Fashion as art

A blogger I admire very much, Denise, writes about her life in Bolton, which includes frequent visits to Paris. She’ll write about cycling with our mutual friend Jane, going off to the races with her beloved husband Michael, or savouring peaceful moments on her own.

A year ago today Denise wrote about an exhibit at the Centre Pompidou honoring the artist Gerhard Richter. She tells the story of seeing one of his paintings and having it touch her very soul. I was so jealous when I read that. I love art, frequent museums and exhibitions regularly enough to be considered a junkie, and yet I had never felt moved to tears over art.

Until last week. And many would even consider it art. I was at the Haute Couture exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville, a free exhibit featuring one of Paris’ most important industries. The show began upstairs with pattern samples and sketch books. There was a series of photos featuring the hands of famous designers, including Mme Coco.

It was lovely, and informative, but the real goods were downstairs where Haute Couture dresses from the studios of every major designer, from Frederick Worth, who founded Haute Coutre in the 1850’s to today’s Jean-Paul Gualtier. The masterpieces of houses that did not survive the death of their designer like Poiret, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli were all on display. Icons of modern style like Courrèges, Balanciaga, and Alaïa were there, as well.

And it was all so beautiful, the sumptuous folds, stunning bead work, masterful pleats. These men and women had a away with fabric and they knew (or know) how to show off a woman’s body, curves and all, to its very best.

And there, between a Dior and a Grès, my eyes began to sting and the tears to spill at the tremendous beauty of it all.


She’s back…

I am back here in Paris and absolutely thrilled to have E back home with me for the summer. Also thrilled to have Mr French back from a business trip in China. And lucky to have Em back at home. She had been in London for a week, interning for an international law practice on Bond Street by day and savouring the eye candy that is men’s fashion week by night. She went backstage at the Hackett show and to a private party thrown by Net-a-Porter, running into folks like Lily Allen and Samuel Jackson, who was rather surprised by their reaction which inspired him to cry, “Stop shaking, girls!” She had so much fun that I really am lucky she returned.

So what does a travel weary, jetlagged couple do for a fun day on the town? Why, we went to an art show. Quel surprise, n’est-ce pas. And this was no ordinary art show, but the Dynamo exhibition at the Grand Palais.

Exhibits at the GP (yes, I wrote that. no, its not the jetlag. I go there so often we’re on a nickname basis these days) are so popular that I will not go  without pre-purchased tickets. So I bought them online in the morning for the same afternoon. Which is a really boring detail, but could be really helpful if you’d like to go.

And I do recommend going to this show. Dynamo celebrates a century of light and movement in art. Wading through the waiting hoards, we passed an undulating neon white display and were immediately in an alcove with works by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Anish Kapoor. Take your time and walk through the alcove. The play on light and perception is destablizing while the play on sound inspires a child-like wonder.

Speaking of kids, there was a merry-go-round of mirrored slats that they couldn’t get enough of and an artsy fun house, as well as a large square of hanging blue rubber strands many of them mistook for a playground. It has been raining in Paris for months now and the local kids seemed to be suffering from a severe case of cabin fever. They were out of control.


There were some works by the neon specialist Carlos Cruz-Diez, including the room I had first seen at the Neon exhibit at the Maison Rouge. Agam, an Israeli who creates kinetic works, an Alexander Calder mobile and the most remarkable optical illusion of orange stickers in the mosaic tiled balcony. By the time we left, I didn’t know if my head was spinning from all the fantastic art we had seen, or if the jetlag was having its way with me…


Through the looking glass

Yesterday I felt like Alice. I spent all day in a meeting at the other worldly Hotel de Rothschild in the swanky 8th arrondisement, surrounded by fashionistas from across the globe. I saw stilettos so tall, the front sole was on a 2 inch platform. I saw the classic Chanel bag in about 16 different variations, and every shade of black known to man on every chic fabric wearable, including plastic.

I read a text message from Mr French in my mad dash home to make dinner for Em, who was celebrating because she had her second article published in The Girls Guide to Paris. The text popped up just as was posting the above link on FB, tweeting it, and using every venue available to me to promote me kid shamelessly. It said, “cocktail tonight… gardens in the Grand Palais, we’ll leave at 8pm.”

At the appointed hour, I headed downstairs, hopped into his car and we were off through the pouring rain. It was coming down in sheets when we arrived 15 minutes later and there was a traffic snarl with cops everywhere. What to do? Use the valet parking at the Mini Palais restaurant, of course! Which meant I had to lie to the valet parker and tell him we had reservations for the evening. I am only sharing this little detail because confessing it makes me feel like maybe I won’t burn in hell for not telling the truth!

Alice sized mushrooms!Hopping over puddles in my 3 inch high heels was something of a challenge, and Mr French had a good laugh over the meandering path I had to take. But we made it.

Shaking the rain off my shoulders I looked in wonder at the garden that had sprouted inside this glass domed monument. A bamboo forest grew in one corner, a 1000 yr old olive tree in another. There was a fantastical treehouse spiraling up from the middle of the room and a larger than life, a Barbie pink mansion to the far right. In the middle was a corral or artist decorated bicycles and a sprawling field full of picnic scenes and mini Fiat cars. There was some photography and beautiful watercolors by a man from Lyon, Vincent Jeannerot. A Monet style water lily garden, larger than life mushroom composters, plated chandeliers, Bijoux pine trees and countless other organic treasures that really did turn the place into a Wonderland!

Polly in Paris!!

Its The Art of Gardening at the Grand Palais until June 3, with a supplementary show in the Tuileries Gardens and it was a spectacular breath of fresh air in Paris!


The water changes everything. Light is refracted, reflections magnified. Movement becomes vertical, as well as horizontal. Sound is absorbed. Winding, narrow alley ways create architectural canyons, with a peacefully comforting uniformity. The regular drum of passing cars is replaced by irregular bursts of sound. You are not in a city or in the country, you are somewhere else. Somewhere wonderful.

Mr French and I arrived early Friday morning. “Its much more dramatic arriving by train,’ he informed me. I nodded naively, having only ever arrived by bus after a short flight from Paris. We grabbed our bags and headed out the door to the quais in the pouring rain. It was the first time that either of us would be arriving by water taxi. The rain stopped and chipper captain greeted us from his vintage, wood trimmed motor boat, shooing us from the front deck into the back of the boat where the roof top slid open, allowing us to stand and enjoy the breathtaking view.

Our chauffeur had a brief errand to run on the island of Murano, and asked if we’d mind a detour. We were thrilled with the free ride and our unexpected stop at a boatyard. Pulling up to the dock of the hotel was luxurious experience and within minutes we were ready to hit the town.

First stop, the Punta della Dogana, the large warehouse space that houses the phenominal contempory art collection of François Pineault (CEO of the Gucci Group, now known as Kering). Getting there would require a long walk or a quick trip by vaporetto. Knowning Mr French and his inability to get from point A to point B without stopping at every other church, museum, and shop window and knowing Venise, with its plethora of churches, museums, and shop windows, I insisted on boating it. We didn’t have tickets, or any idea how to acquire tickets, so we just walked on and hoped for the best. Turns out, local authorities rarely check for tickets and we could have gotten free rides our entire trip.

The museum was closed until June 1. So we hopped on another vaporetto to check out the Fortuny Museum, featuring the fabrics of the Art Deco artist. The museum was closed until June 1. We walked a few blocks back towards the canal when the Plazzo Grassi, the second Pineault museum WAS open. A huge palazzo that belonged to the Fiat family before being acquired by the Gucci gang, the Grassi is gorgeous. For the first time ever, the museum was displaying the work of a single artist; Rudolf Stingel. The artist commissioned a ginormour oriental carpet and used to cover all the walls and floor of the entire palace. The effect was mesmerizing, and like it or not, it was art.

Our quest for art had left us both famished, which made us both a tad grumpy and we got lost looking for our next destination. Just when we started to bicker we came upon a square with a restaurant that had several tables under large white parasols. Mr French grumbled that it looked like a horrid tourist trap. While my stomach was doing sumersaults of joy. We had stumbled upon Aquapazza, one of my top favorite restaurants on the planet. Mr French was somewhat skeptical of my enthusiasm, but was quickly seduced by the fries courgete flowers with a light-as-air ricotta stuffing, while the linguine with lobster was just as good I had remembered. Italians are not known for their dessert, and coming from Paris, we often head straight for the espresso, but this was Aquapazza, where they have fruit gelati served in their original shells;  from chestnuts to walnuts, medlars to strawberries, it is all simply divine and served with a frost encrusted bottle of house-made limoncello.

We spent the rest of the afternoon meandering the medieval labyrinth of the city, ending our evening over bellinis at the mythic, historic, Harrry’s Bar.

A hymn…

Rich blue sapphires, golden topazes, apple red rubies…. No, I did not go jewelry shopping this weekend, rather I spent a lovely hour (or so) with a fairly dense crowd at the Musée du Senat in the Luxembourg gardens diving into the sumptuous colors at the Chagall exhibit.

I like Chagall. I am aware that he is not for everyone. Upside down chickens and flying musicians do not reflect classical realism, nor modern abstract purity and it all requires a willing suspension of disbelief. But I love his gem stone palette, and I find his fantastical characters, often dancing, kissing, playing music absolutely delightful. His work has been known to make my make heart do a little jig. I suspect I am not the only one and that this is perhaps why he was chosen to paint the ceiling at the Opera Garnier. His stained glass windows adds the perfect counterpoint of colorful light to the cold grey stones at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims, making it my favorite cathedral in France.

The Musée du Senat is small, which makes this show easy to digest, and as the work is shown chronologically, you get a very good sense of the artist’s evolution, which really highlighted his genius, as his style changed little throughout his career. You start to understand the context in which he worked; the village where he was born, the war that raged through Europe, his exile. But most of all, you gradually begin to notice that the driving factor of his art, the underlying theme of it all, is love. Love for his homeland, his wife Bella and of life in general. You don’t need the written explanations on the walls to understand that Chagall was focused his attention on the magic in life. And a visit to this show is a great little uplifting moment in the sun, to quote an inscription from the show, “A hymn to light and life…..”

NOTE – I just spoke to a colleague from NYC who was not impressed with the show. Not one bit. When I asked why she said that these were not his best works. She has a point. The show really is like a sweet little hymn, and not at all a profound symphony of the great master’s works. 

Musée Maillol

I have a short attention span, which probably explains why I write headlines and not novels. It definitely explains why I was so surprised when I went to the Musée Maillol  exhibition on Murano glass. After waiting in a short line, and entering the main room I was rather shocked to find a room filled with contemporary art. This would not have happened had I taken the nano-second required to read the  show’s full title; MURANO, masterpieces from the Renaissance to the 21st Century.

On the other hand, I would have been totally lost had I read the press release which claims the work is shown in chronologically order. It is not. The show begins with a collection of work by contemporary artists, many of them alive and working today. Some of it bizarre, some of it beautiful.  My favorite piece, by the Recycle Group is a bed of crushed glass with footprints that would appear and disappear. It is fun and has something to say, although I am not entirely certain it is art.

As much as I love contemporary art, I was happy to head upstairs to start appreciating the intricately gorgeous works from the Renaissance. Glass blowing became an important contributor to the Venetian purse strings in the 12th century. It was so essential to the local economy that the doges decided it was at great risk of industrial espionage. The entire industry was moved to the island of Murano where the glass blowers had to live for the rest of their lives. They were not allowed to leave the island unless it was in a casket.

There are some truly stunning pieces in the Maillol exhibition, cups that look like lace, bowls with an opalescent glow. You start to wonder how they survived through out the centuries. The stories they could tell. The work gradually gets more and more modern, ending with the mid-20th century. The colors become vibrantly rich, with bold shapes and touches of humour that having you leave the show in a good mood.

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!



Felix ZIEM

Its the year of Venise in Paris. Not officially, of course, but with the Canelletto show at the Musée Maillol a the same time as the Caneletto Guardi show at the Jacquesmart André, it knd of felt like it. There is no denying that the city is breathtakingly beautiful with all the elements of great art ; dramatic sky, water elements, extravagant architecture, beautifully dressed townsfolk. But to be incredibly honest you’ve seen 100, you’ve seen them all. And I feel like I’ve had my share of Venetian scenery on oil.

But we’d missed the Jacquemart André show and Mr French, a secret romantic, had not had enough When he saw that Félix Ziem was showing at the Petit Palais, he insisted we attend. Now. Before the show leaves town. Even if it is a rare sunny day in Paris. Not wanting to squelch the inner romantic I so adore and knowing that Le Petit Palais has one of the most pleasant courtyards cafés in the entire city, we were out the door before you could say, « An exotic voyage for two ».

I had never heard of Ziem. The son of a Polish immigrant tailor, Ziem set sail from his native Beaune to become an architect at Marseille where he is seduce by art after a chance encounter with the Duc d’Orleans in the early 1840’s. He heads off for Italy, Turkey, and Egypt exploring the area and reveling in its exotic light and colors. In France he becomes part of the Barbizon school of painters and buys himself an extensive atelier on the hills of Montmarte.

But what about the art ? As you enter the exhibition there is a long case with his notebooks insinde and his drawings are exceptional. I was frustraed that I could only see the page displayed, when I looked up and saw a slideshow of one page after the other. And these were only the skectches.

His paintings had the light of Turner, the palette of Whistler and richness of Caneletto and most of it was not in Venice. I loved the diversity of the paintings displays. Ironically, my favorite work of art in the show was not by the author, but rather of the author’s brother François, a stunningly modern portrait on bare wood by Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli in 1853.







Beyond exhibits

After last weekend at Maastrict I was feeling more cultured than a European yogurt. And the sun was out, which always makes me resolutely museums averse. This did not stop us from stopping by the local auction house.

Druout is the famous auction facility in the 2nd arrondisement, but in 2000 they lost their monopoly on the auction scene and a group of well known auctioneers teamed with the Dassault family to purchase Artcurial, a gallery owned by the L’Oréal family, creating the most important auction house in France. You may not recognize the Dassault name, but that is because, unlike the previous owner, their goods are rarely found on drugstore shelves. They build military airplanes.

Housed behind gilded gates in the Maison Dassault, an aristocratic mansion on the Champs Elysées, Artcurial is known for their bi-annual sales of Hermes goods, comic book art and aeronautical mementos. They also have sales for watches, 20th century art, Art Deco furniture and African art, as well as many others.

Its intimidating walking through the small door in the large grill, but once inside the gates, it is an interesting place and everyone (except cat burglars) is genuinely welcome. Just beyond the reception, to the left is an exhibition space to full of art or artifacts from the next show to go up on the block. To the right is a small room with catalogues for all the coming shows.

Beyond the exhibition space is a large bookstore, with a fantastic collection of art books, divided by genre, and which includes a great kid’s section. Beyond the catalogue area is a cafe where palm trees thrive under skylights.

yeah, I wasn't exaggerating about the rocket pods....

Upstairs is more display space where you are just as likely to stumble over a rocket ship pod as an Hermès Kelly Bag. And if it happens to be auction day, the bidding room is also open to the public for most sales.

It is thrilling sitting there as paddles raise and the auctioneers dives into his patter and paddles begin to raise. You must pre-register for a paddle if you wish to bid, so there is absolutely no chance of you accidentally bidding the family fortune on, say, a staircase from a 1930’s cruise ship.

If you are interested in a paddle of your own, the process is easy, you can even register online. And if you’re really desperate for an original drawing of TinTin, you can even pre-bid several days in advance, giving The House your budget in the hopes that the hammer falls in your favor.

Maastricht, part 2

SO we were at the fair to see art, us and 69,998 other aficionados who had crossed countries and oceans to attend. The big news of the fair was that less Chinese are buying this year, the void quickly being filled by American museums which seem to have grown confident of their finances after a bearish hibernation the past few years. And that TEFAF is all set to organize a second fair; in China! But about the art….

Magritte and Me!!!

What I saw, what really blew me away were the Narwhal horns, which, being the left tooth of the arctic whale technically belong in a Natural History exhibition, but being from the 17th and 18th century, they qualified as antiques. Antiques I was invited to touch! That is one of the most flabbergasting aspects of this show. The dealers are happy to talk about their treasures and will occasionally invite you to touch and even try on things as rare and improbable as a Narwhal horn, a tiara, an impressionist painting and ancient Roman pottery.

A coffee table or work of art?

There were several stands with Illuminated books, rare manuscripts that were painstakingly calligraphed, then painted and gilded on parchment by solitary monks living in light deprived, freezing cold abbeys across Europe. Centuries later, the blues were still brilliant, the golds bright and they could be yours for anything from 240,000 to 3,000,000€.

As I walked through the fair, I priced things, which was a great way to strike up conversations with the dealers and to learn the market values of entire genres. By the second day I was humming the Barenaked Ladies song, “If I Had a Million Dollars” and virtually spending the money I don’t have. The thing with TEFAF is that someone with a million dollars could leave with a trunk full of loot and feel very rich indeed, or they could twist in angst over all thy multi-million dollar pieces that were out of reach.

There was an entire section dedicated to fine jewels, with Graff displaying the most famous stones of the show; an incredibly rare 20.02 carat blue diamond set with another 100 carats of diamonds in all different shades to form a $100 million peacock that would fit into the palm of your hand. I didn’t get too close to that piece, but I did approach a pair of diamond earrings that had once belonged to a royal princess, a pendant of an enameled lamb sitting on a golden bed that was created in the 1500’s and some gorgeous Indian with rock crystal stones set into enameled 22k gold fish shaped earring.

We never even knew micro-mosaics as an art form!!!!

In the works on paper area we saw some color-rich Japanese prints (Hiroshige 4,500€) and several studies by Klimt (220,000€). There were also quite a few pieces by Picasso, who could also be found in the Paintings area and the Modern Art section, in Gagosian’s stand, not far from the Koons. There were several mobiles by Calder (1.7M€) and a healthy amount of pieces by Fernand Leger and Joan Miro. The collections were conservative, making this one of the few art fairs where I didn’t wander around the booths snorting, “Hunh, and they call this art?” although Damien Hirst still leaves me cold.

from the 1500's!!!

You tired by all this amazing wealth? I was too, by the time we’d spent one day and seen only 3/5 of the show! We went home exhausted that evening, thrilled to have reservations in the hotel’s restaurant and determined to return the next day, as planned.

We had yet to explore the simply balanced Japanese ceramics (7,000€), nor the astonishingly ancient 3000 year old buddah (65,000€) or the heart-stoppingly pure Egyptian cat (75,000€). There was a blue hippo from Egypt that looked liked he’d sauntered off a poster for the Met, and gold earrings from ancient Rome that were actually quite wearable, though I’d be terrified of loosing one on the metro tracks.

Then we made our way to the Paintings, instantly falling for a gorgeous Caillebotte (2.4€ million) of a tree in a meadow that had been inspired by a Monet the artist owned. There were fantastic Dutch still lifes of butterflies (40,000€) by an artist I’d never heard of before, but plenty of work by names you’d recognize, like Boldoni, Cassat, Brueghel, Delacroix, Velazquez and Van Dyck.

After two days, even Mr French was feeling saturated, and loaded down. He was packing some serious weight on him because the galleries, which had been selling their personal catalogues for about 10€ a stand, suddenly went into panic at the thought of shipping all their tomes back and were handing them out as free gifts that we couldn’t refuse, happy to drive home with fodder to dream on.

Rather old sealing wax boxes and,

...rather new Damien Hirst


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