Author_Photo_for_Jamie_Callan_FINAL_VERSION!!!_(2)-1(Part two) Jamie Cat Callan grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. She is an author and speaker and also offers workshops on beauty, love, and joie de vivre. Jamie’s essay on how she met her husband appeared in the New York Times Modern Love column. She is a recipient of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts Grant in Fiction and a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellowship to write in Auvillar, France and Valetta, Malta. Jamie lives with her husband, William Thompson, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

An unabashed romantic and lover of all things French, Jamie shares those secrets in her books. Inspired by her mysterious and beautiful French grandmother, Jamie has traveled all over France, where she interviewed hundreds and hundreds of French women and came home with their secrets to joie de vivre, beauty, love and the secret to leading a romantic life.

Her first book, French Women Don’t Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love, explores the French woman’s love life—romantic, sensual, playful, and intense—and finds how they conduct their relationships with a unique sense of originality and artfulness. Her second book, Bonjour Happiness!: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding your Joie de Vivre, describes how French women age gracefully and celebrate their bodies, balancing their personal and family life with work and love and still make time for themselves.

Ooh_La_LaHer latest book Ooh, La La!: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day, considers French femininity and another side of us, a side that celebrates age. “French women are not born more attractive than anyone else,” writes Jamie, “they simply learn at a very young age how to feel beautiful, confident, and sexy, inside and out. It’s an allure that outlasts youth; experience only makes them more beautiful. Unearth your personal style and bring it all together—fragrance, clothing, aging, environment, and sex—and you have a new you.”

Jamie’s third book on French Women, Ooh, La La!!  French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day, was published and released in June 2013. Jamie is also the creator of The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the “Write” Side of Your Brain, (Chronicle Books 2007). This box is filled with tactile story-games and exercises, cards and spin dials, as well as an instruction book that focuses on the “right-brain” approach to creativity.

For more information on Jamie Cat Callan, visit  (Facebook)(, La La!)

Ooh, La La!: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day

“This charming foray into French femininity will make a perfect cadeau for any Francophile lady.” — Publisher’s Weekly


How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone. — Coco Chanel

AWP: You are the author of Ooh, La La! : French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day. What inspired you to write this book?

JCC: I am always inspired by my French grandmother. She was so elegant and beautiful and very, very graceful. She was a dancer in Vaudeville in the 1920’s. And she was quite a looker—even as a “femme d’un certain age” (woman of a certain age). In fact, there’s a photo (somewhere) that my grandfather took of my grandmother in Florida. She was in her 70’s, wearing a two-piece bathing suit and posing in front of a hibiscus plant. She was smiling just a little, and, you know what, she looked amazing!

AWP: Tell us about the research for this book. What were the challenges, and how did you unfold the story you wanted to tell?

JCC: I started this book with lots of emails to my French friends, asking them all sorts of impertinent questions about their beauty routines and style choices. After this, I traveled to France and stayed for a few months (I go every year) and conducted hundreds of interviews. I met with French women in the cities as well as out in the country. I spoke to beauty experts, aestheticians, imaging experts, personal shoppers, as well as ordinary French women who had interesting things to say about the French approach to beauty and aging.

AWP: What was the most surprising thing you learned about French women’s beauty and style secrets?

JCC: French beauty starts with a kind of self-knowledge. It’s actually very intellectual. There’s no such thing as one template for beauty. It’s all about understanding who you are in this world and then finding a look that best suits your individuality. For example, I know of one French woman who is an artist. She renovated her own farmhouse in the south of France using stones from the River Garonne. She’s not what you’d call glamorous. She dresses in jeans and artist chambray shirts. She has short-cropped hair, and she wears absolutely no make-up. But, she’s mesmerizing and beautiful. She has such a great sense of style and confidence. She knows who she is, and this makes her beautiful.

AWP: In Ooh, La La!, you entrench yourself in your past, taking stock in your life as a woman. What were the challenges, and how did you unfold the story you wanted to tell?

JCC: Well, the biggest challenge came from breaking my ankle in Toulouse! I was just about to leave for home after a long stay in France. I was really exhausted and had completely overworked myself. And I thought, okay, I’m done running around, and now I’ll go home and just write. Then, two nights before I was to leave, I was walking and encountered a very large cobblestone, and I went down. I ended up in an ambulance and staying in the hospital in Toulouse for nine days where I had major surgery and a metal plate plus six pins inserted into my right ankle. And while it sounds like it might have been an awful experience, it was actually wonderful and absolutely life-changing. I learned how to slow down. I spent my days staring at the clouds out the window. My French improved. I appreciated little things, such as my wonderful French breakfast every morning. When my husband came and fetched me (he had been on a science research trip in Australia) and brought me home, I found a renewed love for him. He cared for me through my convalescence and recovery.

AWP: What was it about your past with your French grandmother that beckoned you to see behind the vulnerability of a young woman looking for holds in femininity and love?

JCC: When I was eight years old, my mother and I were in a terrible car accident. My mother was hospitalized for many months, and I was sent to spend the rest of the summer with my French grandmother. It was during this time, as an impressionable and traumatized young girl, that I was able to see how the French way of living offers so much love and strength and beauty. This was during the 1960’s when the notion of femininity came into question in a big way. Through this era of hippie-chic and feminist-thinking, there was this pervasive idea that to be feminine meant being weak and to do nice things for your man (cooking a delicious meal or wearing a pretty dress) meant you were subservient. But, as I witnessed my grandmother’s strength and her always spicy marriage with my grandfather, I realized that there was something worth holding onto when it came to femininity. And French women seemed to know something about this.

AWP: In Ooh, La La!, you lead readers beyond the freshness of youth and into the rich terrain of aging gracefully. What is that image of aging gracefully like?

JCC: You know, when we are young, it’s easy to be beautiful. We have the freshness of youth on our side. It takes a little more effort to be beautiful when one is older, but it’s also a delicious opportunity to re-invent oneself, to take up the challenge of finding one’s own unique style. I don’t believe that beauty is confined to the young or smooth-skinned. We’ve just been trained to think this. As femmes d’un certain age (women of a certain age), I believe we can expand the idea of beauty by showing the world that older women have grace, beauty, style, and elegance. It’s a matter of intention. As American women, it’s extra-important for us to demonstrate to the world our unique place as mentors and iconic beauties. You see this in France, and I don’t know why we can’t do it here. It starts with each individual woman, walking out the door, wearing something that shows her special style signature. By doing this, she inspires other women to hold their heads up high, to express their unique allure, and to say I may not be young, but I’m still beautiful. I do believe the world will respond to this, and we will create a more expansive and inclusive view of beauty.

AWP: What is it about graceful, stylish, and timeless living that is specifically appealing to women?

JCC: This French way of style, grace, and timeless living is very appealing because it offers us a way to be in the world that celebrates our own uniqueness. We don’t just copy what the latest issue of Vogue suggests, but rather we deconstruct a look to make it suit us and our own iconography. I like to think about Frida Kahlo and beauty. Here was a woman who lived in the 1920’s, when everyone was wearing Chanel and flapper looks, and she chose to dress in traditional Mexican garb. She braided her hair and wore clothes that were decidedly old-fashioned for her time. And yet, it’s a timeless look. She became an iconic beauty because she was not dressing for the moment, but she was dressing to express her deepest, most authentic self.

AWP: Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), a reactionary pragmatist regarding women, said in a letter written in 1795: A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months. In what way does Napoléon’s statement hold true with your experience living in Paris? How is Napoléon’s statement understood by women of today?

JCC: When I was researching Ooh La La! I had a very interesting conversation with a man at a dinner party. He told me that the major difference between the French economy and the American economy is that women’s interest in beauty and style actually support the French economy. Paris fashion, perfume, couture, and institutes de beauté keep the channels of commerce flowing. And of course, Paris is the epicenter of French style. This man went on to say that feeling and looking beautiful is a patriotic act for the French. It keeps the country strong. This was such an epiphany for me and I never forgot it.

AWP: What is it about Paris and women?

JCC: For French women, it’s the place to go to see what’s new. Paris is such a theatrical city with all the gardens and promenades, so it’s a great place to see and be seen. Plus, I do believe women hold on to this vision of the transformative power of Paris. Remember Audrey Hepburn in the original Sabrina? She goes to Paris as a naïve young girl and returns a sophisticated young lady—with a chic haircut and a French poodle! Paris holds the possibility of a Cinderella story for American women.


AWP: Your career has taken you from the world of international marketing for cosmetics into the world of writing books. What inspired you toward a life and career that depends on words and the ability to communicate?

JCC: I mentioned earlier that my mother and I were in a terrible car accident. While I recovered quickly, my mother was always frail and often bed-ridden. She was often despondent over her loss of youth and beauty. (Although, to me, she was always beautiful!) Anyway, I began writing little poems and stories and sketches and letters to entertain her. This was the true beginning of my life as a writer. And I suppose, on some level I am still trying to uplift and entertain women and tell them that they are still beautiful, no matter what the vicissitudes of life have brought them.

AWP: An underlying theme in your books is the message of freedom for women to experience their different selves or codify an articulate self. Why is this message significant, especially today?

JCC: We live in a time when we are moving toward a very uniform look. The easy availability of plastic surgery is partly to blame, but I believe that it’s also the worship of celebrity. I strongly believe that trying to look like some movie star or TV personality will only lead to unhappiness and a disconnection between our outer and inner realities. Plus, it’s ultimately impossible and does nothing in allowing ourselves to come closer in touch with our inner psyche. True beauty comes from being in complete alignment with your unique and completely special self. So, I would say it’s about looking inward, as well as outward, and not getting seduced by a kind of “cookie-cutter” beauty.

AWP: What do you think it is about your books that make readers connect in such a powerful way?

JCC: I think readers respond to my books because I give women permission to consider the feminine arts in a way that is not trivial or silly or anti-feminist. I explain why perfume, pretty dresses, dinner parties, lingerie and taking one’s time leads to a happier life. I suppose I elevate the feminine arts in much the same way that Martha Stewart elevated the domestic arts. And I think readers are hungry for a message that celebrates and validates the love of beautiful things.

AWP: Could you talk about your process as a writer?

JCC: I begin by reading lots of books and watching French movies. I’ll journal a lot, and I daydream. Before a trip, I set up interview appointments and things I want to see or experience. Once in France, I am busy with interviews. I carry a little Moleskin notebook (I have dozens of them), and I write lots of notes and take a million photographs. At night, I write about my impressions and try to figure things out. Once I return home, the real writing begins. I must confess that I’m an awful procrastinator, and it takes me months to get my rhythm straight. And once I do that, I write for nine or ten hours a day. I do this for about a month, until I’m mentally and physically drained, and then I rewrite. It’s not the healthiest way to write a book, but I’m actually trying to pace myself more these days!

AWP: Do you keep a journal? Is there the temptation to keep a journal just to preserve what you’ve experienced?

JCC: I’ve been keeping journals since I was a teenager. I still have them and find them endlessly interesting. Somewhere in a box somewhere, I have journals from my visits to France in the early 1970s. For me, writing is a form of thinking. Unless I write something down, I feel a little confused and overwhelmed. So, I am constantly writing.

AWP: In general, what opportunities or challenges do you experience as an American writing about French women?

JCC: At the beginning, there were a few readers who had some resistance to the idea of an American gal writing about French women. But I kept going and kept interviewing and working very hard to understand and deconstruct the French woman’s unique code. Now, I’m onto my fourth book and at this point, I actually believe that living most of the year in America and being a 100% American gives me a unique advantage and a wonderful perspective. I see France and the French people in a way they can’t see themselves. I enter into the culture with a curious nature, and I find I can say things that might sound as if I have a schoolgirl crush on the French. I can be wildly enthusiastic—a typical American, exclaiming J’adore La Belle France! A French writer knows too much about the intricacies and the nuances of their own country and can’t afford this kind of adoration.

But here’s the greatest compliment—I’ve had French women tell me that my books reminded them of who they really are in this world and helped them to be more themselves.

AWP: Are there things that you feel haven’t been said about French women that you are trying to explore in your work now?

JCC: I’m now working on a novel about an American 20-something who goes to Paris and is changed because of it. I suppose it’s a little bit of a Sabrina story, but I am also very inspired by my daughter’s generation and their struggle with finding happiness in love and work. So, I’m taking those French secrets I’ve talked about in French Women Don’t Sleep Alone, Bonjour, Happiness, and Ooh La La! and I’m translating them into scenes and experiences for my characters.

AWP: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

JCC: Just write. Have fun.

I know this sounds simple, but the truth is writing is a very playful act.  It’s hard to do it, if you think the whole world depends on what you have to say. I try not to take myself to seriously.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, French Impressions: Harriet Welty Rochefort’s “Joie de Vivre” taking pleasure in the small things (part one). Harriet’s latest book, Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French, investigates the French way of enjoying life. It is preceded by two light-hearted but informative books, French Toast, and French Fried, and completes a trilogy about her adopted country’s charms and foibles in a breezy, exuberant style, and with genuine affection for the inhabitants of her adopted country. (Part two)

Beauty Confessions from a Globe-trotting Parisienne. Parisienne Bénédicte Mahé shares a French woman’s approach to beauty and makeup; and how the relationship Americans have with beauty is very different from that of the French. Including her list of Beauty Resources in Paris and a vocabulary of French to English translations. (French)

“Fatale: How French Women Do It” – Perfume that rocks the room, peeks at the mysterious ways Frenchwomen manage to appear sexy, smart and recklessly chic from the book Fatale: How French Women Do It by Edith Kunz (used by permission). Includes are tips for applying fragrance and a list of 18 key pulse points to consider. 

Children fashionistas: Why French children dress better than you do. French au pair Alyssa Glawe tells that a child’s clothes in France are more than just something to cover the body. “It’s safe to say that, French parents would never put an item of clothing on their child that they would not wear themselves,” she writes “Comfort is important, but in all truth, it’s really about the fashion.” Including a list of children’s labels and websites. 

Ballet Flats in Paris: And God made Repetto, by Barbara Redmond who shares what she got from a pair of flats purchased in a ballet store in Paris; a feline, natural style from the toes up, a simple pair of shoes that transformed her whole look. Including the vimeos “Pas de Deux Coda,” by Opening Ceremony and “Repetto,” by Repetto, Paris. (French)

French Lingerie: Mysterious and flirty, by Barbara Redmond who shares her experience searching for the perfect lingerie in Paris boutiques and her “fitting” with the shop keeper, Madame, in a curtained room stripped to bare at Sabbia Rosa. Including a French to English vocabulary lesson for buying lingerie and a directory of Barbara’s favorite lingerie shops in Paris. (French)

A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre

We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)

Text copyright ©2013 Jamie Cat Callan. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.