It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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My four Paris Coups de Coeur Addresses

My sister Camille and I have just come back from our yearly Paris weekend: multiple back-and-forths between Concorde and Champs-Elysées, sale shopping, eating lunch and dinner out, visiting a haute couture exhibition at the Mairie de Paris… Below are our four favourite addresses from the past two days, these are the four places we would go back to and would recommend to anyone. 

Spa Nuxe Montorgueil, 32-34 rue Montorgueil 75001

An award-winning spa and a quiet heaven in the heart of Paris. I treated myself to the Soin prodigieux à l’Immortelle Bleue, while Camille enjoyed a honey-based treatment. We left with the softest skin we’ve had since we were born and a bag heavy with skincare products. The beauticians’ expertise enhances the quiet luxury of the place. Treatments from £90 include a recommendation on the type of Nuxe products to use, all available to purchase with a 20% discount. 

Le 20eme Art, 49 rue des Vignoles 75020

The perfect rendering of what Parisians think eating in province is like, the Le 20eme Art restaurant offers a daily-renewed menu with around five starters, mains and desserts to choose from. The service is friendly, accommodating and swift. Portions are the perfect size: big enough to enjoy but not so large you feel stuffed. Camille and I had steamed asparagus with a poached egg and bacon vinaigrette to start followed by a slab of foie gras for me and a navarin d’agneau, the local specialty, for her. We finished with a meringue lemon tart and amaple syrup cheesecake.  From £25 for three dishes. 

Mastino, 46 rue Caulaincourt 75018

A good and efficient pizza place close to Montmartre, but not so close it is full of tourists, Mastino offers a simple menu of classic pizzas and antipasti. The restaurant only uses the best and freshest ingredients, including a first-rate Italian flour, and leaves the dough to rest for two days, ensuring that the pizza dough is the perfect balance of thin and crisp. I had a classic Margherita jazzed up with some mozzarella di Bufala; Camille ordered the 4 Stagioni with ham, artichokes, mushrooms and olives with some Pomodori & mozzarella di Bufala to share. Pizzas from about £10. 

Ambali, 79 rue Vieille du Temple 75003

Our fashion discovery of the weekend, Ambali is a Paris-based Japanese womenswear brand. The clothes are simple and incredibly well made: each dress is lined, zip closures are hidden and even the most classic item displays unexpected twists. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable about the brand and wears the clothes with style and elegance. Dresses from about £200, t-shirts from about £75.

Posted at 8:01am and tagged with: Paris, restaurant, beauty, address,.

O a Presidential Novel, Anonymous

This is the perfect novel for all of you out there suffering from WWWS (West Wing Withdrawal Symptoms, a yet-to-be recognised by the WHO illness which symptoms include seeing every White House official as a West Wing cast member). Anonymously written by former McCain speechwriter Mark Salter, O is the fictionalised account of President O, the first black American Democrat to reach the White House, running for reelection in 2012. Half the fun of the novel is trying to guess who hides behind Salter’s acerbic description of political operatives, party player and journos while remembering the cold truth of a political campaign: no matter how hard you work, the outcome will likely be decided by an event you have no effect upon (San Andreo nuclear incident anyone?). Although Salter’s autorship hasn’t been formally confirmed, it’s easy to believe O is the work of a Toby Ziegler wannabe. His use of modals to switch from future to present as well as his ability to switch view point within the same scene, not to mention his scarce use of the present tense to focus on O’s feeling on the eve of the reelection reek of elevated Keep It Simple Stupid penmanship. The novel is, of course, open-ended: only the American electorate will decided who succeeds O at the White House on 20 January 2013.

Entre Nous A Woman’s Guide to Finding her Inner French Girl, Debra Ollivier

If you’re a regular on this blog, you probably know that I have a soft spot for books explaining how to become a French woman, passport optional. Entre Nous isn’t the best I’ve read so far. More how-to than memoir, it lacks the humour of an All You Need to Be Impossibly French. Yes, it does introduce anecdotes from Ollivier’s time in France to illustrate her advice on how French women dress, eat, cook, party, work and play but many of them don’t ring that true or border on the cliché. I would also grant a lot more weight to Ollivier’s expertise in Frenchness if her French quotes contained less mistakes. All in all, a forgettable exercise in the anthropology of French women.

A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolf

Roman à l’eau de rose veteran Isabel Wolf has two tried and tested scenario: scenario #1 - the main character ends up with a man who came out of nowhere; scenario #2 - the main character starts dating Man A who turns out to be bad bad bad. She then realises that Man B, who she dismissed early on, is her soulmate. A Vintage Affair is a case of scenario #2 (yes, spoiler alert). After a double heartbreak (breaking off an engagement plus her best friend’s death), Phoebe realises her life-long dream of opening her own vintage shop. Cue to listings of vintage garments and designers which feel straight out of a specialised book rather than real-life conversation. Wolf tries hard to maintain suspense and reader’s interest throughout the novel but expectable twists and proven characterisation mean she fails to deliver.

Deadly Decisions; Bones to Ashes; Fatal Voyage; Devil Bones, Kathy Reichs

Four more books in the Bones series, one to go and I’m starting to suffer from repetitive reading fatigue. Reichs sticks to her proven recipe through and through, suggesting that reading one of her thriller after the other is a bad idea in killing suspense. On the plus side, my knowledge of the human skeleton has skyrocketed.

Fried Why you Burn Out and How to Revive, Joan Borysenko

There are books you really don’t want to identify with and Fried is definitely one of them. Borysenko has made a name as a self-help book writer on “spirituality, integrative medecine and the mind/body connection”. In the process of becoming “a New York Times bestselling author” (both quotes from her publisher), somewhere between meeting another deadline and speaking at another conference, she suffered from the 21st century illness: burn out. She’s recovered and, as she advises in her book, decided to get something productive out of the experience: another book and a few bucks. Broken down into the twelve stages of burn out and chapters covering the origins of the issue, from childhood trauma to big pharma, Fried compares burn out to Dante’s Inferno. The most interesting part of this book however is the way she wrote it, crowdsourcing experiences of burn out via Facebook.

Posted at 8:49am and tagged with: Paris, The West Wing, book review, politics, Roman à l'eau de rose,.

Picture the perfect romantic Paris photo: the Tour Eiffel, a femme fatale wearing the most romantic of Christian Dior Couture gown on a carousel, a sign directing you to the nearest toilets…

Proust had a theory that to properly understand a painting, had to observe it through one singled out, tiny detail. Is Annie Leibovitz trying to tell us something about how she feels about her subject? Could no one in the Vanity fair Photoshop department understand French? Or on the contrary is the contrast between the mundane of the sign and the surreal beauty of Katy Perry’s dress making the picture? “The picture would have been perfect without that sign”. Except the accompanying interview isn’t about Perry’s perfection but about her life, its pink and its black.

Katy Perry’s Grand Tour, Vanity Fair June 2011

Posted at 9:07pm and tagged with: Paris, vanity fair, photography, Annie Leibovitz,.

Picture the perfect romantic Paris photo: the Tour Eiffel, a femme fatale wearing the most romantic of Christian Dior Couture gown on a carousel, a sign directing you to the nearest toilets…
Proust had a theory that to properly understand a painting, had to observe it through one singled out, tiny detail. Is Annie Leibovitz trying to tell us something about how she feels about her subject? Could no one in the Vanity fair Photoshop department understand French? Or on the contrary is the contrast between the mundane of the sign and the surreal beauty of Katy Perry’s dress making the picture? “The picture would have been perfect without that sign”. Except the accompanying interview isn’t about Perry’s perfection but about her life, its pink and its black.
Katy Perry’s Grand Tour, Vanity Fair June 2011

If you’ve been a regular French ELLE reader, La Parisienne by Ines de la Fressange is unlikely to teach you anything. Chances are, you already know what to do with black and navy (wear them together), what the best accessory for a Breton tee is (pearls and fake diamonds), where to buy semi-precious jewels (Marie-Hélène de Taillac, 8 rue de Tournon, Paris VI) and what not to wear with loafer (headband and pleated skirt).

Otherwise, la Fressange is probably as good a guide of rive gauche Paris as they get. She started her career walking for Chanel, is currently designing Roger Vivier pumps, is an ELLE pages regular and walked Chanel again last season. As the story goes, after years of being asked for her bonnes adresses by friends and strangers, she decided to team up with another ELLE woman, journalist Sophie Gachet, for a guidebook on what it means to be Parisienne.

Split into seven parts, the book takes the reader on a guided tour of fashionable Paris, from the indie store everyone wishes s/he had discovered to the chicest hotel. Common point of all those addresses: the price tag. Most unlikely (and cheapest) place prize goes to: les toilettes de la Madeleine (Place de la Madeleine, Paris VIII) - yes, those are public toilets.

The book doesn’t pretend to be objective: in adresses à la mode, Roger Vivier is awarded a double page spread and Sophie Fontanelle, another ELLE journalist who regularly features la Fressange and daughters in her blog, is named in the Parisienne Virtuelle part. In many ways, the book’s tone suffers from the same character traits often reproached to Parisiennes: a tad snob and snotty but oh so chic.

La Parisienne, Ines de la Fressange, Sophie Gachet; photos Benoît Peverelli, model Nine d’Urso - Flammarion €25 (French only for now)

Posted at 4:31pm and tagged with: book review, ELLE, Ines de la Fressange, Paris, france,.

It’s only August, but it’s already quite clear that 2010 is the year of Yves Saint Laurent. There has been a CD dedicated to him, Pierre Bergé’s Lettres à Yves, followed by the rétrospective exhibition at the Petit Palais, Laurence Benaïm’s Requiem pour Yves Saint Laurent, Marie-Dominique Lelièvre’s scandalous biography Yves Saint Laurent Mauvais Garçon and, coming to a cinema near you on September 22nd, Yves Saint Laurent Pierre Bergé L’Amour Fou. To top it all, I’ve just bought my first ever piece of vintage YSL Rive Gauche, a purple  pencil skirt which looks like the skirt in his 1988 “Hommage à Vincent Van Gogh” Haute Couture ensemble.

It’s quite easy to imagine that, like Chanel, the biopics will come next. His life, in Benaïm’s definitive biography Yves Saint Laurent Biographie, reads like a movie scenario between rehab, fashion spats and lovers.

Saint Laurent died over a year ago. None of those tributes will have any true meaning, besides making money, if his name is nothing more than a footnote of fashion history in 50 years’ time.

1) Yves Saint Laurent rétrospective

The exhibition is showing until August 29th, with tickets selling out every day. With 300 or so pieces on show, it gives an excellent overview of his work from his Dior days to his last Haute Couture collection in 2002. Garments are cross-organised by theme and chronological order, with a Cannes steps-like room at the end, allowing the visitor to understand both his inspiration and his style evolution. It ends on a pessimistic note, showing that Haute Couture doesn’t have a reason to exist anymore since places to wear it are few.

Most iconic Saint Laurent garments are on display, from a room dedicated to the Smoking to a row of Sahariennes. I was quite disappointed not to see the bikini-wedding dress Laeticia Casta wore at his spring/summer 1999 show. This was the dress which introduced Saint Laurent to the 12-year-old me. I still have the press cuttings from that particular défilé.

2) Requiem pour Yves Saint Laurent by Laurence Benaïm

Benaïm, editor and founder of Stiletto magazine, is probably one of the most authoritative Yves Saint Laurent writers. Her biography of the man, published in 1993 and updated in 2002 and 2010, is nothing short of a scholarly, though slightly biased, work. She  writes extremely well, in a broken stream of consciousness way. Her Requiem is about the last years of Saint Laurent, after he left his fashion house. It shows how fashion evolved from a creative-centred world to one dictated by business and marketing. The book is quite emotional, underlying how out-of-place Saint Laurent would have been if he were still creating nowadays. Benaïm doesn’t try to distance herself from her subject - she knew him and doesn’t pretend otherwise. Her expertise on the fashion sphere and emotional attachment to Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, whom she’s met many times, make her book all the more powerful and sad.

3) Yves Saint Laurent Pierre Bergé L’amour Fou

I haven’t seen it, and I doubt it will be out in the UK before some time, but I expect a documentary in the line of Valentino: The Last Emperor or Loïc Prigent’s work. Judging by the trailer, Pierre Thoretton has put together archival footage and contemporary interviews to tell the story of the Bergé-Saint Laurent professional and private partnership.


Yves Saint-Laurent-Pierre Bergé, l’amour fou sur Comme Au Cinema

Pics: Banner from Café Mode; Van Gogh from Fashion is my Muse; Petit Palais from Madeleine de Proust

Posted at 6:00pm and tagged with: ysl, yves saint laurent, pierre bergé, book, Paris, cinema,.

I haven’t lived in France for more than two months in a row for over six years. Going back always feels unsettling, like being a foreigner in a land which is mine. In between each trip, I keep forgetting how different France is. I tried to pay attention this year, to finally understand why all those clichés about the French exist.

1) The French speak French. No shit Sherlock and all, I know. Not to be too cliché, they speak French and little else.

2) Customer service anyone? From Tiffany Rue de la Paix to Des Petits Hauts by Saint Sulpice (picture), this weekend was a failed exercise in getting sales assistants’ attention.

3) There really is a French style. However, it has little to do with what British and US glossies call French style. More put together, breezy, effortless and less bourgeois.

4) French women really don’t get fat, or if they do, not the same way as the British or Americans. I have never seen so many skinny women in one day.

5) I’ve counted beggars by the dozen. London also has poor people but they don’t ask for money in the underground, in cafés or in the middle of the street. Why? Is it a British education thing? Or is Boris parking all the poors in places they can’t get out of? Mais que fait Sarkozy?

6) Some shops look much better online than offline. Example: Les Fleurs, a cute and inspiring website but a messy and disappointing brick-and-mortar boutique.

7) France closes down in the summer. And on Sundays. And on Mondays too, sometimes. Berthillon, the famous glacier (ice-cream maker) on the Ile Saint Louis, closed for August, one of the hottest months of the year with most tourists. I asked the sales assistant at the amazing Cire Trudon shop (picture) if she opened on Sunday. She was shocked and offended.

8) Yves Saint Laurent still fascinates. I hadn’t realised how much until I queued to get inside Le Petit Palais (picture). The exhibit was packed and sometimes hard to navigate. There were some tourists but most people spoke French.

9) People do have picknicks by the Seine with nothing but white wine.  It is however a very civil affair, not getting drunk for the sake of it.

10) The Metro is more reliable but less staffed than the Tube.

All pictures except for the last one, which is mine, are from my sister’s blog, Madeleine de Proust.

Posted at 2:38pm and tagged with: Paris, yves saint laurent, ysl,.

I’ve just spent a fashion-heavy weekend in Paris which included a whole morning around Boulevard Saint Germain. The former Christian Lacroix boutique, at the corner of Rue Saint Sulpice, is still standing, signage, mannequins and all. The shop still has clothes in and seems ready to welcome new customers. Lacroix declared insolvency in May 2009 and was turned into a licensing operation earlier this year. So why is everything still as it was when the shop closed?

What is going to happen to the Lacroix shop and the clothes inside it? Will they be sold during an auction, like his studio furniture? Donated to a museum, as they should? Sold to sample sales websites, to milk the brand even more?

Previously: The last of Lacroix, the studio furniture auction

Posted at 9:25pm and tagged with: Christian Lacroix, Paris,.