Why French Women Don’t Contour

Frenchwoman Audrey Tautou.
Frenchwoman Audrey Tautou. Photo: Janet Mayer/Corbis

Here’s another reason for Frenchwomen to brag: According to French editorial makeup artist Violette, none of them are struggling to understand the mysteries of contouring. (Contouring: just another item on the list of French women’s “don’ts.”) The Cut spoke to Violette [Editor’s note: Violette only goes by her first name — like Garren or Sting], former International Makeup Designer and consultant for Dior, to explain why Frenchwomen aren’t interested in trying out “correctional makeup.” 

Why don’t French women practice contouring?
Contouring is not our thing because the main beauty philosophy in France is to accept who you are. That’s what makes the French look so specific. We just do a little. We want to keep it simple. Even if we don’t have the best cheekbones, we put the focus on our lips or lashes. Changing our face doesn’t appeal to us.

Here in America, you accept the best version of yourself. In France, it’s like, this is the way I am. Me, without artifice. If you don’t like it, too bad for you. We are also very rebellious — we don’t want to have this one beauty philosophy. We only can do 15 minutes of makeup every morning. The French girl is kind of lazy. But, we don’t judge it. We think that American beauty is very inspiring and very glamorous. We admire it, we just can’t seem to apply the same philosophy to ourselves for some reason.

Does the word contouring even exist in the French vocabulary?
No. [Laughs.] It doesn’t even exist. We use the English word. The reason we can’t do contouring is because contouring needs fixer, foundation, blush, highlighter, you need many products. Frenchwomen — we almost don’t wear foundation. We don’t want you to see that we have anything on the skin.

What is the French-preferred method to add dimension to the skin, if not to contour?
We’ll play with the light rather than with the shadow. You can grab the light with glow-y texture. It’s more natural to play with highlights. I use a metallic cream (like Dior’s Glow Maximizer). We can put it on the bridge of the nose, cupid’s bow, and cheekbones to catch the light. We also like more fresh blush — it’s more in the center or on the bones to help sculpt. And brows give some structure to the face.

In the U.S, we see the younger generation experimenting more with contouring. Is that not the case in France?
I was looking at the younger generation while walking around in France. And even among the young girls, I saw that being natural is really something we have in our DNA. Most of them don’t wear anything, have super-long, messy hair, and focus on the way they dress. All they do is strong lipstick, nothing else — maybe pink. If anything else, it’s a strong, sexy messy eye that looks like they did it with their fingers, which is probably true. They’re sexy, but not glamorous.

For many years, being glamorous wasn’t that cool. America is really inspiring us in a good way. In the past few years, we’ve seen these glamorous American women on the red carpet. Now you see French actresses trying to make some effort and blow-dry their hair and wear a nice dress. Before, it was kind of a rock-and-roll attitude and messy hair. In America, it’s about enjoying being a woman and celebrating it.

Why French Women Don’t Contour