Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fashion Forward: Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Fashion. I love it. Some might say I'm a slave to it. While I like to wear what's "in," I'm also a sucker for something classic; or vintage. So I don't think I'm exactly a slave to fashion. Others might call me a label whore. I can accept this title. There are brands that I like (Louis Vuitton, YSL, Hermès) and brands that I find look good on me (Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood). If I can afford to buy the label, I'm going to buy the label. I've even been referred to as a fashion victim. Well, I have to say that while I have been known to buy the brand because of the label (LV, Hermès), I'm not one that's willing to shell out the money to buy the label just because it's the label, especially if it doesn't look good on me (or the bag doesn't fit my needs). The point is, everyone buys clothes. We're all drawn to certain things. I enjoy cultivating my style in the garden of designer labels when I can. I haven't always been able to do that. And I don't consider my desire to wear labels or my ability to afford them (Gucci platforms, YSL mini bag) a negative attribute. I work. I save. I purchase. Sometimes I have buyers remorse even if I've finally purchased the very item I've been saving for. Money is tangible. Joy from the purchase is not. Ultimately, I find the joy and have no regrets for spending the money.

Fashion trends are dictated by the designers (or Anna Wintour). We're all aware at some point in a season of that one item on everyone's Must List. Maybe it's a bag. Maybe it's a shoe. Maybe it a certain leg width for denim. For spring, I read that the bomber jacket was a must have. After reading that bit of information, wouldn't you know I saw bomber jackets everywhere. It made me wonder what underground syndicate tells every fashion house We want bomber jackets to be the It thing for spring so make one. 

Fashion changes. Sometimes gradually; sometimes from season to season. (Christian Dior used to change his silhouette with every season effectively outdating what was in a woman's closet every few months.) It can be based on the shifting mood of the times. Or can shift the mood of the times by creating something altogether new. 

Style is what you do with that fashion. I prefer to buy things that are on trend with a bent toward the classic. That's my style. I don't want my clothes to be dated by the next season. Something that is in the center of the fashion zeitgeist this season might need only the right accessory to keep the look fresh year after year. 

I do like to find out what has been deemed the hot color of the season. Again, does that syndicate tell everyone This fall we wants lots of cordovan but for spring we want emerald? I incorporate the color either in nail polish or a piece of jewelry or a shirt that has that color in it. Something that allows me to participate without going overboard. And let's be honest, a shirt with cordovan in the print is still going to work for autumn no matter the autumn of what year. Deep red is an autumn/winter color. It's a classic. Emerald will always work for spring/summer. Be smart about what you buy. Have fun, but be smart.

This fashion lesson was brought to you in honor of my visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs today. The museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a panorama of fashion spanning three centuries. I was in heaven. It's a shame you can't see my halo and wings. I didn't take a selfie. Sorry. 

According to their website there are "300 items of men's, women's and children's fashion from the 18th century to today." I saw them all. Corsets, panniers, breeches, waistcoats, vests, bustles, trains. From Charles-Frederick Worth (consisered by many as the first couturier) to Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, Jeanne Lanvin and Madeleine Vionnet. And what French fashion exhibit would be complete without Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent? 

I was mildly intrigued by the gowns and menswear of the early 18th century. They're beautiful. There's no denying it. Especially when viewing the details. It's easy to imagine Marie Antoinette and the ladies and gentlemen of the period wearing those clothes. We've seen the images a hundred and two times. We can't imagine how long it took to dress with all those layers. Forget about doing it alone. And forget about a quickie in the antechamber. Beautiful to admire, but yawn. 

Then there was the room filled with dresses I would expect to see in Scarlett O'Hara's closet...although not in her window. 

The changing of the silhouette becomes extremely interesting when you can view it all at once. The corseting and bustles to no bustles to finally no corset--women had to, and still do, go through much more than men when it comes to fashion. Although women have so many more choices than men when it comes to decorating their bodies with the beauty of clothes.

It was upon entering the room showcasing designs from around 1903 and forward that I came alive. These were dresses designed by names I recognized.

1. A selection. This is where my halo started forming

2. Elsa Schiaparelli (she loved shocking pink). To your right is a gown by American designer Mainbocher

3. An Elsa Schiaparelli pink jacket, again in shocking pink. To the right, a blue haute couture gown by her rival, Coco Chanel

4. The room where I got my wings 

5. The "New Look" by Christian Dior

6. Yet another gorgeous Dior

7. This Pierre Balmain is reminiscent of a few gowns I saw in photos from this year's Met Gala--Manus x Machina

8. Hubert de Givenchy coat

9. Again with Dior. The gold outfit to the left belongs to Chanel

10. Cristóbal Balenciaga

11. Both of these pieces are from the mind of Paco Rabanne

12. Both purple and yellow selections are Yves Saint Laurent

13. A Christian Lacroix that might have felt at home in one of the previous rooms

14. That ensemble on the right is the creation of Vivienne Westwood

15. A Raf Simmons dress for the House of Dior

16. The back view of the Dior on the left. The gown on the right is Riccardo Tisci for the House of Givenchy

Regardless of where you spend your money on your clothes, find your style. Figure out what you like, what makes you happy. Pick up a Vogue magazine once in a while and check things out. See what's in your closet already that looks like something you saw in its pages. Have a good time. Fashion should be fun.

Fashion is fantasy. Style is how you express the fantasy. Find your fantasy. Be yourself...confidently. I dare you!

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au Revoir

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Une Fondation et un Cimetière

I was nearly overcome by tears as I descended from the 4th floor terrace of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The sky was overcast, the sun fighting to break through the haze. The air was crisp. I could hear the water gently rolling down the man made, stepped waterfall, the birds chirping, the various languages one hears in a museum full of the melting pot of people gathered to admire its contents. I was truly happy and surrounded by beauty. Hence the near trickle of tears that nearly dampened my cheeks as if it was a smaller version of the waterfall in front of me. 

The structure of the Fondation Louis Vuitton is itself a piece of art. If you're reminded of the Sydney Opera House when looking at the above pic you're in good company. I was too. Maybe that's because of the curvature. The curved glass portion of the upper levels of the Fondation are designed to look like sailboat sails inflated by air. The Opera House calls its roof "shells". Both look aerodynamically designed with wind in mind. 

Commissioned by Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH (Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton) the Frank Gehry (American) designed building is glorious and modern. Its design strikes a contemporary and artistic pose on the outskirts of an historic Paris. Although the metropolis of the business district can be seen from the second floor terrace, that image of glass towers is not the image so often associated with Paris. Which makes this contemporary structure all the more rapturous.

My wish would have been that the sun be a shining today and that I wouldn't have needed a jacket. That was not in Mother Nature's plan. As much as the sun fought to shine through the clouds the clouds proved a stronger opponent than the power of the rays.

However disappointed I may have been by the rain, I'm not sure I can say that it didn't create the perfect atmosphere for strolling through Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Two days in a row I roamed among the dead as they rest. 

On my last visit to Paris in Septembre 2015, I twice attempted a visit to this cimetière. My plans were thwarted both times so I was determined to make it this time. 

Cemeteries are like cities of the dead, don't you think? There is a design to the layout much like a city. The tombstones are monuments much like buildings. There are often flowers and in most cases grassy space--like parks. There are roads on which to drive or walk. It's a city of the dead. 

It's peaceful in a city of the dead. Think about doesn't often hear raised voices or loud music in a cemetery. As I said yesterday, the dead are so respected. And they can't even appreciate it. They're dead! But I digress.

The cobblestone streets running through Père Lachaise were dappled with green grass growing between the stones, which were wet and slick from the pouring rain. The downpour shook loose the flowering buds in the trees mixing them with the rain as each fell to the ground, a mix of flurry and fury. 

To my right just after entering I saw the sign outlining the locations of the notables buried within the walls. Edith Piaf is there. Chopin, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Jim Morrison. Sarah Berhardt is there as well as Molière. These were a few of the names I recognized. I must confess though that it wasn't terribly important for me to see any of their graves. Maybe I would have felt differently if the rain hadn't soaked through my shoes to my socks. But I'm not sure it would have mattered even if the sun had been shining down on me. I just wanted to be inside the walls, see the burial markers. 

They are quite grand, most of them. Some reminded me of phone booths in their shape and height. Some of those had broken doors and revealed a space just large enough to kneel and, most likely, say a prayer for the dead. Not that they need the prayer. They are dead after all. 

Père Lachaise is quite congested with graves. There's barely a space between markers. It seems there are strict limitations to who can be buried there now and the lucky families can purchase in perpetuity or for 50, 30, or 10 years. Leasing for 30 years is a popular option these days. (You can lease your burial plot like you're leasing a new Fiat.) However, if the lease isn't renewed, or the 50, 30, or 10 year time previously purchased not extended, then the bones are dug up, moved to a modern day catacombs, and the grave sight sold or leased to another family. Moral of the story: death may not be the final resting place in Père Lachaise so if you want to stay up.

The day was filled with beautiful monuments although two quite different versions of beauty--the new and the old. The new modern structure of the Fondation Louis Vuitton was contemporary, if not futuristic. While the oldest structures in Père Lachaise (my favorites) were grand on a smaller scale, mixing centuries of styles and motifs, harkening back to many other times. I do love vintage.

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au Revoir.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Les Catacombes De Paris

"Halt, this is the empire of the dead."

I have a fear of death. I'm fairly certain that it is the ppain connected with dying that scares me most--drowning, burning, the agony of disease. Dying alone. That's a huge part of the problem. I know...we all die alone; death is a personal passage; a solitary journey. I get that. Even when someone is holding your hand you're still alone in that final sleep. 

A few days prior to this trip to Paris, I was lying in bed, awake with anxiety, trying to fall asleep. I kept repeating the word "death" over and over. I was trying to get comfortable with it as a word, take some of the darkness and mystique from it; challenge its power.

It is fitting--if only to me--that on my first full day in Paris (on this, my second trip) that I spent some time underground, communing with the bones of many a Parisian's past. 

The descent began via spiral staircase. Spiraling down into the depths of the city's underground. Roughly 60 feet.  Dimly lit, narrow passageways, well worn and slick from moisture and travel, were the path to follow as I felt myself sloping gradually deeper below the surface. The only life was that of the others around me doing the same thing.

It was cold. Chilled to the bone now takes on a new meaning. I felt my teeth trying to chatter. I forbade them to do so, daring them to defy me. I won. I felt my body tense, waiting for someone to jump from one of the dark crevices to scare me. But this was no haunted house or set for a horror film. This was concentrated ground.

Aside from those walking this passage with a companion (and talking while doing so) the journey was silent and serene. Even those holding conversations were kerping them at a low volume. Isn't it amazing how much respect is given to the dead? Oh that we might treat each other in life with as much courtesy and respect. Imagine what your subway ride might actually be like.  

To ogle at stacks of bones might seem an odd thing to do, but the history behind their stacking is fascinating.

In the 18th century it seems health conscious Parisians were looking to improve the city's sanitary conditions. Their bright idea was to empty the church cemeteries, moving the bones to what had formerly been limestone quarries underneath the city. It took decades to complete the process. Ceremonial processions of carts of bones were led by priests to the newly repurposed quarries, now catacombs. In places, the bones could be found stacked five feet high and up to 80 feet deep. Talk about sharing space. And for that matter, can you even imagine the uproar it might cause today to even suggest moving bodies from the cemetery? I don't even want to think about the backlash and sense of entitlement that would present itself.

Death is cold yet I wonder if the ancient ghosts feel the warm presence of the bodies passing through, gawking at their bones as they lie, en mass, in rest. 

"Happy is he who is forever faced with the hour of his death and prepares himself for the end every day."

86 narrow steps twist to the surface. I wasn't any worse for wear--the chill warmed; the damp spots from the drips that fell on me from the limestone ceiling dried--just different. Walking between stacks of bones, staring into empty holes where once sat eyes that saw the Paris of another century, isn't something I do every day. 

In the remnants of death it seems we're all the same. That we might recognize that while we're alive. 

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au revoir. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Glacial Pace of a Stroll By The Seine

Is it just me or is the bread fresher and the cheese stinkier--in a good way--in Paris.

And the water. It's just water, right? Except when it the green water of the Seine and you're strolling along side it, moving at the glacial pace that Miranda Priestly hates. You've a café cremè in your hand and that one bird keeps tweeting the same song over and over and it floats on the breeze even as you move further away from it. 

I watched a pair of lovers engage in a kiss on the opposite bank of the Seine. Before them I watched a couple pose for wedding photographs. Virginia may be for lovers but Paris is for LOVERS.

Patches of blue peaked through above me in the patchwork of blue, gray, and white. Eventually the blue disappeared but the sky never dropped its moisture on my head. The breeze blew and the sounds of Paris--sirens, motorcycles, the language--filled my ears. I walked and I walked. And I walked some more.

All the anxiety I had for the nights leading up to getting here have evaporated into thin air now that I'm actually here. As I said in my previous post: "I enjoy being where I'm going. It's the getting there..."

My cousin, Whit, asked me what was on my agenda for this trip. My response: "To breathe the air." I want to drink it all in with my eyes, my nose, my ears. I want to capture it all to memory and translate it all into words and images. I want to taste different wines and eat cheeses that I've never heard of. All of these things are possible. This is my life. I'm living my dream. Nightmares are not an option!

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au revoir. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Embracing Life and My Fear of Vulnerability

The anxiety is real. I'm not sure where it comes from or when I developed such a deep cavern of fear for it to fill. But I suffer from it, wake in the middle of the night for no apparent reason because of it. 

My latest bout is travel related. I don't want to fear traveling. I don't want to hate traveling. I enjoy being where I'm going. It's the getting there that drives me to utilize deep, calming breaths...and drink. 

If you read any of my Paris blogs from September 2015, then you know that I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to Paris--the Eiffel Tower, the wine, the Mona Lisa, the wine, Versailles, Hermès, the wine, the chocolate, the cheese, the café's...the wine. Walking on the streets, strolling by the Seine, riding the Metro all brought me joy. You might also remember that I was bumped off my return flight with no explanation. That could have been very traumatic, but I took it in stride, freaking out for a moment, then settling my sleeping and car arrangements for another day, after which I had the glorious opportunity to see Monet's Water Lilies. I'm glad I didn't miss them. So for that I say, Thank you Air France for the bump.

That bump-without-an-explanation is the whole reason I'm returning to Paris almost 8 months to the day of the first trip. I emailed Air France asking 1) for an explanation as to why they were unable to accommodate me on the return flight and 2) to pay for my extra night's hotel cost. They never did explain their inability to accommodate me on my scheduled flight and they didn't pay for the extra night in the hotel. But they gave me a flight voucher worth €800. That basically covered the price of this flight. So again, Thank you Air France for the bump.

For three months I've been marinating in the excitement of returning to Paris. Yet as the day of departure approached I could feel my familiar anxious tropes beginning to take hold of my thoughts and my insides. You find yourself short of breath, nauseous, fearful, emotional. That's anxiety. At least it's my anxiety. Three out of the four nights prior to departure day I found my sleep restless or completely interrupted. My emotions were high. I could cry from a side-eye glance misinterpreted or because the subway left before I could make the transfer. A sad song turned me into a puddle. I found it difficult to relax and more often than not in these situations I resort to an OTC sleeping pill to ensure I get some rest and turn off my mind. 

Finally, the day before departure--departure for Paris in May; Paris in springtime. I tried to check in for my flight on line. I couldn't. I tried four times to no avail. Finally I called the customer service number where I'd originally spoken to a lovely woman who helped me book the flight using my voucher.

I gave Carla, my Air France customer service representative, my ticket number. She pulled up the reservation immediately. At least I thought she had. I mean she confirmed my first, middle, and last names after typing in the number. Then there was silence followed by, "I'm going to need to put you on hold for a couple of minutes." The couple of minutes turned into seven and at least two more times of being put on hold.

It seems that even though I received three emails on February 12, 2016, with all of my itinerary confirmations inside, my reservation had been cancelled on February 14, 2016, for no apparent reason that appeared in any of the information Carla could find. I wanted to vomit. There I was 30 hours before departure and I was no longer booked on the flight. I must confess part of me wanted to just say Fuck it and let the anxiety win. I seriously gave thought to just not going. Then Carla said that she, with the help of a manager, had reinstated my reservation: "You should now be able to check in for the flight online." Except I couldn't because I hadn't remembered to bring my passport to work and needed the number to complete the check in. My anxiety shot through the roof, my stress levels threatened to drown me as they rose toward my chin. 

I went directly home at that point. I did not pass go; I did not collect $200. I managed to check in for the flight and confirm that I was indeed booked for the return. Although I have a bit of trepidation considering the two incidents I've now experienced with Air France. Bump me once, shame on you. Bump me twice, what the hell am I doing here?

The excitement ebbs and flows. The anxiety ebbs and flows. The excitement gets stronger as the departure time nears. 

I hate being vulnerable. I have a fear of flying that presented itself at some point after the devastation of 9/11. Admitting my fear is vulnerability. I hate not knowing exactly what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to do it. That is showing vulnerability. Refer to the first sentence of this paragraph. I realize that much of my anxiety comes from this fear of being vulnerable. 

But I'm going to be in Paris tomorrow and for now I want to embrace the excitement, give the vulnerability a small foot hold, and leave the anxiety in the airport at JFK. 

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au revoir.