My Life in Paris: Sea-Inspired Beauty Secrets from Ladies Past

My Life in Paris: Sea-Inspired Beauty Secrets from Ladies Past

Sailing past the Comédie-Française after lunch, I caught my reflection, looming just a bit too large above a replica “Mini-Me” Molière doll in the gift shop vitrine. The poupée-sized playwright seemed to be speaking to me, saying, “Ma chérie, ring down the curtain! One must eat to live, not live to eat!”

I winced. Clearly, the tiny dramaturge through the begrimed windowpane had me rightly pegged. Maybe it was time not only to make a reduction (ie, shed a few pounds), but also recapture some of my cheeky afterglow before the return of La Rentrée.

“But how?” With September on the horizon, time was not on my side – or was it? After all, Molière also wrote “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it!” And who doesn’t desire a little more glory? It was music to this drama queen’s ears. Stage-struck I decided to “reduce” like an early-20th-century diva.

Bonjour! C’est moi!” I tell my freshly minted girl squad: soprano Mary Garden (aka, the “Sarah Bernhardt of the Opéra”), along with Moulin Rouge dancer Gabrielle “Gaby” Deslys. I was set.

See, both prima donnas were notorious for sharing beauty secrets. Taking great relish in revealing titillating details, our leading ladies often made fan-generating waves in the newspapers. For instance, Mary Garden touted her favourite “youth-giving tonic”, which included swimming in the buff, capped by a midnight seawater massage.

“God never intended that we should wear clothes! That is civilisation’s mark!” Mlle. Garden told reporters in 1924. “I went to my villa at Beaulieu overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean. As usual, I took long swims with my two police dogs, away from the shore where bathing costumes are not necessary!”

A publicity slam-dunk, for sure. The story spread quickly. Soon women everywhere followed (sans) suit, taking the plunge au naturel. And how could they not, after reading the zippy headlines: “Mary Garden Back! Slimmer! Younger! More debonair than ever!”

Now, on the flipside – but equally off the hook – was Gaby Deslys’s fontaine de jouvence remedy. Like Mary, she also found the secret at the seashore, specifically, at Deauville.

According to Gaby (later famed for slaying the first striptease on Broadway), the best ablutionary activity for getting clean while improving circulation was to collect beach sand, heat it on a stove, and then start scrubbing with it till the skin glows.

“When I get out of the tub, I am rubbed with this until I am not only perfectly dry, but until my skin has attained a perfect polish, and feels soft and satiny. Afterwards, I am comfortable and so happy that if I were a kitten I could purr!”

With so many options, how to choose my own ‘cure de mer’?

Feeling the lure of perfection, this non-swimming cat decided to play it safe. Instead of swimming with the sharks at midnight, I asked my friend Peter to ship me a box of beach sand from Mandelieu. On the day it arrived, after a rigorous rub-a-dub-scrubbing, I toasted Gaby with a tall “Mary Garden” cocktail, which included more than a dash of dry vermouth and Dubonnet Blanc.

Soon I was feeling dreamy, dewy, and renewed. “Let’s toast to the good life,” I said to my little hand stuffed Molière doll, recently plucked from the Comédie-Française shop. Dear La Rentrée, see you in September. We are now ready. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the raves of our lives.

From France Today magazine

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After 10 years at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Theadora moved to Montmartre in 2003 to write for the travel website She founded her own blog, "People, Places and Bling: Theadora's Field Guide to Shopping in Paris."

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  • Mary Kay Seales
    2016-10-25 23:26:13
    Mary Kay Seales
    delightful article!