Live Action Fashion, Open to the Public

October 15th, 2018

gaultier freak show 1It’s the feel-good event in Paris this fall: Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show.

The autobiographical live extravaganza is a labor of love by the bad boy of fashion, Jean Paul Gaultier. He took over four years to develop the show and is the creator, director, set designer and, bien sur, costume designer.

The opening video takes place in an operating room, where a teddy bear has a serious surgery: A seven-year-old Gaultier deconstructs his beloved toy and sews a bra with cone cups on to it. A fashion designer is born!

gaultier freak show 3A few moments later, circa 1962, shows Gaultier swept away by a television broadcast of the Follies Bergere, as he dreams to one day be part of the show. He finally comes full circle to realize his dream.

gaultier freak show 2The rest of show, mostly through recorded music and some live vocals, video, and energetic choreography by extremely talented dancers, illustrates Gaultier’s career and personal life including his rise to fashion fame with its ups and downs, good and bad press, the love of his life, dealing with AIDS, plastic surgery, and working with celebrities such as Madonna and Catherine Deneuve (who is in one of the videos).

Through December 30 at Follies Bergere, 32 rue Richer, 75009

>more

Even the Cleaning Products are Superior in France

October 12th, 2018

ecarlate (1)Since first moving to France in 1995, I’ve lived in approximately 14 different apartments and houses, and only one of them wasn’t a rental. So that’s a lot of moving and needing to make sure the place is spotless so I could get back my deposit. If I had known about Eau Ecarlate, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours of my life trying to get (supposedly easy-to-remove) blu-tack off the white walls. A cotton ball dipped in the Eau Ecarlate removes it instantly without any residue. Giddy with my newfound power, I raced around my old apartment looking for any surface with sticky residue that needed removal: a spot on the washing machine where I had removed a decal, the film on the bedroom window where I had a supposedly mosquito-repelling sunflower sticker, the double-stick tape residue on the kitchen shelves that I used to attach the shelf liners that kept slipping…bliss.

I should mention that I’d actually had the bottle in my cleaning closet for years, but it was for a totally different purpose: cleaning my hats. (I have a lot of hats.) When I spent a small fortune for a wool winter hat at Le Bon Marché a few years ago, I lamented the problem of keeping the inside rim clean (where it rubs against the forehead, picking up skin cream, sunblock, and/or make-up). Taking my hats to the dry cleaner is outside my tax bracket. But the helpful sales lady told me to just dab the rim with a dry cotton ball dipped in Eau Ecarlate. Et voila!

Apparently it’s also used for stains on clothing and fabrics — blood, wine, sauce, etc. — as well as to generally brighten your colors in the laundry. In fact, Eau Ecarlate was invented in 1851 to clean the uniforms of Napoléon III’s soldiers, and used ever since for its cleaning power. There are many versions of the product sold in powders, pens, towelettes, or for specific stains, but most French people just have the classic Détacheur Universel among their cleaning supplies.

>more products

The Louvre, Art and Gastronomy

October 10th, 2018

Paris Louvre (1)The Louvre needs no introduction, with nearly six million visitors each year. But did you know that it is possible to have lunch inside?

Opened in September 2010, only a few steps from the apartments of Napoleon III, the Café Richelieu has a delicious selection of pastries and cakes. It is a refined setting where gastronomy and history are married in a way that only the French know how.

The café’s large patio doors open out on to the Cour Napoléon and the Louvre’s famous glass Pyramid. There’s a terrace where, during the summer months, you can enjoy a peaceful lunch in the magnificent surroundings of what was once the royal residence of the Kings of France.

The menu itself was created by the famous Maison Angelina, a house founded more than 100 years ago by the Austrian confectioner Rumpelmeyer in honour of his daughter. This elegant tea room has quickly become a mecca for French pastry. The café is no stranger to celebrities with great names like Coco Chanel and the writer Marcel Proust, to name but a few, having lunched there.

dsc00064 (1)The Louvre is more than a museum. Behind its walls lies a millennial history where kings and statesmen have come and gone. This can be very much appreciated in the building’s attention to detail, and it is not unusual for visitors to dwell more on its feats of architectural prowess and on its frescoes than on the museum’s world-class art collection itself. Under the current palace lies the foundations of a medieval castle that was rediscovered in the 19th century. Part of the old wall is thus accessible to the public in the basement of the museum and hundreds of everyday objects are on display in the Saint-Louis room.

The Louvre has also played an important role in recent history. The rooms that today house the Café Richelieu were once the offices of the Ministry of Finance, which was located there some 30 years ago, before moving to more modern buildings in Bercy.

So, in a sense, politics made way for gastronomy in this historical setting. The symbolism isn’t lost on the French, in a country where the diplomatic and gastronomic arts are equally important.

Good to know: Buy combo tickets here, offering skip-the-line access to the museum as well as tea and pastries at the Richelieu café. For more information, consult the website and get a 10% discount with the code LOUVREGMT2018.

We Know Who Cut the Cheese

October 10th, 2018

cheese cuts

Normally, a crime committed with a knife at a dinner table would involve blood and screams. Mine was different. The meal was almost over. We had waltzed through the appetizer and main course with a deceptive ease, pausing to refresh ourselves with a bit of green salad before soldiering on to the cheese course.

That was when it happened. A slight mishap with a cheese knife and my reputation was ruined. Yes, I admit it. It was I who cut the cheese—the wrong way. When I passed the cheese platter, I was met with an accusing stare, which traveled from my bewildered face down to the bit of cheese I had just cut. It looked perfectly fine to me. It was the end of a piece of Comté, and I had done what I assumed was the logical thing, I cut a straight line across what was left of the slice. Leaving a small piece of cheese with rind on three sides. Quelle horreur! That is just not done. Seeing my confusion, my tablemate, who just happened to be my husband, took pity on me, a poor, ignorant foreigner, and patiently instructed me on the Fine Art of Cutting Cheese.

cheese frenchIt’s not as easy as it looks. The idea is to cut the cheese so that everyone has a go at the tender core, where the crème de la crème lies, soft and sweet. Cheese cutting is a decidedly democratic act. Everyone at the table is entitled to the same level of quality. Quantity is a more personal choice. No one will blink if you decide to sample a nice wedge of every cheese on the plate. They will, however, cringe if you mangle the morsels with your deficient cutting skills. Once you have shared in the communal platter of pleasure, it is passed on down the table like a holy relic. Which means that should you mess up, your gaffe will be immediately obvious to the person sitting next to you. When it comes to cutting the cheese, there’s no place to hide.

>more

Paris Finds Its Cocktail Identity

October 4th, 2018

cravan 3

The last few years on the local drinks scene prove that the future of Paris’s cocktails is in its past. No longer adhering to the cookie-cutter speakeasy style or doing the French take on Brooklyn bars, the city has been not only developed its own cocktail personality, but takes inspiration from and celebrates its culture and past. First bars like (now closed) le Coq or le Syndicat showcased forgotten French ingredients. The recently reopened Gallopin bar not only focuses on local liquids but has revived a classic and historical institution. Recently, La Coupole and other establishments of the old guard have been getting facelifts. No longer is Paris pretending to be New York, but rather proudly flaunting its Frenchness! The latest to showcase some historical flavor: Cravan.

cravan 2
At first pass, you might not register much about this petite Parisian cafe. The exterior is sweet, but resembles plenty of the city’s little cafes that recall a prettier epoque, but can disappoint on the food and drink front. But step through the doors and a few things will clue you into the fact that there’s something more to be explored. The old school patina of this art nouveau space has been polished up nicely, showcasing antique mirrors, a zinc bar and beautiful old tiles.

cravan 1
The menu is the next clue to the quality of what’s happening here. With Franck Audoux, previously of Chateaubriand, at the helm, it’s no surprise that the menu is clean and impressive. The 10 cocktails at 12 euros each fall roughly into two categories: classic riffs and house creations. The overall selection veers more towards an aperitif style with a light touch. If you order a martini (not on the menu) it’s a fifty/fifty, which brings down the booze-factor and reminds one of how enjoyable those particular proportions can be. The Yellow cocktail, a gin, Suze and Chartreuse combination, is a popular option (and a personal favorite). Their take on the negroni, the Tunnel, adds a touch of sweet vermouth to the classic vermouth-Campari-gin combo to deliver something that is rounder and rather sublime.

more

Navigating Paris on Your First Visit

October 3rd, 2018

Paris is an amazing city to visit but if it is your first time visiting the City of Light, you may find it overwhelming: The old part of the city is made up of 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods) which unfurl from the centre in a snail shape, and attractions and sights are spread out across them.

Follow these tips and you will find it easy to navigate around Paris. However, you will want to find somewhere secure to store your luggage while you explore. Check out these locations for storing luggage in Paris.

paris metroMetro: One of the world’s oldest underground rail systems, the Paris Metro is an extensive network of lines and stations which covers the 20 arrondissements and beyond. It is easy to use, inexpensive, and fast, with few delays and interruptions. Once you get your head around the various color-coded lines it is easy to navigate. You can access maps online here, and they can be found on the wall at every Metro stop.

Paris transport 1Bus: Often overlooked by tourists, Paris’ public bus system can be a good way to get to certain destinations. Unlike on the metro, here you will be able to take in the sights through the window and get a sense of where you’re going. Be warned, however, that the bus system in Paris is known for not keeping particularly good time, so allow plenty of time to get to your destination.

On Foot: Paris is perhaps best explored on foot. The winding cobbled streets of the Marais and Montmartre, for example, are perfect for walking. Being on foot allows you to explore small narrow streets, stumble across hidden courtyards, and stop into small bakeries and florists which you will find on almost every corner. You may want to use Google Maps on your phone, though, to make sure you find your way around!

paris bike
By Bicycle: Bicycle is a great option for exploring the hidden corners of Paris, while covering more distance in a shorter time compared to walking. The city has a system of rental bikes called Velib bikes, with stations for pick-up and drop-off across Paris – check out locations and full info by downloading the Velib app. You can purchase rental tickets for 1 or 7 days, as well as longer term, at any station or online.

Those Elusive French Habits

September 11th, 2018

livng forever chic tish jett - 1Yet another book about how to live like a chic French woman?! Well, sure—because people can’t stop buying them. This one, Living Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Timeless Secrets for Everyday Elegance, Gracious Entertaining, and Enduring Allure, is by American expat Tish Jett, whose 2013 book Forever Chic: French Women’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance, was a bestseller.
Living Forever Chic returns to the well trod terrain of French style and beauty, but extends the notion of French art de vivre to include everyday manners, cooking, entertaining, and even housekeeping.
The advice comes from (mainly) rich and successful women of a certain age: those self-possessed sylphs who don’t let menopause stop them from wearing sexy lingerie under their perfectly cut jeans. It’s all about a balance of manners and self-discipline undergirding a relaxed, open approach.
We have heard the tenets of French joie de vivre and savoir faire before, that Gallic je ne sais quoi can still be elusive for the non-French to emulate. This book dives deep to parse it.
Jett is a journalist and editor, mainly for fashion magazines and newspapers, so her text is quick-moving and easy-to-digest. No purple prose here. But she goes the distance, too, in describing the cultural and historical reasons for certain French customs. For example, it’s OK to raise your glass in a toast at dinner but not OK to clink them. tish jettWhy? “The clinking of glasses began in the Middle Ages when goblets were heartily slammed against each other,” Jett writes. “The idea is that if there were poison in one of the vessels, it would spill over into the other goblet, a sort of test to see if your friend wanted to kill you.” Who knew?
Living Forever Chic covers a lot of ground, from French larder staples (and recipes) to essential oils to elevate mood and energy. Much of the advice is obvious (wear less makeup as you age; don’t use your phone at dinner). But the true Francophile will enjoy the hair-splitting on less-known French traditions (many of which I believe even most French people are unanware of). For example, when entering a restaurant, the man leads the way to “open the path” for the woman, but when a waiter or host seats them, the woman precedes her date. Some readers may find this nuanced do-si-do refined; others may find it a bit dated.
You may not have the budget for some of the recommendations in the book, especially when it comes to high-end beauty products Jett cherishes. But there’s no cost to adding impeccable manners to your repertoire. With this book you can daydream about inviting an ambassador, a philosopher and a politican to your dinner party—they are part of a perfect guest list, the book says—and you can feel confident that such a party would never make the faux pas of seating a couple together—unless they are newlyweds or fiances. Sacre bleu!

Noted!

September 4th, 2018

parisian chic notebooks 1Advising my sister as she prepared for her first trip to Paris, I recommended she pack three crucial items: a pair of walking shoes, a summer scarf, and a small notebook. Though we all have a phone in which to notate addresses, to-do’s, and door codes of those we plan to visit, a carnet seems less fussy (no sequence of button-pushing to access the note-taking app). And it’s certainly more chic. I told my sister that her choice of notebook gives her an opportunity to begin being Parisian; that is, to show quality and flair in every little thing that surrounds her.
While Moleskine has been the go-to for the jet-set for decades, Ines de la Fressange, that quintessential ageless Parisienne, is giving them a run for their money with a series of blank-book notebooks and journals in classic French colors of scarlett red and navy blue. As with Moleskine, the pages are nice and thick so that pen markings don’t seep through.
notebppksThe Parisian Chic Notebook is 5” x 7” with a leatherette cover, interior envelope for cards and receipts, and a textural twill binding and ribbon placemarker. A bit too large to carry around every day—unless you need it for work–this is perhaps best kept in your hotel or airbnb, or brought to a cafe to jot down ideas for that novel you’d always meant to write.
The 24-page Parisian Chic Passport, on the other hand, is a featherweight, pocket-perfect at less than 3.5” x 5”. Though diminutive, it could hold a good month’s worth of notes and reminders.
Between the two sizes is the Parisian Chic Journal, which is notebooksslightly larger and has many more pages than the Passport. The ribbon that ties on the side to keep the booklet closed is a nice touch, and makes it eminently gift-worthy. (In fact, each comes in a fancy box. Not the most ecological packaging, but certainly reusable.)
The notebooks are a sort of extension of the series of City of Light style chic guides that de la Fressange has written for Flammarion. Now, it seems she is saying, it is time to write your own Parisian story.

#1 Foreign Buyers of Paris Property

July 25th, 2018

magazineHave Americans finally out-bought the Italians? You may not hear a ton of Italian spoken in Paris (at least I don’t) but Italians are the #1 nationality, after French, that bought apartments in the city last year. Or so it was thought until final numbers recently came in. It was Americans who, for the first time, were the #1 non-resident nationality to buy pieds-a-terre and investment property in Paris. This is according to Olivier Cheilan, writing in one of those slick apartment magazines published by real estate companies. (He does not cite his sources.) On the other hand, there are a lot of American selling apartments, too, recently. New laws passed to put airbnb and other short-term rentals in check have resulted in some investors cashing out.

What “Right Now” Smells Like

July 23rd, 2018

0714181257_resizedFragonard, one of the oldest perfumers in France, runs lovely gift shops around town as well as a perfume museum in its Opera location. (We wrote about this clever marketing operation seven years ago on this blog; visits are free, and the short tour ends up in the gift shop where guests typically load up on purchases.)

At this elegant location you can also take part in a perfume-making workshop. The hour-and-a-half course involves a bit of history, a bit of science, and a lot of test tubes. I took the class with my sister recently, and felt the 95-euro price (per person) was well worth it. We came away with a 100-ml bottle of our own homemade fragrance, along with a colorful pouch for it, a cute apron, a booklet and a keepsake “diploma.”the professor
0714181345b_resized

0714181416e_resized

A dozen or so tourists from Asia and various Anglophone countries took seats at stations that were laid out with 9 essential fragrances. Our professor—a classically slim Parisienne of a certain age in an animal-print dress and heels—gave us a quick PowerPoint presentation about how perfume is concocted from flowers, herbs, alcohol and water. She instructed us to use paper wands to take in the smells from each bottle and make notes in a provided booklet.

There were four citrus options, including mandarin and bergamot, that we were told to form the base of our fragrances. A full 80% of the juice needed to be composed of one or more of those four. After that, other options, including verbena, rosemary and lavender, could be added to further customize. The materials were limited; there was no rose, sandalwood or musk—but there was certainly enough variety that, for instance, my rosemary-tinged perfume smelled completely different from my sister’s more pleasant lavender concoction.

0714181429_resized

Using plastic droppers and tiny glass beakers, we mixed the juices and brainstormed on what to call our “babies.” (I’m thinking “Kel Konk” for mine, a play on quelqonque [“random”] or maybe Sékça, a shortened way of saying “What is this?” [Qu’est-ce que c’est que ca?]}

I can’t say that my perfume debut is a success. I can say that I enjoyed every minute of making it. Our creations were eau de toilette, so their smell disappears on you within an hour. It seemed a perfect metaphor for my sister’s visit to Paris, which was her first: luxurious, complex, bittersweet and fleeting. The perfume I made is not my favorite among the many that I cherish, but, to me, it is the essence of July 2018 in the City of Light, and, in the future, whenever I smell it, I know I will be transported back to this place and time.

Hmmm…maybe I should have called it Coupe du Monde.