Monday, October 5, 2009

Fashions in Paris, fun in Loches, and memories of my youth

On September 15 to 28, 2009 Paris was host to Premiere Vision Pluriel, an absolutely enormous trade show that filled several halls of the Parc d'Expositions near Charles de Gaulle Airport. Alex and I traveled to Paris to see the new yarns and styles that would be available during the Autumn/Winter 2010 fashion season.

First of all, I have to tell you that this show is so huge that it dwarfs the American trade shows we've visited. This is because fashion designers from around the world send their delegates to help select fabrics from yarn and textile mills throughout the planet. The show was divided into six sections: Expofil, the show of yarns and fibers (that most interested us); Indigo, the exhible of textile design and creation; PremiereVision, the fabric show; ModAmont, that presented trimming and supplies; LeCuiraParis, the leather and fur show; and Zoom, for the manufacturers of fashion.

As you can see, pretty much every aspect of fashion design and production was included.

Alex and I wanted to attend this event as Press for so I'll be able to present our readers with a preview of fashions for next winter. Be sure to read my full account of our Paris trade show experience in the upcoming Winter "Addition." You might want to visit the site now to sign up for the newsletter so you'll know when the article is released. In it, I'll be sure to include lots of photographs of what we saw in terms of colors and styles.

Let me just say this for now: Black is the new black.

Not only for this season, but for next season as well. We've all read in whatever fashion magazines we receive that blue is the new black, gray is the new black or purple is the new black. Well, I'm afraid not. Black is the new black. Mix is the some black accents, and you've got...well, black.

This struck us as somewhat odd because many of the stores in Paris are displaying truly lovely color combinations of dusty rose and dusty lavendar with grey. Or bright reds. Or the ubiquitous orange that Europeans adopt far more readily than North Americans.

For the 2010/2011 Fall/Winter season we saw lots of very bright, pretty colors that we think will be a nice departure from the greys and blacks that dominate this year's styles. I'll put photos of the new colors into the Knitch article so you can get a jump on next year's fashion must-haves. (Or, better yet, buy some RIT or Dylon dye to get more mileage out of the fashions you already own.)

When Alex and I weren't at the show (or on the train to get to the show) we were doing a lot of window shopping and people-watching to see what's big with the Parisian ladies. I love their style, though I'm not sure I could get away with it myself in Pickerington, OH. They seem to have an innate sense for what looks most attractive on them, and they'll spend literally hours in the store trying on different scarves to find the one that best complements their own complexion.

One big difference you notice immediately is that the French ladies tend more toward a natural look with earth tones, and hair that looks more natural and less fussed over. A ponytail is considered quite chic. But after quite a few trips to France I'm beginning to see that it's not just their style that is so attractive, it's their demeanour. They walk with perfect posture and with a sense of self-confidence that shows they think they look very beautiful. They exude this confidence with such force that you're quickly convinced, yes...they really are the most beautiful women in the world. Even the plain ones.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time walking the streets, looking into windows and gasping at some of the prices. A knitted wool hat by Kenzo was 350 Euros. It was a gorgeous piece with cabling and ear flaps in a bulky purple wool. Still, 350 Euros for a hat is a little (little?!) steep. The fork in the china store was a way better buy at 950 Euros. A hat will go out of style. But you could use your 950 Euro fork for the rest of your life.

As we sat at the cafe near us on Rue Cler and watched the passers-by I noticed something really intriguing: middle-aged and older men accompanied by what appeared to be very pretty young women. They walked arm-in-arm or sat affectionately caressing as they sat talking and sipping their wine. I thought, "Boy, I'll have to be sure to pick up some French face cream because these men's wives have the complexions of 20-year old girls."

And then it hit me. "Wait a minute...these aren't perfectly preserved wives. These ARE young girls."

So, I now know that the big thing in France is to date your Papa or Grandpere.

Because Alex likes to toss in an adventure that will risk both our lives (like bungee jumping in New Zealand), he decided we'd rent a car and drive through the center of Paris to the highway that goes down to the Loire Valley. I'd been wanting to visit the town of Loches ever since I was a 15-year old kid and spent a few weeks there with my father. (No, we weren't dating at the time. Agghh!)

So, armed with lots of maps, we rented a car and I served as navigator while he manned the wheel. He was very sweet and nice about it, and assured me that he wouldn't get mad when I got us lost. He told me to expect we'll have at least one wrong turn. Oh...easy for him to say. All he had to do was drive. I had to figure out the map, read the signs and provide clear-cut directions so he could make the right turns without crashing into the crazy French drivers who have no respect for lanes or the fact that another car just happens to be where they're madly careening at full speed.

Did you know that the Parisians change the name of their street about every three blocks? And that the street you're on might approach and intersection of five or six other streets and you have to figure out which of those five or six might be the continuation of the one you're on? You can't guess that it's the first street to the right. Oh, no. Nothing's as easy as that. And we have Haussman to blame for the mess.

Over a century ago, Houssman decided that the crowded, polluted, ugly city of Paris needed to be torn down and redesigned. He did a great job of it, making Paris the most beautiful city in the world. But his streets...oh, my. They go every which-way, colliding into one another, and I'm certain they make sense to the people who live there, but to Americans who are used to a grid system rather than hubs and spokes that radiate outward, they're almost impossible to navigate.

View Larger MapI had to get Alex from the center of Paris at Les Invalides, out to the highways at Port d'Italie. The young man at the car rental counter said, "Just get onto rue Invalides and it will take you directly to Port d'Italie."

In Paris there is no "directly." Take a look at the map. Do you seen any directly there? I had to get from the square that says, "7ieme Arr" in the upper left hand corner to below where you see the word "Atlas" in the bottom right corner. The yellow lines are the big streets. Those are streets that are supposed to have two or three lanes of traffic in each direction, but will have as many as five -- depending upon how bold the drivers feel that day -- or one lane if there's construction. Imagine five lanes suddenly becoming one 50 miles per hour.

I am very happy to report that I got us from the center of Paris to the highway with only one wrong turn. But I'm sure I diminished my life by several years. I was so upset and tense, thinking to myself that I'll never again serve as Alex's navigator, that I could barely control myself. I wanted to yell, "Stop the car! I'm getting out and I'm taking the subway back." Several times I wanted to let out a blood-curdling scream, "We're going to die!" But, mostly, I sat there, chalk white, frantically looking from the map to the street signs (when I could find them) and shouting, "At the next intersection, go into the circle and get off at 9 o'clock." That was how I navigate the roundabouts. I yell out a time to Alex. (What's going to happen with the next generation who've only had digital clocks and watches? They'll be forever driving in circles.)

If I'd been the driver of our car, the kid at Enterprise would have received a phone call informing him that he can collect his car parked somewhere in the middle of the intersection near the Gobelins tapestry factory. Of course, the French wouldn't balk at parking in the middle of an intersection. They park on sidewalks, lawns, and on the concrete islands right in the middle of the street.

You think I'm lying? Visit Paris. Not only do they park wherever there's room to fit a car, they even park when there isn't room. They'll quite happily squeeze their little Smart car into a spot that prevents anyone else from moving their car. I guess the French have an understanding: you don't leave until I do.

Anyway, we took the highway down to Orleans, then to Tours, and a smaller road to Loches. The toll was about 21 Euros. That's pretty pricey for the distance, but everything in France except the wine costs more than Americans are used to paying. Eventually, you get used to paying more than you're used to.

We arrived in the town of Loches around lunchtime, and I couldn't believe it, but I got us right to the place I wanted to see -- the town square. It's now a parking lot for the Palais de Justice, but it's the spot I remembered because that's where we spent time when I was a kid.

It was 1971, and my Dad was co-piloting an airplane called the Arctic 7 that was going around the world making a series of movies, "The Flight of the Arctic 7" for CTV in Canada. The series was canceled after three episodes, but I got to go to France while they filmed what turned out to be the last show, which included a segment about the montgolfier -- the hot air balloon. Stan Sheldrake who piloted the Labatt's Blue balloon for the Canadian beer maker was with us.

And -- get this -- the cinemaphotographer for this episode was a young guy named Stephen Goldblatt who flew in from London. Stephen went on to find fame and fortune in Hollywood, becoming Director of Photography for some truly magnificent movies. His most recent ones are Charlie Wilson's War (which I loved) and Julie and Julia which was just released, but I haven't seen yet.

I haven't spoken to Stephen since I was 15 years old. I wrote letters to him and his girlfriend, Dede, in London for a couple of years, and was hoping to visit when I was 19 years old, but the trip fell through. Then, I lost touch. When I finally got the chance to go to London to try to find him through contacts in the ad industry, I discovered he'd moved to Hollywood. Stephen Goldblatt had become famous! I figured if I tried to find him then, he'd think I was some sort of loony fan and run away.

So if anyone out there knows Stephen, please say hi to him for me because he's always had a place in my heart. (I've got a photo of him from 1971, with his long hair, Dede at his side, and an enormous camera perched on his shoulder.) He and Dede were very nice to me throughout my stay in France, and I always wanted to thank them for their kindness to a dopey little kid from Canada who tagged along behind them because she thought they were so incredibly cool.

It's memories like those that made me always want to return to Loches. So I really appreciated that Alex took me there.

Oh, yeah. Another memory of Loches. The film team befriended a couple of locals: Eric Duthoo, a gentleman whose family owned the Monoprix stores, and Olivier de Serres, a very charming young man who, when asked by a painfully innocent young girl, "Are French lovers as good as they say they are?" responded, "Would you like me to show you?"

It took me four years to figure out what he was saying! Boy, was I ever naive!

Apparently, Olivier -- the French lover I never had -- writes books about Peugeots (I recall he had one at the time) and is still in the Tours area.

Okay...back the the present.

Alex and I had a really terrific meal at a little restaurant in Loches, walked around the streets that hadn't changed in a couple of hundred years, and then headed out to see more of the Loire Valley. We took a tour of Chenonceaux, which was terrific because we'd just read a book about Catherine de Medici, and Chenonceaux was the home of her husband's lover, Diane de Poitiers. Then we went to see Catherine's house, Chambord, which was much larger. I guess it doesn't matter how big your house is if your husband is cheating on you. You still resent what the other lady has. As soon as the king dropped dead, Cathy tossed Diane out of Chenonceaux and took it over for herself. It still has the initials of Henry and Diane intertwined. Boy, if that doesn't annoy a wife, nothing will. (If Alex starts decorating our house with Meghan Kelly's initials, I'm canceling our cable TV.)

After visiting the Loire Valley we high-tailed it back to Paris where we unloaded the car and celebrated with beaucoup de vin because we'd actually driven through the city without crashing into anyone or getting hopelessly lost.

It was a really nice trip, and we had a terrific time seeing the fashions, eating no more than three desserts with each dinner, and learning to navigate the city on the metro, RER and -- of course, on foot. Alex marched me mile after mile through the Bois de Bologne, the Tuileries, the Champs de Mars, and lots of little side streets in Paris. If there's one thing Alex enjoys more than driving, it's walking. Mile after mile after mile until I'm ready to collapse from exhaustion and he's still saying, "Let's walk to the Ile de St. Louis for ice cream. It's only 7 kilometers!"

Here he is standing in front of the conference center. You can't see his feet, but believe me, he's got the heart of a lion and the feet of a Roman legionnaire.

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