As I ran across the Place Vendome on my way to a Dreyfus Affair tour, I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a window: Flannel shirt, untucked. Gray jeans. Black sneakers.
Grimace. (Or laugh. Or eye roll. I forget. But there I was, so proudly unfashionable.)
Then I noticed a 70-something whippet-thin woman stride by: Thigh-high red leather boots. Black skirt slit to above the boot top. Cinched white blouse. A rail-thin man squeezed into skin-tight short shorts paired with a classic blazer. A woman sporting fur Birkenstocks. Another with pearls dangling from the top of her socks.
Ah yes. Fashion week in Paris.
Grimace. Surely a grimace.
I recalled a lunchtime conversation with friends. Sisters. Fashionistas in the best sense of that word: a fun love of style and always so beautifully put together. They had mentioned fashion week.
During that lunch they said, “Join us next week. We’re heading to a marvelous atelier.”
(Disclosure: I’d follow this pair anywhere.)
“I’d love to,” I replied.
Me. The unfashionista always so clumsily put together. At that moment, I was unaware of the fashion romp across Paris about to commence.
A few days later, I stood transfixed as the eccentric atelier owner cut an Hermes scarf into pedals and began shaping them into a flower for Dior (or Chanel? I forget). I sneezed as he led us through a centuries-old storage room stacked to the ceiling with boxes of various feathers (eagle?!). I imagined the stories, the books, this place could tell. Centuries of supplying fine baubles to the pinnacle of haute couture.
As the tour concluded, a group of women rummaged through sale items: drawers of flowers and feathers and boas. One woman looked at me with unadulterated happiness as she held a handmade feathery-floral corsage to her shoulder, “What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful,” I said. And I meant it.
A day later my friends emailed me that they had an extra ticket to the Fortuny exhibit at the Fashion Museum (learning in one swoop that the pleat was actually invented, not stumbled upon, and that there’s a fashion museum in Paris aka the Musee de la Mode de la Ville de Paris.)
The building. The sketches. The way the pleat accentuated the light. Fortuny! Who knew? A genius.
My curiosity piqued, when I returned home I bought a ticket online to the Dior exhibit at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (a special events wing of the Louvre), a second ticket to the newly opened Yves Saint Laurent museum, and a pass for a Chanel walking tour led by a woman who had worked 25 years earlier in the ‘house of Dior.’
And I was off.
A caterpillar learning to trot. A butterfly trying to swim.
So what was my favorite moment in a series of aha moments?
Maybe when I learned that a 21 year-old Yves Saint Laurent took over the design reigns at the house of Dior after Christian Dior died suddenly of a heart attack?
Or when I learned that YSL became enamored with Morocco, wove the brilliant palate into his designs, and hired the first black models because nothing, nothing more beautifully displays fuchsia than mahogany-toned skin?
Or when I heard the stories of one of fashion’s earliest and most influential voices, Coco Chanel, who was born in a church-ran poor home and died in a suite at the Ritz?
Her vision? Her wealth? The rumors that she collaborated with the German occupants of the Ritz during World War 2?
Oh the sheer history of it all.
Or was it the way the light shimmered over a Fortuny pleated dress?
Or when I entered the last room of the Dior exhibit and was met with a celestial display of light and height and all those white dresses? Heaven for the well-heeled.
It was fantasy. No, it was art.
It was art.
Categories: Life in Paris