Five days before our meeting I stop eating carbs. With 48 hours to go I switch to a liquid-only diet. The day before, I have my wild, curly hair blow dried into a sleek do, get a manicure and buy a new pair of control knickers that come up to my armpits.
No, I am not going on a date with the world’s hottest man — it’s far more nerve-racking than that.
I am going to Paris to meet a woman regarded as one of the most chic, stylish and beautiful in the world. Ines De La Fressange (even her name is beautiful) was one of the world’s first supermodels, the face of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld’s favourite muse. So it makes perfect sense that she has just brought out a book telling women how to dress.
Style: Ines De La Fressange, 59, models for Chanel in 2010
I had planned to wear what I thought were a funky pair of denim culottes from Urban Outfitters, until I saw they were named in the book as one of her ultimate ‘fashion sins’.
In the end, after hours of agonising, I wear a pair of navy trousers from Cos, a gun metal grey T-shirt from Jigsaw and a navy blazer from Reiss. And, in my efforts to not look like a frumpy, middle-aged sack of spuds, I opt for a pair of white Adidas Stan Smith trainers to finish the look.
We meet at Ines’s showroom in Paris on an unusually hot day. It’s a beautiful old building in the first arrondissement. It’s also at the top of three flights of stairs. By the time I reach her door I am sweaty, panting and red-faced — not exactly the entrance I wanted to make.
Ines greets me with a huge smile and has a table of goodies laid out for me. There’s a big bowl of Haribo, a plate of Rocky Road cakes and some brownies. As much as I want to, I’ve no intention of eating any of them, but I’m dying to see if she does.
Ines has picked out outfits for every occasion, including looking after the grandkids (above)
Today Ines, 59, is dressed in loose fitting white linen trousers, a grey cashmere sweater and brown brogues. They all come from her own collection.
Bizarrely, she’s also wearing a pair of hugely chunky, baggy fisherman’s socks that on anyone else would look like they’d been stolen from a homeless hobo, but on her look quirky and effortless.
‘There is a Parisian style,’ she says. ‘A way of mixing things and the idea that you can dress well without needing expensive things. In America and Italy, the women love to tell you about their famous labels and brands. In France, even the women who can afford couture like to go somewhere cheaper and be proud of that. You don’t see people showing off.’
Ines used to always insist it was nonsense that French women are inherently chic in a way other nationalities just aren’t … until she spent some time people watching at an airport in Miami and realised there may well be something to the theory.
‘I wasn’t watching the people to be critical, but then I saw a group and I thought, “Oh dear, no way would we see that in Paris. They are definitely not French”.’
She’s too polite to say how they were dressed, but suffice to say I didn’t see a single person in leisurewear or a baseball cap on my 40-minute walk from the Eurostar terminal to her showroom.
In her new Parisian Chic Look Book, Ines gives guidance on what to wear for every occasion: a day at the office, a first date, a picnic… the divorce court.
Dinner with your ex: Ines says she didn’t want the book to be too serious
‘That’s just for fun. I didn’t want the book to be too serious. It’s really saying that you can look good at the divorce court and then wear the same outfit when you meet your girlfriends.’
Ines says she wants the book to be like having your own personal stylist on hand 24/7 and that, once you get the hang of buying key wardrobe pieces, the book will help you mix outfits.
‘This T-shirt of yours,’ she says grabbing the sleeve of my Jigsaw top. ‘I bet you always wear it with those trousers don’t you? But there are lots of other things you can wear with your navy pants that will look great.’
I don’t like to say that the reason I do always team the T-shirt with the trousers is because it is baggy enough to disguise the overspill muffin top the trouser waistband gives me.
‘If you want to change your hair you go to the hairdresser,’ says Ines. ‘If you have something wrong with your skin, you see a dermatologist. So why not get professional advice about your clothes, too?’
First date chic: Once you get the hang of buying key wardrobe pieces, the book will help you mix outfits
And if you’re going to get advice then you could do a lot worse than asking Ines, who credits Lagerfeld with teaching her about the quality of fabrics and cuts, and designs collections for Uniqlo as well as producing her own range.
The only problem is, don’t the rest of the world find chic French women just a teensy weensy bit intimidating?
‘Really? No!’ says Ines who responds as though I am the first person to ever moot the idea. ‘Certainly I know that when I meet people they are saying, “Oh no, don’t look at how I am dressed.”
‘But I’m not staring at their clothes, I don’t want to make women uncomfortable. I want them to dress for themselves and feel good.
‘And my book has sold really well in France. I don’t think that would happen if everyone was so confident and knew how to dress.’ She pauses, puffs on her e-cigarette, breaks off a piece of Rocky Road (just one small piece, I note), before adding: ‘Although maybe the people buying it are being mean and want to give it to a friend because they don’t think she knows how to dress.
‘That would be very French — you know how rude the French can be.’
Ines is just under 6ft and still has the same size eight figure she had when she started modelling more than 40 years ago
I tell Ines that I nearly wore culottes to our meeting before I read in her book that she loathed them. Why the culotte hate I ask?
‘Ask your husband,’ she replies smiling.
I tell her I don’t have one. Is that why? Are my culottes a secret man repellent?
‘Wear a skirt or wear trousers — not this weird thing that is half and half. It is stupid.’
Well, that’s me told. And while we’re on the subject of fashion sins, Ines admits she would also happily ban leggings.
7 FASHION FAUX PAS
There are some things that the Parisienne simply can’t bring herself to wear.
They might be super-trendy at times, but they will always remain clunky shoes that make for ungainly feet. Even on women with slender legs.
I recommend these pant skirts to any woman who’s seeking a separation from her husband.
When it comes to down jackets there are two possibilities: either an ultra-light one that you slip on under your overcoat, or a short bulky one that you wear when you go skiing. A long jacket stuffed with feathers will give you a swollen figure. Which is fine if you’re vying for a job as the mascot of a tyre manufacturer.
They may be sold by the thousands but we’ll never like them — even if they’re for a three-year-old and are to be worn indoors at the daycare centre. We must resist them. Style is something you can’t learn early enough.
Clear strap bras
Parisiennes are highly allergic to these. We still don’t get why women who wear them think others won’t notice the plastic straps. If you really want to look like you’re not wearing a bra, just don’t wear one.
As with the aforementioned clear bra straps, who do you think will believe your skin is that velvety? Nude stockings are far from being invisible, and on top of that they don’t keep you warm. Just wear black ones.
Too much skin
It doesn’t take much; wear a T-shirt that’s too short and a miniskirt, and in a flash you’ll have that reality TV look.
‘They flatter nobody. If you’re skinny, they look awful. If you’re round, they look awful. After a while they go all shiny and see-through and sometimes it just looks like you are walking around in your tights and forgot your clothes. Non, non, non.’
But here’s the thing. At a shade under 6 ft and still with the same size 8 figure she had when she started modelling more than 40 years ago, doesn’t Ines think clothes look better on beanpoles like her rather than the fuller figured like me?
‘No!’ she proclaims leaping from her seat. ‘People say that I am lucky and I can wear anything, but it’s not true, I can’t.’
She rushes to the rail carrying her latest collection and pulls off a swishy silk skirt that I’d be lucky to get one leg into.
‘Look at this skirt, it needs movement! I wouldn’t put any shape into it. I have no bum. I look like Olive Oyl. But on a curvy girl. Wow. So sexy.’
Next, she selects a bias cut maxi dress. ‘If I wore this I would look like one of the old maids in Downton Abbey — so boring. It needs boobs and a bum and even a little bit of a tummy.’
She’s on a roll now and reaches for a long, stripy knitted dress. ‘No way could I wear this. I have no waist, no shape, I would look like a big sock!
‘I truly believe rounder shapes look much better in some clothes than skinny shapes.’
Ines turns 60 this August and is grateful to be a style role model to older women, not least because she acknowledges people like her are few and far between in the fashion industry.
‘They are not represented in fashion magazines. You don’t see women in their 50s, 60s and 70s on their pages, but you see them on the street looking amazing.
‘In my book, I am not trying to tell women how to look young — less old maybe.
‘I show how they can take a work suit and instead of heels add a pair of sneakers and — boom — instantly it looks better.
‘I am not for middle-aged women dressing like teenagers, but there are tricks you can do. One T-shirt from Topshop mixed with your usual clothes can be all it takes.
‘As you get older, you want to be comfortable. Ok, maybe a few elasticated waists, but you can be comfortable and elegant.’
And as Ines, in her fisherman’s socks and make-up-free face, is living proof of, you can also be sexy in an unobvious way.
‘As soon as you try too hard to be sexy, you achieve the opposite,’ she says. ‘Trying too hard to be provocative and showing too much flesh, I don’t like this. If you have huge t*ts then everyone can see that, even under your silk shirt, no need to have them hanging out.’
Then, puffing on her e-cigarette again, she laughs: ‘Maybe I am just jealous. Look … ,’ she says pulling down the top of her cashmere jumper to reveal a glimpse of her bra. ‘No t*ts.’
Ines turns 60 this August and is grateful to be a style role model to older women
She, along with every other middle-aged woman in the world, isn’t happy with her arms either.
‘It’s true what they say about the arms,’ she sighs. ‘Look at all of this hanging down,’ she says shaking the world’s tiniest bingo wing at me. In typical French style, Ines doesn’t go to the gym.
‘No exercise,’ she laughs. ‘One day I will, but not yet. I am skinny, but I do need to tone up. But I am so busy… no time.’ So if she doesn’t exercise, does that mean she is strict about what she eats?
‘I tell you what, I could write a book about what to eat and not get fat. I love food. I love cheese, I love wine. I’m French, of course I do! I hate all this gluten-free, macrobiotic, clean-eating rubbish.
‘But when I am no longer hungry I stop eating. That’s it. I’m not hungry when I wake up so I don’t eat until I am, usually about 11am.’
She says she despairs of her long-term boyfriend, 56-year-old businessman Denis Olivennes, who she says is ‘very round’.
‘He eats like he has been starved. He gulps it down and barely even chews! I say to him, “Chew slowly, give your stomach the chance to feel full before you load more in”.’
Leggings flatter nobody. It looks like you are walking around in your tights and forgot your clothes. Non! Non! Non!
Despite being able to pass for a woman 15 years younger, how does she feel about her landmark 60th birthday this summer?
‘Like crying,’ she says. ‘Luckily my daughter Violette will be 18 a few days before my birthday so I’ll throw a big party for her and hope everyone forgets about me being so old.’
Violette and her eldest daughter Nine, 23, are from her 16-year marriage to Italian art historian Luigi d’Urso, who died of a heart attack 11 years ago.
When Ines was 53, she famously walked the runway for Karl Lagerfeld’s Spring/Summer Chanel collection. Is she not tempted to mark her 60th birthday by doing it again I ask?
‘Oh God no, that would be pathetic. Why would I do that? I think if people came to see me it would be because they were curious if I could make it down the catwalk without a stick.’
Having seen Ines close up I can report that no surgeon’s knife has been near her face. Exquisitely beautiful though she is, there are lines around her eyes and across her forehead.
Having seen Ines close up I can report that no surgeon’s knife has been near her face
Does she think she’ll ever succumb to a cosmetic tweak?
‘I am quite against Botox,’ she says, once more inhaling on her e-cigarette. ‘I’m not saying it’s great having wrinkles and looking tired, but I don’t like surgery. I see too many women who look like this,’ she adds, grabbing her face and pulling it tight. ‘They all look like cats. Why would I want to look like a cat?’
And with that she winks at me, reaches into the bowl of Haribo and shoves a handful into her mouth.
As we get up to say goodbye she asks me if I am going to go shopping. I’m half-tempted to invite her along, but I don’t think traipsing around Paris with a 6 ft supermodel will do a lot for my confidence.
She tells me she loves my blazer and that it’s exactly like the one she tells women to buy in her book.
Maybe I’m not such a hopeless case after all. I just need to whizz home and clear out all my culottes and leggings.
Parisian Chic Look Book: What Should I Wear Today? by Ines de la Fressange and Sophie Gachet (Flammarion, £19.95). Offer price £15.96 (20 per cent discount) until May 15 2017. Order at mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640, p&p free on orders over £15.
GET THE LOOK: INES’ GUIDE TO PARISIAN CHIC
Looking after the grandchildren
Trench coat, £35, riverisland. com
Jeans, £28, jdwilliams. co.uk
Trench coat, £35, riverisland. com
Basket, £26, bohemian design.co.uk
Watch, £84.99, stormwatches. com
Ballet pumps, £56, frenchsole.com
Dinner with your ex-husband
Tweed jacket, £59.60, boden.co.uk
Bomber jacket, £45.99, maniere devoir.com
Camisole, £25 topshop.com
Pencil skirt, £19.50, marksand spencer.com
Black courts, £175, lkbennett.com
Watch, £49, trouva. com
First date chic
Jumper, £8, bonmarche. co.uk
Jeans, £40, topshop. com
Belt, £40, boden.co.uk
Heeled pumps, £450, rogervivier.com