Mar 18, 2016

As experienced by Elinor Coleman

P1010855When I think of Paris the first image that comes to my mind is that of the many beautiful and romantic bridges over the Seine River and the horizon sky, the Parisian blue skies and egg shell cream colored clouds. These colors then melt into the colors of dawn with pink, salmon, and many shades of white as the daylight shifts by the hour and finally the blue purple of twilight— all bouncing and reflecting off the various bridges and silhouetted buildings of white and grey stone.

The various buildings which normally are no more than six stories tall, are architecturally decorated and extravagant. Only the churches, large museums, colleges, city offices, department stores, and train stations loom larger among the small streets of the Left Bank (the Latin Quarter).

Because many apartments are located in these old historic buildings, the rooms may have high ceilings but the floor space is compact. Imagine a studio apartment in New York City’s Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, or Hell’s Kitchen. Kitchens were the size of my apartment closet in New York, with a small refrigerator in a cabinet under the counter next to the sink, which is the reason Parisians go to the local neighborhood markets daily. Built-in closets are a contemporary invention; landlords would not be open to breaking down ancient plaster walls to install such closets. Even with the limited floor space, the French use armoires, as big as the cabinets people use to house/hide a widescreen TV. This is the hanging closet, and also has drawers for clothing and shoes. When closed these armoires are major furniture, carved and decorated, and usually they come with the apartment, often located in the bedroom or in a sitting-and-bedroom combination.

As a result, to be fashionable, the French woman must carefully consider and arrange the clothing and accessories she purchases to take into account cost and space considerations as well as her overall vision.  With the cost of fine garments being so expensive right up to the time when the H&M store throwaway philosophy took hold in the popular imagination, the fashion-conscious Frenchwoman would perhaps purchase one or two items per season to augment the basic main garments already in the armoire.  Shoes, jewelry, and purses might be the exception. Street dressing in Paris on the Left Bank has demanded a creative intermixing of colors and designs based upon the influence of international designers and access to their small ateliers and boutiques, along with what is showing in the museums and galleries.

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My research was based on my Café Society experience long ago when I lived in Paris as a student, model, and dancer, augmented this past November when I walked, visited galleries, hung out with my husband in various neighborhood cafes, and people watched.  I also noted exceptional outfits at the gallery openings which were held all around the Left Bank on Thursday evening. And of course when I shopped in the stores.

Unfortunately, my planned photo travel log of store and boutique windows had to be put on hold due to the tragedy of the terrorist attacks. So the following sightings and thoughts are intended to offer more insight than I could with the few photos attached. What better reason to revisit Paris again in 2016! Next time I hope we also can include London during our odyssey.

My observations from last November in Paris: Most women chose to wear creased trousers or stockings designs. The trousers were all creased, some with cuffs, but many in the overlarge leg or skinny style, but all of them were very, very tailored, and in different lengths. Skirts were generally short or just past the knees.

In early November 2015 Paris enjoyed the same mixture of mild and warm temperatures as are found in New York and Washington. Not one young woman could be seen walking around with bare legs (with the exception of young students with flip flops and women headed to yoga class). There were singular colors and multicolor patterns chosen to highlight the texture of the clothing.  Some women wore solely one color from hat to stockings – this season’s favored Parisian Blue (a bright medium blue), Merlot red, black, navy and tan/brown.

P1010935Along the boulevards of the Montparnasse neighborhood, which is a major shopping area, were several new hosiery store chains, offering hundreds of styles and patterns of tights, stockings, and even fancy Bobby Socks. The hosiery featured open lacey designs, opaque, translucent and all sorts of patterns, usually including two or three contrasting colors, from all kinds of labels and designers imaginable. The only other fashion line offered in these stores were underpants. As you strolled down the boulevard you looked into store windows to see rows and rows of mannequin legs displayed upside down on high shelves showing off all this parade of hosiery.

Because of the enormous range of skirt and pant lengths, stockings and footwear were seen as an additional focal point for each outfit, especially high heel shoes and boots of all styles. It was fun to see the old style Converse tennis shoes everywhere, worn as a fashion statement, including by my cousin as part of her outfit for visiting a Parisian flea market with me. We American tourists seemed to be the ones wearing clunky walking shoes. Mine were heavy lace-up saddle shoes with major rubber soles which I almost wore out walking around Paris for hours each day.

Boots were primarily short; this way the fancy socks could show the ruffle and lace top edge over the top of boot. Many boots came in two colors, just like the many multicolor block purses I saw, along with buckles and other hardware ornaments. I did not see many boots going up to the knee, except for those with four- and five-inch heels. I felt my feet cringe and cramp at the mere sight of these heels. Remember—we are talking about cobblestone lined streets and very narrow and treacherous sidewalks lined with metal stanchions to protect pedestrians from cars and zillions of mopeds speeding by only inches away.

The only blue jean/denim outfits I saw were the young art students going to class or Americans walking around doing the tourism thing. French women of all ages wore primarily singular color-palette pants, skirts, blazers, sweaters, and hats, in addition to the similarly-designed stockings. Blouses were often white or pastel and starched as if according to some unwritten dress code. The coats or outer layer jackets were black, brown, fur, tweed, or tapestry of all different colors and textures. Everyone seemed to always have an outer coat with them along with the familiar and necessary shopping bag or basket. Interestingly, the raw-edged fur or leather vest jacket, with or without zipper or closure, was very popular on the streets.

P1010911Of course everyone—and I mean everyone—wore scarves. They were tied in various ways and showed off the additional texture patterns, materials, designers, colors and sparkle. All were tied around the throats- men and women in every way imaginable. Yes, a few people wore berets, not many. However, huge round or square eyeglass frames were everywhere—again a very thoughtful fashion statement.

Many women had their hair dyed red, purple, silver, frosted or tinted and streaked. Coiffures boasted major hair ornaments, including hair clips of all types and shapes were seen everywhere. The French hair clip is such a well-sought-after staple of style because the design and craftspeople meet the demands of fashion-conscious Parisiennes. Yes, we carry a full range of French clips at Vintage Mirage, plus a full assortment of hair combs, hair pins, and sticks with and without crystals.

Now we get to the jewelry part, one of my favorite subjects only to be matched by the purses. Well, sad to say – although helpful to my cash supply—my much sought-after, drooled-over Chanel purse was still too expensive in Paris, even at an excellent consignment store where one was listed at 5,000 Euros. Yikes! So it stayed on the store shelf.

But when it came to the jewelry it was a different story, and I managed to stock Vintage Mirage with the prime examples of this most wonderful art form.

Necklaces – Look at the pictures! Yes, we have them for sale at Vintage Mirage!

Large, big statement pieces, all materials, all shapes and sizes. Large necklaces are prized in Paris so they can be seen or noticed underneath the always-present neck scarf.

Earrings – Look at the pictures! Yes, we have them for sale at Vintage Mirage!

Whenever you see me I am always wearing two different sets of earrings because I have double piercings in both ears (since high school, when my bohemian and artistic bent began, and the fashion-statement, signature-style maven was born).

Bangles – Look at the pictures! You have seen me covered with these gems!

Vintage Mirage offers a huge range of styles, shapes, ranging from one-of-a-kind artisan-made, antique East Indian silver cuffs to beaded stretch bracelets, to 1920’s era rhinestone pieces made in the height of the costume jewelry era.

P1010983 P1010985Purses – The women of Paris carried mostly large bags that are able to hold many things, including many multicolored purses with big color squares. Of course, most purses were worn over the shoulder, across the body. Some women held their purses over their arms, but those were primarily the suitcase-sized bags. Many, many textured purses could be seen in all shades of colors, with embossed faux alligator, quilted, and in fake or real fur. Also many top designer purses, including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and many others with exotic skins, textures mixed up, in all shapes and sizes. One of the few boutique windows I captured with my camera were those of the Karl Lagerfeld boutique, displaying small black square bags covered with travel decals and, of course decals, with Karl’s face in silhouette, one of his signature design features.

Now you have just some of my impressions. I hope to cover some of my other favorite boutiques in subsequent blogs as well as further discussion of the restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries of Paris.

Happy Spring to you, dear reader!
Elinor Coleman

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