THE ESSENCE OF STYLE: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafs, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour

Joan DeJean, Author . Free Press $25 (302p) ISBN 978-0-7432-6413-6

Not only do French women not get fat, they've led the world in style for the past 300 years. French historian DeJean's premise is simple yet wonderfully effective: largely because of one obsessive spendthrift, Louis XIV, France, in the late 17th century, became the arbiter of chic, a position from which it has never since faltered. Louis's outrageous vanity, sumptuous court and devotion to his own well-being led to growth in the manufacturing of fine clothing and shoes, and the invention of shops in which to buy them, and to celebrity cuisine, cafes and Champagne (a particularly amusing—and explosive—chapter). Louis was enthralled by glitter, which fostered a huge increase in the diamond trade; the theft of the Venetians' mirror-making secrets and subsequent rise of France as world leader in that field; and the first night streetlights (hence the "City of Lights"). Louis also abhorred mud (so streets were paved with cobblestones) and disliked getting wet (thus umbrellas were invented). This engaging history "lite"—to be published on Bastille Day—is a fun read despite its many Sex in the City references. Photos, illus. Agent, Alice Martell. (July 14)

Reviewed on: 04/25/2005
Release date: 07/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4165-8853-5
Paperback - 303 pages - 978-0-7432-6414-3
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