin. She is radiant. She is confident. She is Parisian. This spring, during the five days we spent together in Berlin, I took notice of the three cosmetics resting on her side of the glass shelf above the bathroom sink. In contrast my collection of eleven cosmetics and six makeup brushes placed opposite hers. During my yearly month-long visits to Paris, by necessity and desire, I reexamine my book of lists and retrace my city walks to settle on the right beauty salon, manicure and pedicure bar, and perfume boutique to keep me looking my best. My schoolgirl French is adequate for shopping, museums, and ordering in restaurants. But to journey into the uncharted waters of beauty and skin treatments? Absolutely not!

Ladies, if you are like me, this book is for you! Pampered in Paris showcases the 50 best places to indulge in makeup, perfume, and skin treatments. Levesque describes how to navigate the cultural nuances of spa etiquette and provides recommendations for each venue’s treatments and products. This wallet-size book offers two glossaries of useful terms (skincare and makeup, spa and institut) and tips for beauty. “Madame, this is more natural to you,” whispered the Parisian woman at the beauty counter in the original Chanel boutique at 31, rue Cambon who selected a simple and subtle palette of colors for me. My old cache has been replaced and now rests in a zippered case tucked away at the back of my drawer. 232 pages with color illustrations. Levesque is a writer and French translator in the U.S. beauty industry. Moore is a U.S.-based photographer who specializes in interiors and natural-light portraiture. Little Bookroom.

Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era Caroline Moorehead. (Hardcover – January, 2009.)

Tracing an image of a distinct period of French history, from the court of Louis XVI to the Revolution of 1789 and the reign of Napoleon, Moorehead recreates from Lucie de la Tour du Pin’s rich collection of letters and family documents a history of violence and survival. De la Tour du Pin, descended from Irish-French nobility, was born in the stylish Faubourg St.-Germain quarter of Paris in 1770.

Moorehead writes a captivating story of events and social history, and paints the portrait of a remarkable woman with extraordinary stamina and whose stirring memoirs, started when she was 50, have never been out of print. “There are things in life that one should neither analyze nor go on and on about,” de la Tour du Pin says. 480 pages with illustrations. Moorehead is a human rights journalist and biographer. She has written six biographies, of Bertrand Russell, Heinrich Schliemann, Freya Stark, Iris Origo, Martha Gellhorn, and Lucie de la Tour du Pin. Harpers/HarpersCollins Publishers.

Parisian Interiors Editors of ELLE DECO. Jean Demachy and François Baudot. (Hardcover – November, 2008.)

This lavishly illustrated book provides an exclusive look at the riches Paris has to offer, from exquisite homes and beautifully appointed shops to cafés to salons de thé. There is a certain manner captured in these interiors that often presents a distinguishing feature worthy of further observation. A collector’s elegant library, where palettes of rich greens adorn the walls and red flannel serves as a background for a collection of antique botanical engravings. The presence of the unusual, a life-size horse made of papier mâche positioned near a doorway visually leads us from one room to the next. The industrial contrast of black and gray steel against white walls paired with a country table of old oak planks and armchairs of a 1940s design.

Demachy and Baudot quote from André Chastel (1912-1990), a French art historian, and author of an important work on the Italian Renaissance: “What is essential to French art is that it absorbs all others.” 279 pages with color photography. Demachy is a direction consultant for Elle DÉCOR and author of several books on gardening and interior design. He was the creator of French Elle Deco and the former publisher of French Elle. Baudot, a French journalist and consultant for Elle magazine, is also the author of several books on decorative art and fashion. Filipacchi Publishing.

Made in France Reed Darmon. (Paperback – March, 2009.)

For those of us with a passion for everyday French design and pop culture from the past century, including movie, café, and travel posters; Art Nouveau and Déco products and packaging; fashion images and accessories, stop whatever you are doing and buy this book. Darmon writes about the establishment of “modernisme” and the look of the new century, and he states: “Modern art and commercial culture were having a love affair, and France was at its heart.”

Throughout the pages of this picture book you will follow France’s magazine and pop culture between the First and Second World Wars to the late 1960s with its explosion of social critique bringing to mind avant-garde publications that had thrived earlier in the century. The size of a wallet, this book will be our new companion as we search for relics from the outdoor “bouquinistes” (second-hand booksellers) on the banks of the River Seine, Paris. 256 pages with color illustrations. Darmon is the author of Made in China and Made in Japan, and co-author of Made in India. Chronicle Books.

The Hermès Scarf ― History & Mystique Nadine Colendo. (Hardcover – July, 2010.)

When not traveling to faraway lands, stepping back into history, or intoxicated by the future, a woman’s dreams become stories that find an expression in a Hermès scarf. In this book, we follow the impressive history of the House of Hermès, whose scarf made its debut in 1937, and take delight in each scarf that was selected from the more than two thousand different designs created since the scarf made its first appearance.

The illustrations in this beautiful coffee table book are exquisite and carry us from equestrian themes that are associated with the Hermès tradition and French history to cultures worldwide. This book is a source of enchantment for lovers of the square silk Hermès scarf, which has become a legend. 320 pages with 292 color illustrations. Colendo is an author and editor whose books include works on fashion, jewelry, contemporary art and architecture. Thames & Hudson.

A Well-Kept Home ― Household Traditions and Simple Secrets from a French Grandmother Laura Fronty & Yves Duronsoy. (Hardcover – April, 2001.)

Suffused with emotions and sensations dating back to childhood, Fronty shares her grandmother’s life experiences and surfaces for us memories of unexpected moments that happen in the homes of our grandmothers. Fronty draws our attention to the inherited traditions and natural methods used by earlier generations for cooking, cleaning, decorating, grooming, and gardening.

She offers indispensable tips that range from traditional recipes for Grandma’s Real Café au Lait and Lily Oil for the skin to instructions for returning the shine to glasses, bottles, and pitchers. Many of the “Basic Products to Use at Home,” listed at the back of the book, were those used by Barbara’s French grandmother―petite with waist-length hair coiled and arranged in a chignon at the nape of her neck―who also preferred simplicity and straightforward methods in the smooth running of her home. This beautiful coffee table book makes a perfect gift. 159 pages with color photography. Fronty is a journalist and stylist based in Paris whose books include Flowers and Colors, and Herbal Teas and Infusions. Duronsoy is a photographer and co-author (with Fronty) of Flowers and Colors, and Herbal Teas and Infusions. Universe. A division of Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris Colin Peter Field. (Hardcover – June, 2003.)

Following our late afternoon introduction to Colin Peter Field, Head Bartender at the Bar Hemingway, Ritz Paris, during a research visit to Paris, we hastily returned to the apartment to freshen up, change into our little black dresses, and dash back to the Ritz and the Bar Hemingway. We eagerly anticipated the cocktails Mr. Field would suggest and serve to us.

Philippa’s cocktail? The Serendipity, an all-evening cocktail―particularly in hot weather. (Bar Hemingway, Ritz Paris, 1994.) Barbara’s cocktail? The Benderitter, the precursor of a new genre of cocktails―the ‘Perfect Cocktails.’ (Bar Hemingway, Ritz Paris, 1995.) If only we had each brought to Paris a copy of The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris for a book signing and to press into its pages the perfect red rose that garnished our drink! 143 pages with color illustrations by Yoko Ueta. Field is also the author of Ritz, Paris: Die Cocktails. (Hardcover – January, 2003.) Simon & Schuster.

The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual ― And the Modern Home Began Joan DeJean. (Hardcover – 2009.)

DeJean, who favours long subtitles, is also the author of The Essence of Style: How The French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication and Glamour, another hugely enjoyable read. Here she tells you about the origins of things like sofas, hardwood floors, white-painted ceilings, boudoirs, and the art of interior decoration. All French, and all dating from roughly the time between the accession of the Sun King and the death of Madame de Pompadour. Who knew? 304 pages. Publisher Bloomsbury USA.

 The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School Kathleen Flinn. (Hardcover – 2007.) (Paperback – 2008.)

In 2003, Flinn lost her job in corporate America, packed her bags, and flew to Paris to take the Cordon Bleu course—the same one that formed Julia Child’s approach to cooking. It’s a terrific intro to French food, complete with recipes. 304 pages. Penguin Publishers. (Reprint edition – 2008.)

Eiffel’s Tower Jill Jonnes. (Hardcover – 2009.)

The title is a little misleading, because this book is really about the extraordinary outpouring of creativity and general insanity that was the Exposition Universelle of 1889. It is peopled with larger-than-life characters such as Annie Oakley (the crack shot who headlined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show), the artist Rosa Bonheur (one of the few women legally allowed to wear trousers in those days), and, of course, Gustave Eiffel himself, who braved criticism, labour problems, and the elements to build the tower that is now the symbol of the city. 368 pages. Viking publishers, a division of Penguin Group.

Text copyright ©2010-2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.