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NEW YORK — Mireille Guiliano glides into Jean Georges and within seconds champagne flutes are whisked to her table.
A little bubbly for a Wednesday business lunch might seem a tad indulgent, but for Guiliano it is a way of life. Aside from being president and chief executive officer of Clicquot Inc., the maker of the tangerine-labeled champagne she is sipping, the smartly dressed woman penned “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” (Knopf) a new book that preaches a deprivation-free existence.
Like the iced chestnuts she allows herself only on Christmas, Guiliano encourages a splurge here and there. But all in all, she spurs readers to give up the guilt and dieting extremes, to eat smarter and more joyfully — provided they can stomach the occasional bowl of miracle leek soup.
Heading up a company owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton might qualify as a pinnacle for some, but Guiliano, who has apartments in both Manhattan and the City of Light, relishes quieter endeavors. “To sit in a Paris cafe early in the morning with the newspaper and to have a croissant is a luxury to me,” she says.
Determined not to write a diet book with charts and calorie counts, Guiliano peppers her tome with first-person accounts. Readers can practically hear the rustling of fallen leaves beneath the narrator’s feet as she forages for mushrooms. “There were many things I hadn’t thought of since childhood, but it’s my life, so I just wrote it,” she says.
Given her ear for details, it’s no surprise Guiliano reveres the storytelling of Eudora Welty, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Andrée Chedid and once worked as an interpreter at the United Nations. But her own entry into the literary world was nothing short of forced.
Friends hounded Guiliano for years to write a book about her secrets — bewildered, or perhaps miffed, by her ubiquitous champagne glass and trim physique in spite of 300-plus restaurant outings each year. She brushed off their pleas until last year, when a friend at a publishing house insisted he put her in touch with a literary agent. The reluctant scribe agreed to whip up a proposal and before she knew it, Knopf bought the book without it ever being put up for auction.
Contrary to her agent’s presumption, the title was not an act of marketing genius, but Guiliano’s standard line when anyone asked how she stayed so slim. But it wasn’t always that way. After spending a high school semester in the States, her father greeted her with, “You look like a sack of potatoes.” Guiliano isn’t afraid to laugh at her own expense. “I knew what he had in mind: not a market-size sack, but one of the big, 150-pound burlap affairs that are delivered to grocery stores and restaurants.”
Her writing, like her three-meals-a-day diet, is all part of her joie de vivre. “In French, there is an expression, ‘Happiness is a muscle,’ but you have to exercise it,” she says, clenching her fist for emphasis.