Hanukkah: the 2nd night

FASHION! While most of the ideas will be 100%, Made in France, this one is only designed here, but I’m listing it because it is THE must have fashion accessory of the season, worn by just about every Parisienne I spot. AND at under 100€, its affordable, AND it looks great on everyone! Its the Mademoiselle Plume, the doudoune designed by Comptoir des Cotoniers.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 1.29.15 PMHonestly, any brand with do, but the Comptoir’s is particularly irresistible. Its refreshingly logo-free. Fashionistas will love the leather trim. Practical folk, that it is reversible so that it will go with your entire wardrobe. Everyone’s gotta love the wide range of colors available and its cuddly warmth. What I particularly love is that it is so thin and light weight, I can wear it under everything; bustling through the streets of Paris without evoking the Michelin man in a ribbed parka; warm in my little leather jacket, or ordinary trench, the doudoune poking out from underneath with flair.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 1.36.42 PMOwned by the same group as the Comptoir, Uniqlo collaborated on this project and has a similar jacket available in their stores and it comes with or without sleeves! It is more affordable, because it is not reversible and there is no leather trim.

Photos from their official site. This is not an ad. They don’t even know I exist!



Shopping & Other Stories

& Other StoriesIts fall, the leaves are turning, the skies are grey and E is packing up for her sophomore year at college in the US. Being Parisienne, an important part of getting ready includes stocking up on local fashion and today we had a date to shop. E, my hard working, very reasonable, responsible teen suggested we head to the Faubourg St Honoré (cue in the sound of a stereo needle scratching across a vinyl lp). Yes, we’re talking that infamous street that is home to the likes of Dior, Gucci and Chanel. Had she fallen on her head? Did we need to see a doctor? I decided that she had meant “window” shopping, which sounded perfect to my bottom line, so we headed out the door, a trendy lunch & Other Stories in our future.

& Other Stories Lunch was lovely. But today I’m here to tell you about & Other Stories. Yes, its on one of the most expensive, trendiest streets on the world where 3000€ is considered normal for a coat (cashmere, Gucci, it looked divine) and boots are rarely designed for walking. And yes, it is in a gorgeous, light filled space with a glass enclosed stair case and plenty of space. The customers carry handbags with a pedigree. But a quick look at the price tags and I looked at E with new found respect. Beautiful, genuine leather handbags for under 100€.

The designs were fresh and original, the fabrics often authentic silk, wool or leather. The staff was present and friendly. So friendly, that I asked the very charming Danielle in the cosmetics section where we had landed.

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 5.00.35 PM& Other Stories, she was delightfully proud to share, is the latest project of the Swedish H&M chain. Exclusively for women, the shop has clothing, but really focuses on cosmetics and accessories. High quality cosmetics with a conscious. They have a recycling scheme for used bottles and offer customers a 10% discount for participating. And original accessories made by serious designers. I think there were at least 6 pairs of shoes that had me whining, “I, want”! Wooden heeled shoes that would look perfect with a sober Jil Sanders tunic, or laser cut leather boots that were crying for Alaïa.

The prices for everything were on par with what they’re asking for the entirely less fashionable, synthetic fibre clothing at the grungy Monoprix up the street from our home. And was a wonderful afternoon, and we ended it by indulging in an onctuous hot chocolate next door chez Jean Paul Hévin. Ain’t life sweet?


Le Smoking

Just before the holidays Mr French came home from a business trip, a page of Le Figaro grasped tightly in his hand. I offered him only the briefest of kisses, mostly because he smelled of canned air, but also because I was mad with curiosity. What had he seen in print? Was it the latest dream hotel? Had my blog been “discovered” and I was at last famous (lol)?

Coming back to reality, the article was infinitely more interesting than I had imagined; an entire page dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent, Catherine Deneuve and Le Smoking, aka the tuxedo jacket. Mr French recently survived a petit ordeal with me and Le Smoking so he was aware that it is something of an obsession of mine…

The article reminds the reader of how Monsieur Saint Laurent revolutionized the fashion world when he introduced Le Smoking for women in 1966. It features a photo by Helmut Newton of YSL with Madame Deneuve when they posed for a cover of ELLE magazine to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of YSL Haute Couture.

I had been so obsessed with the insanely sexy, subtly elegant jacket that over the last decade that I would secretly pop into the YSL boutique once or twice a year just to try it on. Which was a bit nutty, because I do not have that kind of budget. But the staff never seemed to mind and would agree with me as I’d appreciate the master tailoring, the luxurious wool, the perfect fit. When I was down, or tired, the vision of me in the shop mirror wearing The Jacket would boost my spirits, give me confidence.

And then we were invited to a party in Venice and I thought that at last, I had an excuse for Le Smoking, so I headed to the Place Saint Sulpice to see what was available. Turns out that while I’d been out living my life, YSL had hired a new creative director, Hedi Slimane who had changed the label’s name and the cut of the tuxedo jacket! It was no longer fitted at the waist, the shoulder pads had disappeared and the fabric was just not the same. It looked schlubby on me. I was flabbergasted, distraught and slightly dismayed.

Several weeks later I was in their men’s shop running an errand. As I waited for the clerk to prepare a package, I started complaining to the manager. I was unhappy about the name change, I was upset about Le Smoking. Saint Laurent employees are extremely proud of their brand and Monsieur le manager was no exception. He kindly took the time to explain that Hedi Slimane had not committed a sacrilegious act by offing the Yves from Yves Saint Laurent. Au contraire, he was paying hommage to the legendary designer by using the original name and logo designed for the Haute Couture house before it gained international acclaim.

I was enjoying the conversation. I started asking about Le Smoking. Did monsieur know of anyone specializing in the resale of vintage YSL? Non, madame. Was there any chance an older model could be found abandoned in some stockroom in Paris? Je suis désolé Madame. Perhaps their China store would have it? Maybe the foreign addresses get the older stock?

Oh, does Madame travel? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, she does. Which is when the manager told me about a Saint Laurent outlet in the UK and another in Italy. Oh, and by the way, he had shipped off the very last of anything with a YSL label their way just last week. Hopeful excitement bubbled up through me, as a goofy grin spread across my face.

The next day I called the Italy store. Not only did they have the jacket in my size, but  the price had just been marked down an additional 40% off the 40% of the 40% discount, so I could afford it. It was time to ‘fess up to Mr French before hitting the SEND button. “You’re nuts,” he stated in utter dismay. “You can’t be sure it will fit and you have no idea what it looks like on you.” Which is when I had to come clean about those quirky little visits of mine. Fortunately, he is La Fashionista’s dad, so he has had enough fashion adventures that he didn’t suggest a psychiatric review. At least not immediately.

Then, like magic, several days later Le Smoking arrived chez moi and it is perfect.

As a side note, Le Smoking is very in this fall, but there is no reason it should be signed YSL. I’ve seen some gorgeous ones at every price point, from Zara to Zadig & Voltaire. Looks great worn with jeans and a white tank top!

Curtain drawn

Mr French and I do not have curtains in our living room. He finds this terribly odd, but it does not bother me one bit. We look out over a garden, the building across the street is full of nuns and with kids in the house we keep the private moments, private.

His mother also finds this incredibly odd. But not too odd, because the last time she came to visit she loved being waited on hand and foot by lil’ ol’ moi so very much that she stopped taking her medication and got ill just so that she could stay longer in my lap of luxury. Regardless, she now refuses to ever come visit again, unless we get curtains. Which strikes me as a very good argument for living without them.

But Mr French wants curtains and he has vetoed the lovely, linen IKEA ones I have had for the last 20 years, so I head to one of my favorite places in Paris, the Marché St Pierre at the foot of the Sacre Coeur Basilica.

I arrived on a rain day, which provided a bit of atmosphere as I made my way up the narrow, meandering cobbled streets. Umbrellas dotted the scene as I hopped around, avoiding murky puddles. The Marché isn’t really a marché at all, but a store on 4 or 5 floors that has been selling just about every kind of fabric you can image since 1920.

The magasin draws one of the most eclectic crowds you can imagine; African ladies in their brightly patterned batiks (which, in an odd twist of history, traditionally come from Amsterdam) sift through bargain bins elbow to elbow with funky clad fashion design students. Bourgeois women are there for home furnishing, or school projects standing in line behind men in suits. We’re all there for fabric and it feels like you’ve entered an exclusive private club when you enter the neon-lit, dusky space. Social barriers melt away as strangers start talking, then joking with one another, the entire exchange made possible by a mutual appreciation for fabric. And while it feels exclusive, the prices are anything but, this being the best place to come for affordable fabrics.

The store drew other fabrics shops to the area. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, Reine across the street most certainly will. Almost all the other, smaller shops have fold with the arrival of cheap foreign fashion and they have been replaced by costume shops selling some great fashions for the local trade; hookers and show girls and just maybe bourgeois Moms who are in the area looking for curtain fabric and decide that this may be fun excuse to send the kids away for the weekend and to actually need those curtains after all.

Le Moleskin

I’m back, and since I was out exploring the world, I was thinking about, dealing with and actively using maps. I love maps. Maps and guidebooks. I have been accused of being a  guidebook geek. I get guidebooks even for brief weekends that need nothing more than a quick Google search, so guidebooks with great maps, well, they send me over the moon. You can imagine my nerdy excitement when Moleskin started publishing City guides that featured fantastic maps, some great tabs and lots of empty space for you to create your own guide. In the blink if an eye, I’d bought tw.o; Paris, of course and one for a pending trip to London. That was nearly a decade agoIt turns out I’ve barely touched the Paris version. Living here quickly made it irrelevant, but my London Moleskin is my treasure. It has an envelope in the back and this is where I store all the cards of people we’ve met and may like to visit again, people like shop owners, tour guides, the guy who grills sea scallops wrapped in bacon at the Borough market and specialists on one subject or another.

Then there are all those empty tabbed sections where I can note which hotels we stayed in, what we loved about it, what was annoying and the rates we paid so that I can compare when booking subsequent trips. I do the same for the restaurants we’ve really enjoyed. That’s all pretty standard use, I imagine, but I do two things with the Moleskin that I really depend on.

1/ I keep a running list of all the places that we pass that we would have loved to have tasted, seen or explored but simply couldn’t for one reason or another. The title of this list is Next Trip and every time we return I tick off a line item or two. This trip I finally got to check off a visit to the Apsley House (the Duke of Wellington lived here), Mr French’s shave and lunch at The Only Running Footman pub while I added a visit to the record shops in Soho, lunch at Tayyab Indian restaurant in the East End and ordering stationary from Smythson’s on Bond St.

2/ The guides come with tracing paper post-its that I stick over the (very well done) maps, drawing symbols of places of personal interest. I’ve sketched a parasol over James & Sons umbrella shop, a stiletto over Senderson’s glorious shoe store. There are teacups and frames and books and canes and crosses. As we walk out of a museum, leave a park, or finish dining, I take a quick glance at the map and I know in an instant if there is something else we may like to visit in the area and exactly what it is.

I also keep a brief travel journal, which is fun to read and particularly helpful for reminding me of little details, like my favorite cocktail, you have to rent the lounge chairs in Green Park and where the best toilets are hidden. I also write funny conversations we’ve over heard, which can be some what embarrassing as I sit in the Eurostar, reviewing my notes prior to our arrival. Embarrassing because the restrained French and staid Brits are invariably shocked when a loud guffaw escapes me.


Ancient Egyptians were hobbling around on high heels, so it is hardly a new thing. Monsieur Ramses was strapping on his heels to avoiding getting his feet dirty with blood as he worked in his butcher shop, so things have evolved considerably in the last 5000 years.  We can thank the Italians for several phases of this evolution, as they wore heels on stage in Ancient Rome and then, in the 15th century, took the Turkish platform chopines and raised them to vertiginous heights. Particularly the Venetians, who have left samples with heels as high as 30cm. It was an evil plot, with the Republic’s patriarchs convinced that this was a sure way to keep their women at home, or at the very least, under escort, as they required servants to hold them steady to teeter from Palazzo to gondola and home again. It’s no wonder we use the Italian term to describe the most daring, most vertiginous heels today.

And the fact that the term defines the shape of a sharp, pointy weapon doesn’t seem to be an accident… they can be instruments of torture. And yet, we love them, covet them and spend excessive amounts of money acquiring them. Even when they may be just a half size too small (but they were on sale, I saved a fortune!).

On the last weekend before our departure, exactly one hour before stores closed for the weekend, Mr French dragged me out of the kitchen where I’d been preparing the meals for the week and steered me towards the posh rue de Grenelle, despite the distinct odor of onion emanating from my hands. The rue de Grenelle is an 8 minute walk from our front door and it just happens to be shoe lover’s mecca.

Chloé, Stuart Weitzman, Giuseppe Zanotti, Fratelli Rosetti, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Prada, Sergio Rossi and Michel Perry can all be found along the 75 meters of street that run from the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge and the boul Raspail. Oh, and Christian. Yes, Louboutin is there, too.

The saleswoman for the dress had suggested silver shoes, but I had settled for a pair of black silk mules, with a reasonable 2 inch heel that I already had in my closet. Mr French wanted us to follow the saleswoman’s advice, but I didn’t want shiny silver, so we had one hour to find a pair of matte silver shoes. I was feeling confident that I’m be wearing my mules.

First stop; Sergio Rossi, where they had a perfectly acceptable pair of matte silver heels. They were lovely and I could use them for everyday wear at the office after the event. I was sold. As we walked towards the register, Mr French stopped in his tracks. He had spotted a pair of black and grey satin stilettos. He was intrigued. I tried them on. He feel hook, line and sinker. 5 minutes later I was stumbling out of the boutique with my first-ever pair of stiletto heels.

I have to admit, the extra inch made a world of difference to the whole outfit. As I walked into the Palazzo in Venice, eyes were drawn to the sparkly tips of my toes. Women looked at them admiringly and a few even asked for a closer look. Not that I plan on making stilettos a regular addition to my wardrobe, but it was fun to feel like an It Girl for the evening.

Eileen Gray at the Centre Pompidou

Good morning! How are you all today? Me, I have a hangover. I have a hangover because last night the owner of The Girls Guide to Paris, Doni Belau, and I tried the latest restaurant by internationally reknowned sommelier Enrico Bernardo’s new restaurant Goust. A tasting menu in a luxurious restaurant run by a sommelier is bound to lead to a little excess. And excess we did, closing down the place sometime after midnight.

Which made it a little hard getting out of bed this morning. Even harder as I had to rise extra early this morning because Premier Tax Free had invited me, and a bunch of bloggers for breakfast at the restaurant Georges on the top of the Centre Pompidou to learn more about French-Irish business relations and visit an exhibition of the artist Eileen Gray.

Why was a duty free refund scheme sponsoring an art exhibit? Because its an Irish company doing business in France and Eileen Gray is the ultimate symbol of French Irish relations. She came to Paris as an art student and was quickly seduced by the local art scene. She quickly bought a flat on the rue Bonaparte, in the 6th and settled in until her death at the blessed age of 98.

The Georges is often too trendy for moi, but gorgeous none the less

Mlle Grey had several passions; lacquer furniture, which she elaborated in her atelier with the Japanese master Seizo Sugawara, textiles that she developed in a second atelier with Evelyn Wyld and architecture which she pursued with Jean Badovici. The exceptional quality of her work was quickly recognized by Parisian fashion designers and art collectors. She gained international acclaim when the New York Tomes cited her for having created “one of the most exceptional examples of 1920’s architecture” for the apartment of socialite Madame Mathieu Lévy.

The  show opens with her sumptuous Art Deco style, full of sensuous curves and deep textures before growing into a more stylized modern expression of  form and function, evolving very much like the artist’s work did throughout her career from 1906 to 1954.

While very few of us recognize her name, several of her pieces are modern icons, instantly recognizable. I had to cut my visit short to rush down the Pompidou’s series of escalators, disappear into the metro and get back to my day job, thankful that Mr French wants to see this show, so I know I’ll be back.

AND now a word from our sponsors… I was shocked to learn from Doni (from the Girls Guide to Paris and a disinterested third party) that a lot of visitors to Paris think the tax return program is just a scam and that lots of people opt out of recuperating their Duty Free Tax Refund. So as a service to all you visitors out there, I feel compelled to clarify that it is NOT a scam and that filling out the Premier Tax Free forms at boutiques where you’ve spent more than 175€ in a single day will save you €s. Be sure to have a photocopy of your passport on you and don’t be shy!



The Closet

Somebody recently googled “in every Parisian’s closet” and landed on my blog. I’m sure I’ve written this sentence one or sixty times, but I have never actually produced a post about what I imagine to be in every Parisienne’s closet. So I thought I’d put it in writing. But, despite dwarf sized apartments with miniature closets, the list is long, très long. Especially when we start talking shoes.

The list is so long, in fact, it requires a book, not a post, so today I’m sticking to spring 2012. If you want the whole enchilada, I suggest consulting Inès de la Fressange’s book, but be forewarned; her list includes grandmother’s diamonds and vintage Hermès bags, so its not what the French would call accessible to every woman. Rest assured, this list is more reasonable;

1/ A military shirt. I found one at the military shop at Montparnasse and has a large, black ink HS (hors service) stamped on the back. At 20€, it was a easy purchase for all the girls chez nous. But, even the designers like Hartford are getting in on the action, re-vamping the classic for those who want a fresher look.

2/ A dark blue blazer. Some like them in linen for the summer, but usually they’re just a light weight wool. They’re worn by everyone, of all ages, even teens are happy to be sporting them.

3/ White or colored jeans. Denim blue is oh so very yesterday this summer, although I have no doubts it will be back for the fall. It is particularly obvious this spring because the weather has been too abysmal for the skirts and dresses we’re all wishing we could wear.

4/ Low ankle boots. Gotta have ‘em. With a dress, with jeans and even with shorts (if you’re young enough, or brave enough), looking like a cowboy from the Camargue is definitely a fashion faut this spring. Of course, we don’t have a lot of options as torential spring showers keep flip flops, or any kind of sandal from being a serious option.

5/ The Vanessa Bruno bag. That’s the canvas bag with sequin straps that you see on every other Parisienne as soon as spring has sprung. My first year in Paris, I was totally mystified when I opened my front door on that first warm day to discover that everyone was sporting the same design. I became convinced that I’d missed the national spring fashion bulletin. It has been popular for years now and will probably be so for many years to come. Boring, but tried, true and oh, so practical.

Perhaps, as the season progresses, the sun will come out and I’ll be able to add a bit of color, a swooshy skirt, or a lovely dress to the list, but for now I’m staying covered up.

Paris Fashion Week: Issey Miyake

And yes, its my favorite season, once again, Paris Fashion Week. It also happens to be winter break for the Paris school district, so I have had to tear myself away from the cocktails, street fashion and buzz of creative energy, tuned so high the sun is threatening to shine and drag the teen to the Alps. But not before I got in one show, and what a show.

On Thursday I received my invitation to the Issey Miyaki show, squealing with delight as I opened the envelope and terrifying my neighbor, who was also in our lobby at his mail box. That’s how it works for fashion week your Friday invitation arrives Thursday am, and you drop everything, changing your plans for the privilege of attending a show.

It was freezing outside, but I donned my bowler hat and headed out the door a bit early to catch the street fashion scene around the tent. Outside, it was bright grey skies, with the imposing white tent. Inside we plunged into a pitch black cavern.

The backdrop was white, cut with a long rectangle of electric blue light. Like fish in a tropical aquarium a team of DJs began spinning and dancing, a tsunami of energy flooded the room as the first model sauntered on out. Smiling. You rarely see models smiling during fashion week. I’d assumed that it was some unwritten code, like being quiet in museums.

But designer, Yoshiyuki Miyamae sees things otherwise and the models looked so happy to be wearing the fashions of this young, dynamic man that it seemed wearing his fashions would make me happy, too. It didn’t hurt that he showed a naïvely refreshing palette, like a kid gone wild with his classic 1958 Crayola coloring crayons; Prussian Blue, Spring Green, Orange Red and Salmon pink.

The cuts were just as generous, with large jackets, mammoth-bell bottom pants (the term is my way of saying, considerably wider than elephant bells) that fanned seductively and wide shift dresses.  The skirts were young and fun, while being long enough to cover my knobbly knees, for fashion so attractive I felt younger just watching the show.

Usually, after a show, the fashion journalists and buyers keep their faces as straight the models on the catwalk, trying to digest what they’d seen and draw a conclusion for themselves, But last Friday the crowd was a buzz with energy, talking about how much they’d loved the show and the explosive energy of what they’d seen. Monsieur Miyake knows that smiles really are contagious.

London Shopping

Looking back on the past year’s posts, its pretty clear that Mr French and I spend most of our holidays in fairly remote places. Places like the Magkadigkadi salt pans or the beaches of Hossegor, where we go for the adventure or the food, and sometimes the adventure AND the food. But this trip to London, we also did a bit of shopping, and while I can think of nothing tackier than doing a haul post of all our purchases, we visited some pretty exceptional shops.

The first was Liberty & Co, a department store founded in 1875, just 25 years after the the world’s first department store, the Bon Marché opened in Paris. Liberty is housed in a faux Tudor building, featuring timber from the very non-faux battleships HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable and it is world famous for the colorful


A leaded glass window, the panes dated 1570!

cotton indian print fabrics. Fabrics that I happen to love, so I was thrilled to visit the mothership. I was even more thrilled to discover their fabric department, as well as their Eastern bazaar furniture section full of all kinds of treasures, including Arts and Crafts antiques and hundreds of rolled oriental carpets overflowing into the wood framed gallery walkways and spilling over the rails, looking very much like Ali Baba’s cavern.
The next day, it was Mr French’s turn and I had booked him a gentleman’s shave at Truefitt & Hill, just blocks from St James Square and a short stroll from Buckingham Palace, which is convenient since they are the official barber for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburg. Mr French was quite pleased with his shave, and while I’d like to believe it was because of the luxuriously warm face clothes, or the intensive triple shave with a straight edge razor, I suspect it was because of his charming barber and the way her pencil skirt clung seductively to her rear end (which he gallantly claims not to have noticed)!

We then ran directly across the street to Lock & Co, a hatter that started covering the heads of Londoners in 1676, exactly 100 years before the United States of America even existed. Nearly two centuries later, in 1849, a disgruntled hat wearer who was tired of constantly loosing his top hats to low hung branches, commissioned the hatter to build a better hat. They came up with the iconic bowler which they call a coke hat. Today, the 8th generation of the family still runs the business, selling tweed caps, beaver fur top hats, and the original bowler, as well as more modern designs with their Lock & Roll collection. Upstairs there is a lady’s milliner, where, oh yeah, they sell bowlers for us girls, too.

That afternoon we headed off for Mr French’s final treat, which is kind of hypocritical for me to say, as I was having the time of my life. But, we really were going for Monsieur who had lost his umbrella a few months earlier, and desperately needed a replacement. I guided

A golden horseshoe ensures you can open the brollies, without tempting fate

him slightly north, to New Oxford Street, where James Smith & Sons was established in 1830. Set in Hazelwood House, this family run, Victorian boutique is yet another treasure trove of history and finer living. The men’s umbrellas are custom cut to match each purchaser’s height, so that the entirely wooden shafts double as walking sticks. Mr French chose one made from hazelwood, like the name of the house and our salesman was so honored he let me take a few photos, although they are generally forbidden. The ladies’ umbrellas come with leather handles and dainty silk wrist bands so that you have a better grip. There were also canes with fantastical handles and a display of antique walking sticks with secret dice cups, drinking vials, and other illicit goodies…

The gentleman’s shops we visited all enjoy a royal warrant, which does not mean they are under arrest, but rather, they are official suppliers to the Queen’s household. While writing this article I stumbled upon the official website of the Royal Warrant and discovered a page that lets you see who is supplying what to the Queen’s household. I think its hysterical knowing that Charles’ toothpaste comes from Glaxo Kline Smith, or the Queen wears Clarins face cream. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the cleaning supplies, but I did notice from their list of hobby supplies that, be it photos or wild animals, the royals like to shoot. And since today was all about Mr French maybe next time I’ll download the address to the Queen’s jeweler.


Liberty & Co / Regent Street
Truefitt & Hill and Lock & Co / St James St
James Smith & Sons / New Oxford St

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