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French Bliss

If you spend a half-hour in the French lingerie shop owned by 42-year-old Parisian wife-mother-entrepreneur Laurence Boudier, you will leave understanding (and admiring) a French woman's approach to buying lingerie and her belief in owning fine and beautifully constructed undergarments. You may also leave with an armload of cotton lace demi-cup bras ($78), unbelievably soft silk slips and camisoles, lace panties and perhaps a bathing suit by Nicole Olivier that could change your life-if you are brave enough to try. I'm not kidding.

French lingerie has nothing to do with the body shape that fills it other than instilling confidence and a sense of pleasure. You don't need to be young, slim, beautiful, or the object of intimate adoration to wear glamorous French lingerie. French women consider elegant underwear a birthright.

Dressing is a layering process, and it begins at the skin with sensuous fabric. Once that layer is in place, the rest comes effortlessly; and the result is a put-together look that emanates style and self-reliance. Beyond the beauty of the lingerie you know that the construction is maximizing your best assets. For that you need an expert like Boudier, who advises her clients on what to choose and what to avoid. She travels to France at least once a year to buy for her store, Femmes Je Vous Aime, concentrating her purchases in Lyon, the lingerie center of France.

When Boudier and her husband, Fabien moved to Naples nearly six years ago, she was thrilled with the cosmopolitan ambience of the city but she feared the year-round Naples woman might be a tad too conservative for her inventory. She had no qualms about the seasonal visitors. Vacationing German, Italian and English women found her boutique immediately and dashed into the dressing rooms that Fabien, a master wood crafter, had designed and built to reference the beach cabanas at Deauville. "But the Naples woman surprised me," admits Boudier. "And so did their husbands and boyfriends. They come in quite often to buy. Of course, men never know the size they need, which is why I keep all my ladies' sizes on file." All sizes are European, further confusing most men.

The biggest shock to Boudier was the line of bathing suits by Nicole Olivier. These whimsical, revealing and haute-sexy bikinis often feature tops that coil around the breast with ornaments such as butterflies or sea creatures caught in the spirals. The two-piece suits range in price from about $175 to $260 and the tops can be worn at night with a cocktail skirt or silk slacks.

"I ordered one suit and put it in the window just as an eye-catching display," Boudier remembers. "I never dreamed it would sell. But soon I had eight orders. The next season, those eight wanted a second suit and new buyers came in. Now I have the exclusive on the collection in Southwest Florida, and the suit has become identified with my boutique. Sometimes women get together and buy a suit for a friend's birthday. Other women choose their own. A lot of husbands and boyfriends come in and select suits for gifts. They are amazingly popular and such fun." Boudier herself owns the starfish suit.

Lingerie is an investment at Femmes Je Vous Aime. But fine French lingerie lasts a long time if you care for it properly. "I keep my bras for five or more years," says Boudier, "and you can, too. Never put fine lingerie in the dryer. The heat destroys the fabric. Use a cold water wash or something like Ivory Flakes and launder by hand or delicate cycle in the machine. Put lingerie in a lingerie bag before putting into the washing machine and do not mix colored items with white. And that's it. Own enough pieces so you can wear something different and lovely each day. And you're set." Femmes Je Vous Aime is located at The Village on Venetian Bay in Naples. If you buy a Nicole Olivier swimsuit and something fabulous comes of it, let me know.

Dressing in black or white or a combination of both is very in this summer. But for all seasons in Florida a wardrobe of black and one of white are staples. Monochromatic dressing equates to classic style. It's the Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sharon Stone approach. Black or white is what we wear when nothing else seems quite right or when we're dubious about the dress code of an event. The little black outfit is always appropriate. Throw jewelry into your purse if you need to tart up the outfit when you arrive at the party. Keep a pair of sexy slides in the glove box of the car if you need further last-minute glam.

When women want the ultimate in comfortable, easy-care fabrics, and the latest styles in black or white, their fashion radar sends them to The White House or The Black Market. This concept for clothing inventory started in Baltimore 16 years ago and was the bright idea of Rick Sarmiento, who began with a 300-square-foot boutique in the Harbor area of the city. Now there are 80 boutiques nationwide. Some Black Market and White House stores are separate but located in proximity (that's the way they are in The Village on Venetian Bay), but others are combined into one store with two distinct departments.

For most women, black is easier than white. If black drains the color from your face, use scarves and jewelry to cut the harshness. That's about all you need to know. Black is slimming and perfect for travel to Europe (especially in the new, no-wrinkle jersey microfibers) because Europeans wear so much black (they believe they invented the color) and because black doesn't show dirt. Just don't visit friends who own a white cat or dog.

Dressing in white is a bit more tricky, which is why Rhea Grell, store manager, does as much consulting as she does selling. "White dressing is a range from snow white to deep taupe," she explains. "Not everyone can wear stark, bright white, so when a woman comes in, I or a staff member spends a lot of time holding shades of white, cream, khaki and such up to her skin. First we pick the right shade of white to go near the face, then we look for a range of whites to compose a wardrobe. The cut and contours of the clothes are as important as the shade of white. White is just as slimming as black if the cut of the fabric is correct for each body type."

A full white seasonal wardrobe can be assembled at The White House for about $700. That's a wardrobe that travels well and is good for going-to-lunch and going-to-the-Phil, as well as looking great on the boat or at a friend's dinner party. Shoes and bags are available in the boutique, too. Grell, by the way, and her staffers all have French manicures, which is absolutely spot-on perfect with white clothes.

The fabrics at The White House are silk, cotton, linen, chiffon and blends that contain a little Spandex or Lycra for comfort and support. Grell advises that if your white garment is not lined, you should be able to safely wash it at home in a cold water wash. She also sells a terrific protein-based stain remover.

"Lined white clothes have to be dry cleaned," she says, "and after a few seasons dry cleaning will ruin your outfit. The white turns yellow and there isn't much you can do but replace the outfit. That's just the fate of white at the dry cleaners."

The White House stocks an alluring array of silver- and gold-toned jewelry selected by the buyers to set off white outfits to best advantage. And you can also discover a few lovely white-flower summery perfumes. What about perfume on white clothes? "The best way to apply perfume," advises Grell, "is to lightly spray the air and then walk through the mist of scent. No stains on your white clothes and you'll smell deliciously fresh."

Furniture that references another era, whether it's French Louis XVI, German Biedermeier or American Colonial, has an appeal that transcends time and place. And because the prominent decor scheme today is eclectic, there's every reason to sensibly mix and match styles and periods of furniture from many cultures. The ideal result is a polished, collected look.

The handmade furniture of David T. Smith, of Morrow, Ohio, is just right for Southwest Florida homes that need the softness of cottage furniture or the glamour of sophisticated pieces from a magnificent estate such as Beauport in Gloucester, Mass. Everything that comes from The Workshops of David T. Smith looks gently timeworn and is based on authentic historical designs from American museum collections or classic pieces from fine old homes.

Smith uses closely guarded paint techniques and natural woods (such as mahogany and cherry) for collections in furniture, pottery, chandeliers and gift items. You can own a Pennsylvania German cupboard in washed green, a Pilgrim trestle table, or a Connecticut Valley turned post bed by visiting Smith's only signature showroom outside of Ohio. It's in Naples on 13th Avenue.

The 52-year-old designer wasn't looking for a Southern gallery, but his friends Fran and John Mankiewicz had settled in Naples and were willing to set up a showroom, so Smith brought some pieces in and over the last five years made history in local homes. One of the most popular projects for the Southwest Florida market has been huge, custom-made wall units. "Some people need a TV armoire, others want a complete home office that closes up at night, and others need bookcases and china cabinets," explains John. "We can do it all in any finish and any style, so long as it's historical." Prices for wall units average between $8,000 and $12,000. Smith can drag out a color catalog with all available designs.

Barley twist gate leg tables ($9,000) are popular because they are space conscious, making them a practical option for a compact condo, and everyone loves the Windsor chairs. So nice for a waterside cottage. Price about $560. Smith is licensed to reproduce red pottery and several pieces of furniture from the prestigious collection of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA). And they are picky people when it comes to allowing artisans to reproduce their Yankee holdings.

Smith has made a separate (and successful) reputation in kitchens. His custom-designed installations have appeared frequently on the covers of Country Living magazine and on H>V network programs. All his kitchens look decidedly vintage down to the hinges, but each is new and custom made to the space requirements and personalities of the homeowners. He's also a genius at concealing appliances behind furniture so that the entire room looks furnished over time.

Smith bought his first antique at age 19 in Lebanon, Ohio, and began producing furniture in 1970. He employs about 40 skilled craftspeople at his village of work barns on a farm in Morrow that belonged to his grandfather. Smith lives and works there with his wife, Lora. His son Jason is a carver and craftsman (and now lives in Naples), and his two daughters are potters.

Besides discovering furniture at the 13th Avenue store, browsers will want to notice the exquisite baskets, pottery, weather vanes, carved fish and other gift and small home decor items priced at $10 and up.

When I first ventured into The Workshops of David T. Smith in Naples, I assumed it was going to be cutesy-folksy and full of cottage-quaint bric-a-brac. Well, I ditched that notion fast when I laid eyes on a Mt. Lebanon Shaker six-drawer low chest in curly maple that would be a standout in any high-concept contemporary penthouse dwelling in New York, Naples or London. Snoop around the gallery; you'll see what I mean.

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