Three generations of French women share their beauty secrets

Thanks to her mother and grandmother – both French Vogue beauty editors – Clémence von Mueffling learned beauty know-how with her ABC. She passes on three generations of skincare wisdom, French style.

L-R: Cleménce von Mueffling, Régine Debrise, Lorraine Bolloré

I like to joke that I was born in a jar. My mother Lorraine Bolloré and grandmother Régine Debrise were both beauty editors at French Vogue. They taught me, in their inimitable French way, that beauty is an attitude, a way of taking care of yourself.

My idea of heaven was being allowed to go with my mother to her office and looking at the shelves of beauty products, trying on new lipsticks and observing the other editors, busy and intense, with a noticeable confidence and savoir-faire in their style.

My mother and grandmother taught me that skincare starts at a young age. I still remember the day my mother showed me how to clean my face impeccably before going to bed. I was 13 years old.

Clemence with her grandmother Regine, 2009. (Image: Patrick McMullan/Getty)

That year, I was sent to summer camp in the US to improve my English. Inside my suitcase, my mother had carefully packed a bottle of Estée Lauder perfume, a Lierac stretch-mark cream and Clarins Eau Dynamisante moisturising body lotion, renowned for its pungent aroma. I remember the shocked looks from my bunk-mates when I rubbed the Lierac cream on to my thighs. Their shock quickly turned to horror as they saw me applying some Clarins moisturiser to my legs after I showered. Though these girls were my age, they hadn’t begun any kind of beauty ritual. They thought I was crazy, but they were also happy to learn my techniques!

My grandmother not only expected her daughter to look impeccable but her granddaughters as well. She would tell me and my sister: ‘Rendezvous for dinner with some Rimmel mascara.’ The thought of us at the table sans mascara was inconceivable and we knew that she expected us to wear make-up, even for a casual Sunday dinner.

When I moved to New York, I understood that French women grasped the connection between beauty and wellness in a way that I wasn’t seeing in America. I knew that skincare wasn’t just about using a really expensive cream on your face. If you’re not sleeping well or eating a healthy diet your skin will never glow; if you’re not enjoying life and savouring every moment – what the French call joie de vivre – it will show on your face. Beauty and wellness are about accepting who you are, making the most of what you have and being happy with the small changes you make to improve your daily routine, because real change is hard.

As my grandmother is fond of saying, ‘You’re never too old to learn – and to look even better!’ I am so lucky that I can look at my mother and grandmother and know exactly what awaits me, and I am so grateful that they are still here to give me advice. Just as my mother once did for me, I have a secret drawer at home where I keep some of my favourite beauty products for my daughter. I load it up with sample bottles of perfume, cute lip balms or new brushes: hidden treasures especially for her.


Beauty is not about perfection. French women like the idea of healthy skin, but it does not have to be flawless.

Find what suits you. For example, my grandmother never uses eyeliner because she knows it makes her eyes look too droopy. A famous photographer once told my mother to enhance either her eyes or her lips but never both, and she has followed that advice ever since. Sometimes you need less make-up than you think.

Stick to a routine. Even when you don’t feel like it. We love that our polished appearance might look effortless, but it does take time and dedication.

Respect your skin. Clean it thoroughly at night, while taking care of the skin’s natural flora. If you feel ‘squeaky clean’ or have rough, dry patches, it means that your cleanser is too harsh.

Clean your face and neck twice. The first time gets rid of the impurities or make-up. The second time you remove dead skins cells and optimise the skin’s natural protection and regeneration, which primarily takes place while you’re sleeping.



A facial massage is without doubt the single best noninvasive treatment for improving the quality of your skin. In France, it is a way of life. It tones and hydrates the skin and gives you a great glow. Just as working out tightens body muscles, facial massage tightens your skin and stimulates the muscles of the face in areas that usually become hollow with age.

Facial massage stimulates circulation and drainage, which awakens the complexion. It makes you feel wonderful, but if you can’t fit in an appointment, don’t despair because there’s a very easy way to add a few minutes of facial massage to your beauty routine. Gently rub around the eye sockets with eye cream. Use both index fingers to massage the frown lines with a knitting-like motion or zigzag between the brows for two or three minutes a day. Practise an upward movement from your décolleté and neck towards the ears.


French women know that the earlier you start following a skincare routine, the more youthful your skin will remain.


In Your 20s Skin starts to change and become less able to retain water. Keeping it clean is as essential as brushing your teeth. Be gentle. Avoid harsh scrubs, which can be damaging. Scrubbing blemishes will only make them worse. Overzealous cleansing boosts oil production, which can result in clogged pores and acne.

In Your 30s & 40s Your skin becomes drier and more sensitive to temperature changes. Your face will show the effects more if you are tired or hungover. Whether your skin is oily or dry, it’s time to change to more hydrating cleansing products and ditch the drying lotions of your teens and 20s. Start regular facial massages to maintain elasticity. Be extra diligent about protecting your skin from the sun.

In Your 50s & 60s plus Oil production diminishes, leaving skin drier, and  wrinkles become more pronounced. Loss of elasticity and the power to regenerate creates sagging and thinning. Keep skin hydrated with a good moisturiser and invest in a quality night cream. Experts tell me that using more products doesn’t mean greater efficiency. The longer you stick with a product, the better it will work. Discuss the pros and cons of HRT to see if that is an option. Try to minimise environmental factors that affect your skin, such as sun exposure, air pollution and smoking. Be active. Sleep well and eat good food.

My Beauty Memory

Estee Lauder in 1985.
Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage

Lorraine: ‘What made Estée Lauder was her “glow”. Hers was one of the first skincare companies to create a very light make-up to enhance the complexion while giving it a fresh luminosity. I still have vivid images of Estée. She used to spritz perfume in the air and walk through the mist so it would linger on her hair and clothing. She often came to Paris in the 1980s and once she invited me for lunch at Maxim’s. I didn’t touch my food as I was mesmerised by her charisma and too busy drinking in her words.’

Régine in Balenciaga. Photography by Irving Penn. Vogue, 1950

Regine: ‘I began as a model posing for acclaimed photographer Irving Penn, appearing on the cover of Vogue in October 1950. Having to do my own make-up was a great way to instil good skills. At my age – I’m 88 – I have switched to a lighter make-up formulation but I still use the everyday essentials: mascara, blush and lipstick. I have learnt never to look négligée [neglected]. In those days women would not look anything less than perfectly polished. This photograph [below] makes me realise how much beauty trends have changed. I grew up with very specific codes that were more sophisticated and glamorous, but women had to look perfect or they would be judged accordingly. Today, it is acceptable to favour a more casual look.’

This is an edited extract from Ageless Beauty by Vlémence von Mueffling, to be published by Michael Joseph on 14 June, price £14.99