How to look French (si tu veux!)

By Caitlin Kelly

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Even some shoe soles are stylish! A brand called Freelance

 

The second you arrive in Paris — unless you’re already stylish, small and thin — you can feel like a Stegosaurus among orchids.

It’s a cliche but a true one — French men and women often dress, and design their interiors — with a terrific sense of style, and one I find endlessly interesting and inspiring.

 

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Color

French clothing colors are quite different from those offered in North America, especially in the U.S., where garish primaries and brilliant pinks and turquoises predominate, especially in summer.

A French red is a soft tomato-red, not a cold blue-red, their orange slightly dusty, their yellow a soft mustard. Green is a deep emerald or teal, or a soft, pale mint, maybe even a strong chartreuse. You’ll find many more neutrals — gray, cream, beige — than in the U.S. Also, lots of great browns and rust tones, like the rich russet red of cinnamon and a lovely pale peach, the color of ballet pointe shoes.

On the streets, (where in New York you see a lot of black), you’ll see instead a dozen shades of blue.

I love their combinations, in scarves, shoes, clothing and interior fabrics: mustard/gray; navy blue/soft pink; red/gray; olive/burgundy. Clothing is often displayed by color, making it easier to find what you want, or to match outfits.

Prints

Much less popular, in general. Men and women both wear prints, but usually on a scarf or a very small-scale design shirt or blouse.

Scarves

You might not be a scarf person — but men and women of all ages here wear fantastic scarves year-round, whether of wool, cotton, linen or silk. Most are long and narrow, like a muffler, and add a note of stylish confidence.  Incredible selection everywhere, and at all price points.

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Even grocery carts are chic!

Fit

Since so many American women are large — the average U.S. women’s size being a 14, (maybe a size 6 to 8 in Paris) — almost everything for sale in the States hits below the hip to disguise bulk.

Not in Paris! T’s, jackets and blouses are all cropped shorter. French armholes are also cut higher and closer to the armpit, with narrower sleeves, making for a much cleaner line, but also challenging-impossible for those with larger upper arms. Even a size Large to Extra Large can be a lot smaller than you need.

Tall men with broad shoulders may find French clothing less accommodating as well.

I have seen larger sizes for women, but at high price points — usually $200-400 for a stylish blouse or dress, found in a few indie boutiques.

Fit matters here. You won’t see baggy-assed trousers or pleated khakis on men or women, nor pants that need shortening. Attention to detail is a key element of how Frenchmen and women present themselves in public.

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Shoes

Available in every conceivable color and material — from black raffia to pale pink iridescent patent leather to metallic green kidskin with a parrot on top. A jazz shoe — soft-soled, laced — is a perennial favorite, in all colors and finishes, as are loafers. You won’t see many high heels, impractical on cobbled streets.

No matter how simple her outfit, a stylish French woman chooses an interesting shoe.

There are lots of great choices for men, with a flat-soled leather or or suede boot a popular option. The Marais, long a gay neighborhood, offers fantastic options for men, and BHV Homme is an entire department store just for men.

Bags

So many bags! While some tourists drop thousands on a Big Name Designer bag like Chanel or Hermes, there are many other stylish and less-expensive options, whether  a classic French maker like Lancel, Le Tanneur or Longchamps to something more fun and funky.

Hair

A great cut and lively color are de rigueur.

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Galeries Lafayette

Interiors

I lovelovelove shopping for our home here; on this trip I bought everything from napkins to bathmats to a throw for the bed, even a comforter.

I find the colors and textures so alluring, with bed linens — sometimes made of linen — offered in every color of the rainbow. If you love beautiful objects and home goods, set aside time to browse department stores BHV and (higher-end) Le Bon Marché.

Small, light packable items like salt and pepper grinders, aprons, napkins and small trays make gorgeous gifts and souvenirs.

Both of these stores have excellent cafés and if you spend more than 175 euros in one day, be sure to claim your détaxe — the 12% value-added-tax — at the store’s designated desk. You must take your passport.

For those with the budget and enough time, ($150/meter and up), you can also visit the showrooms of the Rue du Mail (as I did), a street lined with high-end interior fabric for sale, like Pierre Frey, and order some for your home. They need at least three or four days’ notice, (not including a weekend) and it allows you to bypass the annoying American gatekeeper system, where you can only buy such fabrics through a designer.

 

Some of my favorite Paris shops:

 

Irena Gregori

Every time I visit Paris, I stop in, and am still wearing and loving several garments I bought there many years ago — and I’m a size 12 to 14, so you don’t have to be tiny.  Great selection of shoes, scarves, dresses and blouses. In June, sales start and her lovely winter coats were half-off for about $200.

BHV

It’s huge! A terrific cafe sits on the top floor, offering splendid views of the surrounding area. You’ll find clothing, shoes, home goods, luggage, make-up and perfume. Check out their throw pillows and comforters; (you can always mail them home.) Their stationery and crafts section is amazing — with lots of very good art supplies.

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Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché

This high-end department store, founded in 1838 in a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood, offers a very beautiful physical space to shop in — spacious and full of natural light. Lovely tea room and an amazing food hall!

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Affordable and pretty lingerie, sleepwear and bathing suits.

Galeries Lafayette

Huge, bustling department store, in a circular design, beneath a spectacular stained glass roof.

Calligrane

On the Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, one of three very good paper stores all beside one another. Paper for writing letters, framing, lampshades or wrapping; also notebooks and gorgeous cardboard folders.

Diwali

This chain of stores is a must if you like scarves as much as I do, in silk, cotton and wool. Their crinkled one-color scarves are well-priced at about $20, and adding one or several to your outfit, men and women, adds a pop of Parisian panache.

 

 

Shopping in Paris…

By Caitlin Kelly

Galeries Lafayette. Gorgeous but tiring!
Galeries Lafayette. Gorgeous but tiring!

If you enjoy shopping, this is your city! Especially between January 7 and February 15, during “les soldes” one of the two citywide annual sales. (The other is in June.)

There are few things not to buy here, and so many temptations, from stunning foulards (mufflers), worn by men and women of all ages, to exquisite teas and chocolates, mustards and other culinary lovelies. Perfume! Shoes! Jewelry!

Not to mention things you never realized you really needed until you see them….like this Babar hot water bottle cover.

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I’ve been running around my favorite neighborhoods seeking a few treasures to bring home.

It’s been…interesting.

I went to Galeries Lafayette, despite the sniffy disapproval of a local who said, “It’s only for tourists.” Um, she was right. It was a madhouse and not nearly as much fun or appealing as I remembered from my last soldes there, (still wearing a gorgeous pair of sandals from seven years ago.)

There was a man guarding the small area devoted to Longchamp handbags and a pretty stunning selection but I found nothing that said “Buy me!”

I finally tried on a pair of great-looking soft red suede boots, ankle high, with a zipper up the back.

Then the zipper broke and I couldn’t get them off.

Holy shit.

Four salespeople joked, “Oh, now you have to buy them!” and finally a strong man with a large pair of very sharp scissors cut me out of them. That was a first, and, I hope, a last. Merde! (No, I didn’t have to buy them and they were extremely kind about it.)

I have a few categories of things I’m always on the hunt for: textiles for our home; clothing; shoes; accessories; lovely things for entertaining (tableware, napkins.) When traveling, I don’t look at books (too heavy) or electronics or much artwork (difficult to get home and we already have plenty.)

If you love people-watching — and getting inspired by what you see — this is the place. Women here, whatever their age, (and women over 40 consistently seem to look the best), take great care with their appearance and it’s fantastic to see.

Unlike New York, there’s no slavish attachment to the same tedious and tired logos — Michael Kors, North Face, Coach — or the usual Big Name Designers people in New York use to flaunt their wealth, like Prada, Gucci, Goyard and Vuitton.

Here, instead, you’ll see some of the French classics, like Longchamps and Lancaster (handbags) but will also see a much wider range of colors, textures and styles.

Women, and men, are very definite in their own specific look, whether their hair is loose and gray, and they’re wearing Converse, (sneakers are called “les baskets”) or they’re blonde, sleek and soignee. Their self-confidence is lovely and you can quickly pick up style pointers just by observing them discreetly.

So far I’ve bought:

1) a chocolate brown dress from Irina Gregory, a fave shop in the Marais; 2) several scarves; 3) a small canvas handbag I sling bandolier-style across my body; 4) a thick black-and-white sweater/jacket; 5) a thin rust-colored mohair sweater and 6) matching color T-shirt to wear beneath it; 7) two bright chartreuse linen pillow cases; 8) a dark brown vintage fedora; 9) fab 80s’ earrings; 10) two presents for my husband and 11) a fountain pen and multiple cartridges 12) two small pouches for organizing; one for change and one for loose ends, like pills and fountain pen and lipstick. (The small one is velvet, a great choice as I can know it by feel when rummaging in a crowded carryall.) 13 A bottle of Hermes Voyage, a perfume of theirs I wasn’t familiar with.

I’ve already picked up on a classic French style trend — sticking to a palette of colors that are flattering and go well together. French women wear a veritable rainbow of colors, but many of them wear a delicious mix of camel, cream, navy, black and gray. They may add a burgundy or olive boot, or a pale blue scarf. Very few women, anywhere here, wear prints, unless it’s a fantastic oversize houndstooth coat or jacket.

I had another retail mishap (what the hell?) after walking down the Rue de Rennes.

As I settled into a cafe for lunch, a woman at the next table pointed, aghast, (and smiling sympathetically) at my new jacket, made of thickly woven fabric….in its folds I had snagged a camisole, still on its plastic hanger, and walked out of the store with it attached to me. No one noticed. So attractive!

Where to shop?

Les Grand Boulevards

This is where all the major department stores are: crowded as hell but with lots of selection and multiple places to sit down and eat a good meal to regain your stamina. You can also get your “detaxe”, VAT refund of 12% right there if you spend more than 175 euros in one day and are returning to a non-EU country. The biggies are Galeries Lafayette, BHV, Printemps and Au Bon Marche (in the 6th.) For a totally different world, try Franck & Fils, in the 16th., a quiet and elegant residential neighborhood.

The Marais

Irresistible. The tiny, winding streets are charming and filled with boutiques, not the usual chain suspects. Everyone loves Agnes B (too plain for me). I discovered Miller et Bertaux, pricey but gorgeously simple women’s clothing. I like Irina Gregory, clearly. Just to weep gently and silently, visit L’Eclaireur; everything is exquisite, costly and edited. The space alone is worth seeing.

The 6th

You just have to walk…lots of goodies. Fragonard offers lovely bathrobes and bath items. Sabre has cutlery in every possible color of the rainbow, including stripes and polka dots. But also really beautiful wood-handled ones as well. TwinSet has clothes for petite women who love a bit of ruffle and are unabashedly feminine; the line is Italian and so pretty! St. Laurent sits on Place St. Sulpice. I loved the stuff at American Vintage (which is not, confusingly) vintage at all; fantastic colors in T-shirts, fluffy oversize sweaters and cotton, wool and gauze mufflers. You must visit Souleiado, which has the most beautiful Provencal fabrics in every iteration, including men’s and women’s clothing, tableware and others.

The 7th

It’s an upscale residential neighborhood, so the pickings are slim, but very nice. Petit Bateau sells high-quality T-shirts (and great kids’ clothes) on Rue de Grenelle. I scored a lovely fountain pen and my discounted pillow cases on the same street.

The flea market

Meh. I never thought I’d say it, but…meh. Most people go to Porte de Clignancourt, as I did, which is huge and divided into many smaller markets. Unless you’re buying furniture, lighting or art, though, you’re going to Vernaison, which I found just really overpriced. (I did much better at Eponyme, a small but great vintage shop in the 11th.)

Score!
Score!

Vintage

If you have the time and patience, Paris is loaded with vintage shops, some of them with crazy-low prices — like 10 euros for a shirt or sweater ($12-15.) Go to Eponyme, 7 rue Paul Bert in the 11th; the owner is a treasure and speaks English. Great prices.

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Accessories

Too many to name! I love Diwali, a chain of stores selling terrific cotton, silk and wool scarves and mufflers (and jewelry.) Well-priced in every color of the rainbow.  The narrow one-way street running the length of Ile St. Louis is lined with lovely shops selling handbags, gloves, hats, great-looking costume jewelry.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to buy Big French Names (like Hermes, Chanel) — unless, of course you have pots of money and they’re your style.

I get much more pleasure from some of my smaller, quirkier purchases I’ve made here over the years — a polka dot apron from BHV, a crinkled duster coat from Irina Gregory, a fab poster by the classic cartoonist Sempe and three burgundy striped votive holders.

You’ll notice I’ve skipped the legendary strips of the Champs Elysees and Faubourg St. Honore; the latter is lined with every possible designer and well worth it, if your budget allows.

Have fun!