Book Review: Paris Undressed, by Kathryn Kemp-Griffin

Book Review: Paris Undressed, by Kathryn Kemp-Griffin

Moving from Toronto to Paris, author Kathryn Kemp-Griffin begins a journey to explore the mysteries of French lingerie.

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I must admit to being tired of reading books about a sea change, tree change or whatever you want to call it. They all seem to be decided at a moment’s notice and everything goes swimmingly – just as in Paris Undressed.

The author and her husband were living in Toronto and had been married a little over a year, had just bought their first house when she suggests they take a sabbatical as she doesn’t want to find on their 50th anniversary that they’ve lived a boring or predictable life. Narrowing their choices to San Francisco or Paris, they flip a coin and Paris wins. In no time at all, their house is sold and they are in Paris with husband Christian now working for Polo Ralph Lauren.

Walking across Paris, getting to know the city and hunting for an apartment, Kathryn Kemp-Griffin is caught in a rain storm. Running into a coffee shop to get out of the rain she is embarrassed when she realises the odd stare from the waitress is because her wet shirt has outlined the shabby bra she is wearing. And so begins her journey into the mysteries of French lingerie.

Given that she had previously associated shopping for underwear with ‘cheesy marketing, loud music and bad lighting’ it seems likely that she wasn’t shopping in the Canadian equivalent of the boutique Lingerie Annabelle but rather a tacky chain-store. So I find her comparisons between the service and the styles of lingerie offered in the different countries somewhat disingenuous.

Kemp-Griffin discusses what we women should be looking for in lingerie such as considering the feel of the fabrics, lace or no lace, the feel of silk, the softness of cotton. I do agree with her idea that lingerie should be about feeling good, activating the senses, not fixing non-existent but marketing inspired perceived flaws; one shouldn’t buy lingerie to please a partner, it’s enough to please oneself and to feel sexy or sensual, if you want to. This is not to suggest that she ignores the romantic, indeed erotic, aspects of lingerie, even going so far as providing a tutorial on how to make tassels, and how to make them twirl!

Throughout the book she writes briefly about the history of undergarments such as corsets and bras, but I would have liked to know more. The advent of mass production and new fabrics such as nylon and lycra led to so-called standardised sizing and mass marketing which, in turn, led to fewer choices. Although the author asserts that it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are, this may be true in the privacy of one’s home but not in lingerie shops. If you have a ‘fuller figure’ or are ‘plus sized’ the range of lingerie is disappointingly small. Kemp-Griffin suggests you buy two pairs of matching knickers (I hate the word ‘panties’) for each bra. Well good luck with that if you’re over about a size 14.

While the book has some interesting snippets, such as what kind of undies to wear to an ob-gyn appointment, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy it, perhaps because I have a ‘fuller figure’ and am mostly ignored by lingerie manufacturers and shops.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  7

Released by: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: April 2017
RRP: $29.99

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