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.



I’ll be staying in this afternoon, because last night I was out partying until the wee hours at the Paris Diner en Blanc. Last week I was taking a bus and started thinking to myself, “Gee, it should be the DIner en Blanc soon. I wonder if I missed it?” My mild curiousity was quickly washed away by desperation over the rainy weather. It simply will not let up.

Then two days ago, my friend Mary Kay posted the date on her FB page, asking if anyone could tell her where the dinner would be held. She was in something of a pickle because we already had cocktail plans with friends that evening. Our cocktail was set to be a picnic, under the gazebo in the Luxembourg gardens, presumably as rain would be pouring down all around. And while that sounded lovely, MK had a lead on the Diner. We decided to play things by ear.

Ears started playing started with a phone call the next day at around 17h, “I really don’t have the strength to sit outside in this pouring rain. Could we choose another place?” MK had a point. It had been pouring all day. My pants were soaked to my knee caps and images of Noah’s ark were never far from my thoughts.

Ellacoquine, our third date for the night, suggested the Marais. Young, fun and somewhere new to me, I was IN. MK requested something a bit more central so she could jet off at a moment’s notice. She thought something along the Line 1 would be grand. Le Fumoir, I blurted out. Le Fumoir is one of the most searched sights in all of Google Maps Paris. It is hippy, trendy and located strategically just behind the Louvre, next to the Mairie du 1e (thank you Ella, for pointing out that it was the Mairie, and not just a continuation of the church next door). Le Fumoir also serves corn nuts at cocktail hour. We had a date.


And then magic happened. The rain stopped. The clouds drew away and blue sky could be seen for the first time in days. Ella was the first to arrive at the café and she deftly scored us a table on the much coveted terasse. I was quick on her heels, motivated by the promise of a sun celebratory drink.


We savoured the moment, the weather finally letting us being proper Parisiennes, sitting outside watching the world go by. And then, like fairy dust coming down from the sky, they appeared. “They” being folks dressed in white. Ella noticed them first. I immediately called MK and told her to step on it while Ella, ever the practical one, went over to get more details from the men in white.She came back to report that this was the pre-meeting place until their final destination was revealed.


I feel fairly confident that MK will give full details of the event on her blog, but I will just say that it ended as magically as it that began; from an amber sunset glowing through the pyramids of the Louvre to 6000 sparklers reflecting the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. There were opera singers, an oompa band and one of my favorite activities on earth; dancing.

Dancing under floating lanterns and a rain-free, star lit sky.


Has gone to court. The tennis court!!! Since I’ve already made my case for fashion and sports, let me just say that for spectators wearing the right outfit can sometimes be a question of having a great time, or going home rather ill.

SO what does a girl wear to an international level tennis match with ‘it’ people sauntering by in every direction? Sunblock! And lots of it. I didn’t wear enough earlier this week and now Mr French is calling me Miss Strawberries and Cream. A hat, of course, that goes without saying. It is so de rigeur that they give them out free to all their VIP guests, which explains why you see entire sections of the crowd in matching hats. If you don’t bring one along, you may end up trying to remember how to make an origami one from newspaper, like you did in elementary school. Fans are a common accessory, but so are umbrellas!

Other must-haves include layers, lots of them, because it may be cold and blustery outside, but the stadium acts like a gigantic wind breaker, so if the sun is shining you may need to do some serious shedding. But once back out in the public area, you’re be happy for your rain coat.

Sun screen, hats, fans umbrellas and a rain coat? Yes, madame, because it may also rain. And that rain may be a chilly, grey, relentless rain, like it was last week, or it maybe a brief shower, with blue skies never far from view. Like the results of the match itself, you can just never be sure.

Once you’ve got the basics, anything goes, but I have never seen so many Hermes bags in one place. Not even in their shops. Men are often wearing suits, because they’re arriving straight from the office, and more often than not the suits are there for work. Women seem to have an easier time of dressing down in outfits that do double duty.

And then there are the uniforms. Every sponsor has an entire team of young, attractive folk wearing crisply cool uniforms. This is a group of ball kids who were done for the day.

Love all!


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.

Au mois d’avril

on ne se découvre pas d’un fil*. That’s French for “you can’t trust the weather.” The quote defines the uncertainty as an April thing, but that was before global warming. These days it may be cold and rainy on any given day of the year, even deep into the summer months, never the less, at some point all of Paris seems to let loose and start listening the rest of the saying, “Au mois de mai, fait se qui te plaît.**” The summer wardrobe comes out of the closet, weather and common sense be damned.

As a Californian, who never had two distinct seasonal wardrobes before moving to Montréal as a young bride, and as something of a clothes horse, the changing of the wardrobe is like Christmas time. Discovering long lost garments that I adore is like opening the presents under the tree as I joyfully wrap winter boots into their dust bags, putting them to rest for the months ahead.

Despite the Old Wive’s warning, I jump the gun every year. Like an impatient 7 year old who wakes Mom and Dad before the sunrise on Christmas morning, every April, after about two days of blissful spring warmth, I haul down the summer clothing and put away my winter wear. Invariably three days later I can be found caught out in the cold, shivering me timbers and cursing my impatience for summer.

This year was no exception, last weekend with Mr French off somewhere in the far west and Em with her Dad, I set to work early. Early in the morning and early in the season. The sad thing is, that the last two summers have been so abysmal that it seems to make little difference. I’ve now got enough summer sweaters, pants and closed shoes that there seems to be little risk I’ll freeze to death. Lately, only the colors change from one season to the next and the fun stuff, like light linen dresses and sheer blouses hang undisturbed in the closet, waiting for their return into winter storage. This morning’s bright sun gave me hope. Maybe we’ll get a summer after all.

* In April, don’t take off a thread.

** In May, do as you please.

Working Girl

For the next two months I will be working onsite. Instead of getting up each morning and rolling directly from my bed to my couch, where I sit with the computer on my lap writing through out the day, I actually have to leave my home, take the metro and talk with human beings. It thrills me to little bits and pieces. I love the energy of working on a creative team the dynamic exchange of ideas. And even more thrilling, I have to get dressed each morning.

Not only do I have to dress, but I have to dress to work with a room full of stylish Parisiennes, who even more interestingly work in the fashion industry. Each morning is a challenge putting together the right palette, matching my shoes and getting the accessories just right. Or wrong, because often I miss a trick or, three. I’ve lost practice at dressing to be seen every day. A few weeks ago I even slipped down to the convenience store wearing my plaid flannel pajama bottoms, letting my inner Californian out for a stroll. It was deliciously liberating, but I felt a little insane. Its is simply not the done thing.

Today, I made quite a stir wearing white jeans on a defiantly grey spring day. Eyes popped, comments were made. I whipped out my handy quotes of the unquestionably fashionable Inès de la Fressange, explain her suggestion that white jeans are perfect for warming up cold winter days and I am fairly confident that tomorrow no less than three girls will be wearing their whites, at least that is what they’ve told me.

Mr French lays out his clothing before going to sleep every evening. I have tried that, but invariably, the day breaks and I “feel” like wearing something different, So its usually a rather pointless exercise in putting away clothes I won’t be wearing for the day, while still hunting down what I will wear.

I start with a garment or accessory that has been calling my name. This morning it was a pair of cream colored suede Frye boots. Perfect with my white jeans, and then an off-white pullover. Notice a theme going on here? Monochrome! There is a rarely spoken fashion rule that reigns in this city; never wear more than three colors at once. It is a hint to their subtle elegance. I don’t always follow this “rule”, but knowing the rules helps a girl break them with style!

Because there is a huge leap from monochrome to tri-tone, I added my über practical military jacket for some green to bring out my eyes, threw on my grey coat with a white bulky knit scarf and I was good to go. I have the reputation of always wearing one thing just slightly off each day. Today it was E’s Lalique heart necklace (sorry E, it’s the first time I’ve borrowed it, I swear!) which was just a bit too bright for the rest of the outfit. But I don’t care. I had fun playing dress up and I look forward to tomorrow’s fashion faux pas.





Friday@Flore is at work in the ‘burbs, but last Sunday was a gloriously beautiful day. The first of the year, and one of the few in the last 12 months. All of Paris was out reveling in the feeling of the air against their skin. It. was. glorious.

The photos are not great. I had left my camera at home but was so inspired by all the stunning fashion looks that I popped out my iPhone and starting tactile-ing away.

Everyone was seeking out the shade, making it even harder ot get decent shots, but proving how long spring is taking, as the trees remain bare!

I love this woman’s look. Mental note to self; keep an eye out for pleated khakis, ascooped neck indian blouse and a pair of orange shoes!

A un BON WEEKEND tout le monde !

Fashioning Fashion

I have heard that there is a fantastic exhibition of Haute Couture at the Hôtel de Ville right now, and I can hardly wait to go, but first I wanted to see Fashioning Fashion at the Union des Art Decoratifs in the Louvre. Why first? Logistics. Sunday was the last day the show would be in Paris and the first day I had time to see it. Turns out this was particularly lucky as the show displays European fashion trends from 1750 until just after the era Mr Worth sailed to Paris from London and because the first Haute Couturier, ending in 1915.

Women were caged

Fashioning Fashion was in town directly from California, where the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has an extraordinary collection thanks to the generosity of two very astute, influential collectors, Martin Kamer and Wolfgang Ruf. Seeing the sumptuous fabrics, exquisite needle work and intricate beading made it easy to see why these men had been so passionate about the dress-wear. The details are captivating.

And so were the explanations. In totally un-Syvia like fashion I read every single one! They’d explain the subversive revolutionary messages in a vest, or nostalgically describe how the gold embroidery and moiré silk would reflect the candlelight at dinner party. You could almost see the effect.

19th century beach bunny!

And they discuss, or rather allude to the constraints of dress for women at the time. When you see those large Marie Antoinette gowns, you can imagine the cage that created that shape. What I’d never realized was that the cage was full of undercoats helping hold everything up, making walking something of a slog. I also learned why the ladies need so much help getting dressed. In period films you often see a lady being tied into her corset, but you never see the following scenes when she is actually sewn in to her bodice! A century later the frames that held out the hoop skirts took advantage of new technology so that Madame could move, at last. But not for long, because along came the bustle which seriously shortened one’s footsteps, make the tennis outfits and riding costumes of the time something of an oxymoron.



The Dress, part 2

Then we really went wild, jumped into a taxi and headed off for the Faubourg Saint Honoré. We entered boutique after boutique; it was as if time had stopped and we were running through a frozen film set. People came to life as we approached, everyone else blurring into the background. I tried on a slinky skintight sexier-than-peeled-grapes dress that looked great on me, and I relished watching Mr French eat me alive with his eyes (thank you for that, Mr Raf Simons). Almost everything seemed to fit, and as sales person after sales person entered the dressing rooms, I quite pleased I happened to be wearing my very best purple silk lingerie for the day.

Then we arrived at Prada. I was never much of a fan, finding the large metal logos on her handbags such a turn-off that I never looked beyond to the clothing. But the shop was there, and we were having fun, so we walked in and I asked the burly, rather intimidating security guard to point us towards dresses.

Downstairs, a lovely lady named Magali, asked if she could help us. I explained our challenge and she set to work, bringing me dress after dress. I did not know this at the time, but Magali is an image consultant, and spends her free time helping Parisiennes learn to dress. It was as if a good fairy had waved her wand, each dress was more beautiful than the next. It is no surprise that Miuccia Prada was nominated for the Design Awards for her spring 2013 collection. And she designed the dresses for Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby, adding a little capsule collection for the event. I was spoiled with an exceptionally rich collection.

I tried on a sublime finely knit black silk tunic with 1920’s fringe on the bottom that swayed seductively with every step. Then came a silk taffeta princess’ dress in rich blue with large green and ivory dots, a tight bodice and full skirt. A fun, 1950’s inspired white-trimmed black dress with a full skirt, v-neck and sleeves that rested just off the shoulders, followed by a shiny black silk dress with kimono accents that ended about mid-calf. It all fit, and it all liked good, I could tell by the look in Mr French’s eye as he sat there patiently waiting for me to don one dress after the other.

Finally, I tried on a grey silk dress that had been cut like it might have been made for Joan from the hit show Mad Men. Steel grey and sleeveless with a long pencil skirt, a fitted bodice and a rounded scooped-back opening nearly to my waist. The fabric was airbrushed with a large patch of white that through the skirt and across the bodice where some mauve Japanese style flowers printed on to the silk taffeta. Seeing it on there was no doubt. We had found The Dress.


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.

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