Etiquette Expert Brings French Touch to City
Countess de Tilly’s clients include, among others, Chanel, Lancome and Sotheby’s auction house.
Published: December 26, 2012 (Issue # 1741)
Boris Sukhodolskiy / for spt
Countess Marie de Tilly, head of the French Touch studio, gives a talk at the W Hotel in the center of St. Petersburg in early December.
Selecting a dress code is similar to making a cocktail: The wrong proportion destroys the result, believes French Countess Marie de Tilly, an internationally recognized expert on etiquette and head of her own studio French Touch, whose clients include, among others, Chanel, Lancome and Sotheby’s.
Developing the cocktail metaphor, Countess de Tilly, cranks out the perfect Christmas style: One dose of modesty, two doses of a sense of humor, two doses of self-control and three doses of cordiality.
“Let your manners shine on Christmas day, not your costume,” de Tilly suggests, speaking at a master class in W Hotel earlier this month. “Competing with the Bethlehem star, playing the glitz card and putting all your diamonds on, would be a big mistake.”
As de Tilly notes, Christmas lunches and dinners require substantial self-sacrifice: even if you do not like the food that is served to you, or are not comfortable with the company of a relative you have to sit next to, you are obliged to swallow the food, smile to the relative and endure whatever ordeal lies in store for you, come what may.
“Christmas is a family holiday, and family values must take center stage,” de Tilly said. “If you are far better off than the rest of the family, be considerate enough not to present your wife with yet another set of jewels in front of the poorer relatives who would not be able to afford anything close to it in a million years. Enjoy these precious moments in private. A family needs to feel united at Christmas. The spirit of warmth, understanding and reconciliation needs to settle in.”
On New Year’s Eve, forget all about Christmas Eve’s dressing style, however. Modesty is definitely not your key word on this day. “Half a dose of modesty would do, or even a hint of it,” says de Tilly, again employing the cocktail analogy. “A single dose of self-control, four doses of humour, and some cordiality, too.”
While an ideal Christmas reception dress is a monochrome one, with a dark blue, black or red cocktail dress being an elegant choice, for the New Year’s party, use the maximum of your resources, wear your best jewelry and show your courage, the expert recommends. There is no crime in being a rival to the Christmas tree on that night. The goal is to give the New Year an inspired and confident start.
Marie de Tilly never responds to Christmas greetings and New Year wishes that are sent to her as text messages. “This sort of greeting is the least elegant thing one can think of,” she said. “Bring some personality to it, find a card and sign it to show that you really do care,” the expert said.
“When choosing a present, the main rule is to think carefully about the recipient,” de Tilly said. “If you are invited to a family where you do not really know the people, a safe bet would be to think big brands. Handmade presents are also welcome, including Christmas tree toys or chocolate.”
Hand-made items or art objects are some of de Tilly’s most favored present choices. The expert advises against bringing wine as a present for the simple reason that the people who invite guests usually consider stocking up enough wine. Therefore, do not consider this option seriously, unless you have been asked.
“Still, a food basket would be appropriate, if, of course, it was you who selected all the items there, with the recipients’ tastes in mind.”
Marie de Tilly’s number one bad present is an aromatic candle. “For some inexplicable reason, quite a lot of people think that it is an appropriate universal present that fits any occasion, which is very wrong,” she said.
As Tilly stressed, a fundamental faux pas would be to confuse colleagues with friends, especially during corporate parties. Trying to buy the friendship of colleagues with very expensive presents will not earn you respect, and overly informal behavior will also work against you, she warns. “Bribery does not work with friendship, do not delude yourself,” she said.
“At corporate parties you are constantly being watched and assessed, therefore an extra awareness and self-control are required,” de Tilly explains. “When one decides that a corporate party is the right occasion to let go of the office discipline and get reckless, the outcome is usually a ruined or damaged reputation. When going to a corporate festivity, bear in mind that your alcohol consumption has to be very moderate, and your diplomatic skills at their most inspired best.
“Be natural, be friendly and grateful — these are the basic rules,” de Tilly added. “Do not try to be perfect: this is a hopeless enterprise, and would only make you look rigid or ridiculous or a laughing stock, like a well-trained monkey or a wooden soldier.
“There is one popular wisdom that should relax you: Perfect people are unnatural. And they are boring,” she said. “You do not want to be boring, do you?”