A floaty Parisian fashion show as light as air inspires me to find my inner French girl.
The French model wears a petticoat crafted from balloons. The model behind her flaps wings styled like a bird of paradise. Men sit rigidly in their seats during this Parisian fashion show, admiring these heavenly beauties.
Cameras flash, flattering some of the models and insulting others, who sneer at the audience. We are engulfed in wall-to-wall white balloons as if we are floating in bubbles beneath the sea.
Model after model glides through several small rooms used in this gala show, which is called Walking on Air. With names such as Legs in the Air and Silent as the Air, the costumes resemble the palette of the sky and sea in moon colours, Milky Way mosaics, frothy foam and gauzy sunlight.
Many of the outfits have minimal construction and appear to dance as the models move to the weightless music of Bjork. Twenty or so of us mere mortals are squeezed into a tiny room reeking of stretched rubber from the hundreds of inflated balloons. A model draped in ivory and gold chiffon struggles to fit her enormous train of balloons through the narrow doorway. She blushes while tussling with her costume, which resembles a fishing net.
After the Parisian fashion show, I feel inspired to find my inner French girl. I know she’s in there somewhere. As otherworldly as the models may be, the average woman here possesses the same ethereal beauty, only with seemingly less effort. Or so they want you to believe.
There’s an institut de beaute on virtually every corner in the French capital, and I realize these Parisiennes’ beauty and grooming regime is not a luxury – it’s simply about maintenance.
Entering one of these shrines to glamour, I’m overwhelmed by the volume of cosmetics, potions, perfumes, hair and skin products. I fumble with my euros and French nouns and verbs before settling on a musky body lotion.
Slinking back to the street, willowy frames sporting flirty sundresses saunter past, wafting expensive perfume. Breasts are unrestrained, yet their owners remain stylishly groomed, despite the uninhibited absence of underwear. Perhaps French women appear natural because they have learned to do more with less. Despite being the size of a pantry, her bathroom is a sanctuary that compels her to linger. This intimate oasis is an expression of her personal aesthetic. She applies religious care to her body.
I pass a mademoiselle, possibly one from the fashion parade. Green silk barely covers her slender frame. She prowls along the pavement until her beau revs up on a motorbike and nonchalantly nods towards her. She climbs aboard and zooms off, blonde tresses floating in the wind.
I’m left in her wake. Sweat drips down the backs of my legs in the summer heat. So much for being chic. I pause by a busker tying balloons and he hands me one in the shape of a poodle. A passing stranger with twinkly eyes smiles playfully as music drifts down from above. Dean Martin serenades us with Sway. With my pooch accessory, I sashay along the boulevard to join the passing parade.
I pass a building with heavy wooden doors concealing closeted lives, much in the way a French woman’s mysterious allure remains classified.
As Simone de Beauvoir put it: “One is not born a woman; rather one becomes a woman.”