Meet The Entrepreneur Who Makes Learning French Fashionable

French really is beautiful.

In refuge from the tourist traps of Paris’ Montmartre district, Carrie Anne James poses against a large, drunken tree in what used to be Renoir’s garden. She adjusts her stance delicately, never losing her intense gaze: James could be a modern-day Nini Lopez, one of the many friends and muses through which Renoir captured the daily activities of Parisians, often in this very setting. But James considers herself more as the artist in this scenario, recreating her own version of Paris for a different kind of audience. 
In our highly tech-proficient era where paintings and easels are obsolete, James’ canvas is her multi-platform digital media company, French Is Beautiful, an online French school where she hosts group sessions, teaching programs and coaching classes. This is a language and a country she knows well, having come to France as a piano student when she was 19. 

“I fell in love with France and French culture when I was a student here. And that experience was different than most peoples’ in that […] it didn’t start with a photo of the Eiffel Tower when I was younger or from loving macaron,” she explained. “My experience was living here and falling in love with Paris through the French language and culture.” 

James provides her clients with an exclusive, all-access pass to this romance story. Going beyond language is the appeal of French Is Beautiful: James makes taking a course feel like you’re laughing over the pronunciation of “cou” vs. “cul” at a sun-soaked terrasse in the Marais, sipping a bitter espresso and learning how to order off the menu. Through producing videos, audio programs and Skype sessions, James — a former actress — knows how to actually take you there. And now she has clients participating from New York to Los Angeles, ranging from ages 24 to 65. All they need is an Internet connection. 

Her company's Instagram feed alone is peppered with French song recommendations that aren’t just La Vie en Rose, a variety of words to live by from the most profound French philosophers and enough well-geotagged brunch spots for you to toss out your copy of Time Out Paris. Fashion, of course, plays an integral role in introducing clients to this well-curated, Smartphone-friendly world of Parisian culture. James shares information and articles about women she believes are emblematic of French fashion because of their natural beauty, intelligence and perfectly understated style. These women include Lauren Bastide, who founded the podcast La Poudre, and the late Jean Seberg, an American-born actress famous for her role in the French film Breathless, whose eloquent articulation sets a good example for anyone trying to learn the language. 

“It is so much fun to sit at a cafe and people-watch [in Paris], and noticing the style of the women as they walk by. I think people are so obsessed with the ‘Parisienne’ look – the 'marinière' and a trench coat – when actually the Parisienne look is so much less about what women are wearing and so much more about how she's taking care of herself, her skin, her hair, her confidence and not looking like she's trying so hard." 

An attention to detail, and an awareness of what's flattering, are what James notes as major lessons from observing the Parisian sartorial scene. She told the story of when she met her French friend's mother, whose impressive collection of Hermès scarves is something James has never forgotten: it was then that she learned how to properly tie a scarf and saw how one, single accessory could transform and entire outfit. 

"I've learned that you don't have to gild the lily — find one thing that you're passionate about, and work with that," James said. 

Since moving to Paris, James has rediscovered her wardrobe. She described the process as enlightening, having found that so many of the pieces she had seemed more like a costume, as though she were trying to fit a certain character. Now, James has focused on streamlining her style, without dressing as a reaction to something or in imitation of someone else: she dresses to represent her personality, but always in what looks and feels right — and with her tailor on speed dial. So what's her equivalent Hermès scarf? A motorcycle jacket for the fall, and a classic, high-waisted Deauville look for the summertime. 

“Living in Paris has taught me to be unapologetic about standing out, because I’m standing out in a way that’s in line with my taste," James said.

This self confidence, as evident in James' fashion evolution, is a product of her love for this city. For James, Paris represents structure from the way people dress to the ritualistic approach to their meals to the city's orderly yet iconic architecture. But it's also been a symbol of individual freedom, which is something she hopes to share by empowering her clients through the same language that set her free. 

"Living in Paris, communicating in French, becoming friends with more French people, being loved by and loving French people, has really reinforced this part of me to speak my truth," she explained. "To speak from my heart, to not worry so much what people think about my opinion, to value my opinion and to have more confidence in my points of view."

You can check out the French is Beautiful website, or follow on InstagramTwitterPinterest, or Soundcloud. You can also follow Carrie Anne James on her personal Instagram.

All photos by Diana Liu. Special thanks to the whole team at 
Musée de Montmartre Jardins Renoir

Recreate Carrie Anne James' look by shopping the selection below:

Asos Knot Front Jersey Hat - $13
Aldo Stessy Red Suede Pump - $63
Mango Flowy Striped Blouse - $30
Zara Darted Trousers - $50
Topshop Beaded Chandelier Earrings - $28