Having helped all of us feel just a little more Parisian, Caroline de Maigret and her best friend-slash-co-author Sophie Mas are back with a follow-up, published this month by Doubleday. But whereas the bestselling How to be Parisian Wherever You Are (2014) was a laugh-out-loud rollick through love, style, and bad habits, Older, but Better, but Older is a more nuanced compilation of quips, musings, digressions, pep talks, and commiserations about the pros and cons of aging. A companion’s guide to graze on, leave on the nightstand, and return to at leisure, or as needed.
On the afternoon De Maigret turns up at the Hotel Pigalle in the 9th arrondissement, she’s fresh from attending a funeral, having rocked out at a friend’s concert into the wee hours the night before—a dissonant turn of events, not unlike some of the situations in her new book. But ever the pro, she shows up, in black jeans and a t-shirt, no makeup and her signature tousle, game to talk about the perks and pitfalls of maturing, and how to do it in style.
“In Parisian, everything was beautiful because it’s a fantasy. In fact, we could dream up and talk about anything. This book was harder to write because it’s anchored in reality. It brought up all sorts of things that are truly funny, and other things that are less so—aging lets you get a little distance on your own mediocrity,” she quips. The best part, she says, was spending a year with her best friend just hashing out a lifetime of anecdotes about work, love, and everything else. The hardest: getting personal about real questions. “I feel profoundly alive, it made me feel incredibly strong. But it wasn’t easy,” she offers.
Aging, of course, beats the alternative. Even so, in some ways, “older” crept up on De Maigret, and she slowly began to realize that things aren’t like they used to be. “After a Chanel show two years ago, someone told me I had a really sexy expression on the runway, and I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Then I realized I’d been squinting because I couldn’t see the end of the catwalk,” she says. Off the runway, moving into her 40s as the book was underway raised all sorts of existential questions—about life, purpose, change, the built-in injustice of the biological clock, what to wear, a "better butt" (as one poetically irreverent chapter is called), and a gazillion other tender touch points that many women can relate to, style icon or not.
One example: You suddenly realize the president of France is younger than you. Or it might be not getting hit on at parties anymore, or at least not by that guy (because of course men still flirt with her). It might be everyday indignities, like when a younger woman says she wants to be like you when she gets older—but instead of finding that stupid you’re charmed. Or things might cut a little deeper. Like how gray temples spell “distinguished”… on men. Or the time a dermatologist you consulted about a beauty mark asks what you want to do about your face. “Luckily I’m fine in my own skin, but what he did was put a bomb in my head under the pretense that it’s for my own good. Because now I’m going to look in my mirror differently,” De Maigret fumes. “People can find serenity wherever they want; just don’t impose it on me.” On that subject: for the record, she’s never had any work done. “I’d love to, I’m just too petrified,” she admits. “Getting older means getting comfortable with your neuroses, and that one’s mine.”
Neuroses, bon mots, no matter how you come at it, Older is its own Pandora’s Box, a treatise on freedom, self-knowledge, and (variously): learning to be your own best ally, doing good for yourself and others, and stepping off the mental hamster wheel, whether that involves tortured love affairs, improbable dye jobs, or other unnecessary things, like nurturing unreasonable expectations or fretting over what life might/could/should look like in three weeks or 10 years.
For De Maigret, the biggest change post-40 was the hard-won serenity that comes from learning to live in the present. “It took a lot of work, but once I figured it out, what a luxury, it’s beautiful,” she observes. With all the mental energy that freed up, she’s moved into a space where she can do the things she wants to do, like directing videos for Chanel, working on her first short film, and collaborating on a project involving one of her lesser known obsessions: food.
For the reader, a flip through Older, but Better, but Older offers a timely universal reality check: Nothing’s ever perfect, and no one ever has it all figured out (no matter what Instagram tells you). “That would be so boring,” De Maigret objects, using a far more colorful term in French. On that note, had her publisher let her, the book’s title might have included the word "merde" (maybe twice). All in fun, though. “I’ll be another woman in two, four, five years,” De Maigret says by way of a parting thought. “It’s an ongoing process. I hope it’ll always be for the better. That’s the idea, anyway.”
Let’s hope she puts that down on paper, too.
Originally Appeared on Vogue