Thursday, 20 June 2013

Last-Year Travels: Paris and Les Journées Particulières

Bonjour! Ça va? As I mentioned in Friday's post, I had all the fun of going to Paris this weekend to enjoy some of the events of Les Journées Particulières: a chance to go behind the scenes at luxury house LVMH. Or, as Chairman Bernard Arnault put it in the editorial to the fancy brochure we were all given, visits to "let you share the passion of artisans who are all inspired by the same quest for excellence." There certainly was a sense of occasion around the event. This picture was taken in Place de Vendome, bedecked in banners for the weekend, while people were queueing for hours to get into their favourite couture houses.

My first stop was at Make Up For Ever (look, that's me! In Paris! In the silk blouse and jacket I bought in Brighton!). It's a brand I knew very little about, other than being surprised that such expensive make-up would have such an awful name. I now know a lot more ... but still think it's an awful name. We were taken behind the scenes of their store, and introduced to the background of the brand, who make stage and performance make-up for everyone from Madonna to the French synchronised swimming team.

We were shown how a lipgloss might be formulated (in my schoolgirl French, I could only pick out the words 'glossy' and 'sparkling' - mainly because they were the only ones in English), and a couple of demonstrations of the make-up actually being put into use: in some fantastical ways as well as a very practical face contouring lesson. We left with a goodie bag with a mascara and a lipstick - mine was a solid red that's hardly left my lips since.

The second event was Kenzo. The event was obviously intended to reflect the fun and energy Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are bringing to the brand. We visitors were given free juices in the courtyard, with disco music belting out, walls were swathed with one of their eye-catching prints and we were shown a hologram of their latest collection, before being asked to pose for a photograph for their blog. Compared to the functional space of Make Up For Ever, Kenzo's building itself is unbelievably beautiful, dating to the seventeenth century, with plenty of gorgeous outside space.

We were guided through the design and production process that went into the jacket-style dress shown above, from inspiration and design, through to creating the demi-toile, pattern cutting and making up the actual garment from people who work on the collection. Thankfully, my knowledge of French dressmaking terminology is a lot better than my knowledge of cosmetics, so I could understand a bit more. I learnt that 34 of their designers were based in Paris and 35% of the women's collection was still made there.

Which leads me onto my main criticism of the event. Even though we were within the sacred walls of Kenzo, it all felt too artificial. The main room was dressed to show the different stages in making of the garments, with a mood board, some fabric samples, one cutting board, one sewing machine ... and so on. Engaging as their speakers were, I would have rather stood in the real design room, or fitting room, no matter how lacking in glamour it was. The stagey set-up actually had the effect of making the process seem even more unreal - or (in my head at least) perhaps making the brand more untrustworthy?

There seems to be something of a tension at the moment in the luxury business, between the desire to be seen as craftsmen and "artisans" (as in Mr Arnault's quote above) and, in the case of LVMH, being huge multinational corporation with the working practices to match. Although I enjoyed the glamour of this glimpse into their world, I didn't see much of the reality of the business that made it run: it just seemed like an elaborate way of showing us the glossy surface of the brand, something you can get when you pick up a magazine.

That was Les Journées Particulières, and so onto the rest of the delights of a Parisian weekend. The picture above was taken from our hotel window, a proper artist's garret of a room in Montmartre, though the Comptoir des Cotonnier boutiques and the like now found in the surrounding neighbourhood were a long way from the world of Toulouse-Lautrec.

I made my first visit to the Puces de Saint Ouen flea market, and, my, what a wonderful place that is. Club chairs, chaise lounges, camisoles, candlesticks: there were hundreds of everything you could imagine, and then more. We spent hours exploring the various stalls and shops, flicking through vintage magazines and adverts. Unable to carry a chaise lounge back on the Eurostar, I came away with a simple cotton dress (in red, white and blue in a deliberate counter to the advice of Ann Freeman-Saunders) which you can see a glimpse of at the bottom of this post.

We also stumbled across Habitat 1964: Un Espace Vintage near the market, a warehouse full of vintage Habitat wares taken from throughout their history. It was a reminder of how much the brand has shaped the British interior over the last 50 years. There were lots of familiar objects, like the chicken brick or the button boxes, as well as some which were too familiar - the deckchairs, for example, took me straight back to my student years and the excitement of experiencing Habitat for the very first time. Since getting back I've found out a little bit more about the space - it's only been open for about a week!

We did lots of wandering through the blissfully sunny streets and gardens too and the compulsory eating of Croque Madames and the like. My undoubted highlight of the trip, however, was a visit to the free haute couture exhibition currently on at the Hotel de Ville. There's far too much I want to say about that to try and squeeze it into this post, so I'm going to attempt to write about it separately. But to sum up in a word - wonderful!

A few of my souvenirs from a whirlwind 48 hours of fashion in Paris. 


  1. I've been reading about this event on blogs all this week and feeling pretty darned jealous! I agree that a look inside the actual atelier would have made for a better and more authentic experience. But still, it's hard to beat a free lipstick!

    1. It was a wonderful excuse for a trip to Paris. I'm sure they'll repeat it, given all the good will and press it seems to create.

      We got a free mascara too! How could I forget that? I do feel very lucky to have be able to attend the event.

  2. It sounds like you had an amazing time! I bet your French accent was amazing/terrible.

    1. Amazingly terrible I think just about sums it up!


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