In the grand tradition of not knowing what to pack for a holiday in Paris, I decided not to overthink it, and just threw some basics into my suitcase.
I checked the weather outlook, which naturally enough said it was going to be hot and sunny and rainy and cold on the same day. So, I packed jeans, T-shirts, a cotton sweater and sneakers. Also, a pair of flat velvet sandals I can walk kilometres in comfortably – but can pass muster in a fancy boutique or restaurant.
What else? A light trench coat, a couple of silk blouses and some designer track pants. Hoop earrings. A classic black cross-body handbag and a soft raffia tote. Done.
I would buy anything else I needed when I got there. I had a small shopping budget – maybe one really great coat, another pair of shoes.
But I had to know what the Parisians were wearing first. Those stylish, uber fashionistas can destroy you with just one withering glance at your badly tied scarf.
I’d scout around, do a bit of stealth reconnaissance, and discover exactly what fashion item it was that I was missing, the pivotal piece would make me look like an insider.
Twin faces of fashion
I headed to the two big department stores on Boulevarde Haussmann, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps to get an overall vibe. By the time I’d combed every floor and done a sweep of le Bon Marche department store over on the left bank, it was clear.
Fashion is pretty much the same the world over. Much like the economy, it’s been pushed into two extremes. There’s fast fashion at one end and queuing at Louis Vuitton or Chanel at the other. There’s a greatly reduced middle ground: that classic French woman with a great haircut wearing a smart coat and a pretty shoe.
The internet informs us all in real-time that a garish Y2K hot pink Balenciaga handbag or an oversized Givenchy sneaker is the hot ticket item, so you are going to find the same fashion brands with the same merchandise in shopping hubs globally.
I looked at the locals and what I packed worked anyway – jeans, Nikes, the trench, a tote bag (my raffia bag was on trend). I didn’t really need any new clothes. But some shopping time was still on the agenda so I turned my attention to what else the French do so well – everything.
La Belle France!
Chocolate shops, patisseries, food halls, two-storey boutiques dedicated to delicate teas and exotic room candles so fragrant you can smell them across the street.
Shops that sell only white porcelain, bed-linen stores with exquisite hand-embroidered pillowcases and nightgowns with eye-watering price tags.
Antique stores with Bauhaus masterworks next to colourful Portuguese soap shops.
Art books, vintage jewellery, baby clothes, jam, lingerie, hand cream, lipstick, bread. Castaner espadrilles. Annick Goutal fragrance. Michel Vivien woven leather sandals.
Designer fashion, at least the major labels, really feels like it can take a backseat for the moment.
It’s much more fulfilling lining up for the perfect éclair.
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