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Monday
Mar222010

Perfume Creation in Paris

French Perfume CreationAnother new project, a Perfume workshop, is especially exciting and unique way to experience Parisian life and French culture. 

Through my friend Patricia I met Victoria, an elegant Parisienne who is a well-respected nez or nose, the French term for a Purfumer.  After ten years working in fashion for Pierre Cardin, Victoria followed her passison for perfume by completing a rigorous four-year course in perfume creation. In 2005, with great acclaim Victoria launched a line of five fragrances to much critical success.  However, she soon realized that the business of perfume was far from her love of creation and decided to focus her efforts on creation as a consultant for several major brands.  She also trains professional perfumers in her Paris Laboratory.

Working exclusively with Paris Private Guides, Victoria has created an entertaining and educational workshop that explores the alchemy of perfume. 

The first of its kind offered in English in Paris, workshop participants will gain an understanding of scent components and the process of creating perfume.  Learn how the top middle and base notes define the unique signature of a perfume.  How to select the perfect personal fragance - your signature scent.

The workshop is held in Patricia's lovely home where she has created an equally inviting ambiance in a classic Paris apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to better understand perfume and get a glimpse into real Parisian life.  Read more about the perfume workshop

Don't forget to return tomorrow to read about my meeting two Icons of French Fashion and Music.  A demain!

Monday
Mar222010

Mea Culpa - New Paris Walks

Paris Place VendomeIt’s been a while since my last post, and while there’s little excuse for that, I’m going to offer one in hopes that you’ll appreciate my reasons.   Hence the somewhat cryptic title - Mea Culpa...

Winter in Paris is a slow time for my tour business, and a great time to develop new ideas into tours and for me to enjoy some of the special opportunities that exist here. 

Since I last wrote in January, I have researched and written two new walking tours.  I also developed a fun new workshop about Perfume creation with two lovely Parisiennes you'll definitely enjoy meeting.

 I love history, and I’ve been told I’m at my best bringing history to life while exploring the best of paris with visitors.  What's not apparent to guests of my tours is that it takes weeks to research and plan a museum or walking tour, and that the resulting document is 40 – 50 pages. 

Of course, I wouldn’t ever tourture people with such an overload of information, but I’m expected to be ready for questions when people want to know more.   I think you’ll enjoy the results – initial feedback has been quite positive.  

The first is a gourmet walk through the history of Paris.Gourmet Paris Walks

This innovative culinary tour explores the hidden history of Paris, following a varied menu sampling wine, cheese, chocolate, bread and pastries while taking in the beauty and history of the city.   Together we visit parts of Paris that were witness to dramatic events, architectural innovation and scandal.  Places integral to the lives of the Kings, Queens, Knights and revolutionaries who lived and walked in the same streets.

From stories of 11th century knights to seeing the historic ovens of the famed Poilâne bakery, no matter how many times you’ve been to Paris, you’ll finish the walk with a new appreciation of gourmet Paris.  Read more about the Gourmet Walk

The second walk was parepared as part of my new job as the Paris Destination Expert for TripKick. 

TripKick.com is a great resource to ensure you find the best room in a given hotel.  They've researched properties all over the US and now have a new focus on Europe with Paris as a recently added destination.  In a city where many hotel rooms are disappointning, it’s a great resource to ensure you make the most of your stay in Paris.  Check out Tripkick.com

Paris Walking Tours

The “TripKick” walk takes you along the fabulous rue St Honore to the Louvre and the Place Vendome.  While this is a much visited area, this walk offers a unique take the neighborhood.  We’ll explore the intrigues and scandal that have taken place here from the scheming of Catherine de Medicis to a now beloved public artwork initially thought so ugly the Mayor of Paris halted it's construction.  Then we'll arrive at the Louvre the way Louis XIV intended when he was the last resident King of the Palace.

Besides the work on the tours, I had the opportunity to meet two people who have made a major impact on French culture.  But for that, you have to come back tomorrow to read further.

A demain! - See you tomorrow!

Monday
Feb152010

Vintage Shopping in Paris

 

Guest Post by Morgane Duquesnoy with Christopher Back

You know the kind of days, when you just want to say "who cares?" to your mirror.  Well, I first met Eva Samama on just one of those days and I thought she might be an alien.   I was feeling less than myself and she flew in like a blur, much like the butterfly on her ring.  She was so bubbly and smiling!  But alas, this exquisite brunette is not an alien, she is the owner of one my favorite vintage shops.

Just as Eva’s flashy red lips contrast with her romantic lace dresses, the dark exterior of her small boutique contrasts with the warm lights and the scent of candles inside.  Equally warm and open, she really wants to get to know you.  What’s more, she loves the vintage pieces she sells so much that you can be assured that she won't let it go if it doesn't fit you perfectly!

Today, she opens her heart and closet for us at her boutique «Le dressing d’Eva».

Have you always wanted to work in fashion?
Well... I have always been very attracted to beauty.   To be honest, I was not really good at school. I did not want to study so much. But I have been very lucky to have met some extremely kind people who helped shape my path.  I began as a receptionist, and thanks to someone I met, I worked in software. It was very interesting but too far from what I really am. There was such a lack of fantasy! So I decided to return to university to study Art History.  During my studies, I met an expert on historical lace who encouraged me to leverage my unique sense of style to become a personal shopper, my first foray into the business of Fashion.
 
When did you stop being a personal shopper?
(Laughs) When I was pregnant with twins! My husband thought I should slow down my hectic pace and he gave me the boutique.  A former cabinetmaker’s workshop; which is fitting as this is also my husband’s profession.  The retiring cabinet maker liked the idea of a vintage boutique and we shared a common bond.  We both appreciate quality.

What is this book on your desk?

Gosh, I love it! It is a book on Maripol, a French-born stylist who helped create Madonna and Grace Jone’s signature looks in the early 1980’s.  Her looks inspired a generation of young girls to wear crucifixes and dress, well – Like a Virgin…  I love her work and highly recommend the book!


What is the meaning of vintage for you?

Most importantly, it is timeless. The idea is not to follow current fashion but to select only the best quality pieces that will never be out-of-date.   Fashion is forever looking back to find inspiration in the past and it is fascinating to see how designers are inspired by pieces from the 20’s or even the 80’s.   Secondly, when you buy a vintage dress, you get a glimpse into the History of fashion and many pieces have a personal story.    It’s also a very eco-friendly practice, so important nowadays and this is such a pleasant way to do it!

What kind of clients come to you?

I am very lucky; I have always had extremely interesting clients.  I say interesting because they are a bit off-beat and free thinking yet always very human, very sensitive. They are not here just to buy, but we share a passion for beauty and often become friendly.  That is how I became the stylist for Nancy, the gorgeous singer of the French rock group 19&4. I always knew they were going to be famous, because they are really talented!  Plus, I have always been a big fan of rock and roll!
 
What leads people to buy vintage over new?
Well, quality is a nice argument! The cuts are so much better than with basic brands.  And for the same price, you can wear Yves Saint Laurent! I don't think many brands are of the quality of Yves Saint Laurent. He was a genius who understood how to make women look and feel beautiful.
Another important aspect is ecology. Vintage has an aspect of recycling which is indispensable for the environment.  We also stock clothes made by contemporary designers who use organic, natural materials and everything is made in France!

What advice would you give someone who wants to start buying vintage?
Don't be lazy! Don't hesitate to go to flea markets and expect to spend some time looking.  It can be a bit of a treasure hunt to find quality.   Also, don't make a total look ever!  It would be a catastrophe; (laughs) a small touch is so much better! Try a little summer dress to look like a 50's pin-up girl or if you’re not so daring, you can begin with accessories, a pretty bag or nice shoes...  
 
I see that you sell fur coats, what is your opinion about it?
Yes, I stock them but I would never buy new fur because I don’t want to encourage the industry.  Somehow it seems different if it has been already worn.  However, I do respect people who would never wear it, and I also have several imitation fur pieces, like this kitsch leopard print jacket!

What is the one special piece you dream of finding?
There are so many!  Right now, I am thinking of a wonderful 7O's Pucci dress, an Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo and a crocodile Birkin bag.

 

Have you sold any pieces that you wish you'd kept for yourself?
All of them! (Laughs)  This is the main difference between collecting and selling. What's more, my taste is more refined now and I realize that when I was getting started, I sold some pieces that were truly "collector" pieces I should have kept. That's why now there are some I just keep for me, like my Pierre Cardin belt!

What can a busy Mom like yourself do to look chic every day?
Gosh that's so important! For me being chic every day is a question of respect to myself, to my husband, to my children, to everyone. It is like basic hygiene and it makes your day so much nicer! That is why when I am tired, I make a greater effort! Then when people tell me "I like your dress" or "what a nice lipstick" and I just forget I was tired!

So, what piece of advice should I give…   Well, it’s very important to feel at ease in your clothes. I also think a nice lipstick is a great way to wake your complexion up. But my favorite time saver is the speed dry nail-polish, just 30 seconds and you’re ready!  I can’t imagine getting a one hour manicure   I already only take about 15 minutes every morning to get ready. Of course that’s easier if you think about the clothes you are going to wear before you go to sleep.


Le Dressing d’Eva
18 rue Jules Vallès  Paris 75011 – 01.44.93.70.81
Opening Hours : 2-7pm Tuesday - Saturday and by appointment.

 

Morgane Duquesnoy - When not writing about lifestyle and fashion for numerous publications or having fun modeling for Pierre Cardin, Morgane leads shopping walks to discover her favorite boutiques and help you discover your own Style - à la Parisienne! More...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
50's Inspiration:      www.mylusciouslife.com
Jane Birkin:              lua jewelry{the blog}
Morgane(Orange):   Pierre Cardin

 

Wednesday
Jan062010

Epiphany aka Fête de la Galette

Adoration of the Magi - RubensOriginally Catholic, France officially became a non-religious country in 1906.  But some traditions die hard.  For example, aside from my friends who are Jewish or Muslim, nearly everyone I know in France considers themselves - without hesitation - to be Catholic.   This is, of course, regardless of whether they have been inside a church for decades or not.

The result of this pervasive Catholic influence is a culture that still embraces many religious days, often as public holidays.   After all, who wouldn’t turn down a paid day-off work regardless of which religion happens to be celebrating that day? 

This week, there is an important holiday with a religious origin - Epiphany.  Generally considered by Christians to mark the day that the three Kings visited Jesus to celebrate his nativity, Epiphany has been fixed in France to the 6th of January since 1801.  Celebrated as early as the 5th Century, Epiphany was initially more important to Christians than Christmas day.

Like many Christian holidays, Epiphany has its origins in an earlier pagan festival. The Romans celebrated this day as Saturnalia whose festivities lasted seven days.  Saturn was the Roman God of time so perhaps it was related to the New Year.  On the first day of the celebration the soldiers drew lots, using a bean to determine which death row inmate would become "King" during the week of the festival.  Once the Saturnalia was over, the sentence was executed as was the inmate.  It sounds cruel I know, but don’t forget there have been plenty of real Kings for whom the good times ended in execution.  Louis XVI certainly comes to mind.

Today, the dual ideas of Saturnalia and Epiphany have evolved in France to become an important moment for seasonal food which is commonly celebrated regardless of a family’s religious beliefs.

The importance of this “right” moment in the season became clear to me a few days ago when I stopped by my friend MC’s for an afternoon coffee and chat.  Even though Epiphany was a few days away she had bought an Epiphany cake, called a Galette des Rois (King’s Cake) as a special treat for her children’s after school snack.  We were already enjoying a couple of slices with our coffee when her two young children came home from school.  Like kids everywhere, they were eager for a snack.  A smiling MC revealed the cake to the children, delighted to share the surprise.  For a brief moment both children were smiling too, but when MC asked what size pieces they'd like, their smiles disappeared.   Puzzled, she asked what was up.  Her daughter, who is seven, piped up instantly.  “We can’t eat that today, it’s too early.  We have to wait until the 6th.”  Besides, she continued “there are not enough people for the game - we need more to make it fun.”  Her shy brother, almost five, nodded from behind her in agreement.

So once again, here I am baffled by French culture.  How often have you seen a child turn down a delicious treat simply because it wasn’t the "right time”?  I’d venture to say never.  Even stranger about this is the fact that a very similar dessert exists at other times of the year with a different name – a Pithivier Frangipane.   I wonder, had MC offered her kids a slice of this Pithivier would they have eaten it?

The Galette des Rois is a simple confection made of two layers of puff pastry filled with Frangipane, a fairly dense almond filling.  MC had bought hers at Eric Kayser and it was one of the best I’ve ever tasted with a light, yet brightly flavored layer of Frangipane.

As her daughter mentioned, along with the special cake, there is game that traditionally is played when the cake is served.  Having played many times over the years I understand the game pretty well .  The galette is served at the end of a large meal at home which is most often a family affair or a gathering of close friends.

At just the right moment, after the cheese and before the coffee, the Galette is brought out with much fanfare.  Once placed on the table, the game begins.  The youngest present (hopefully a child) is sent under the table to select who will get the first piece of cake.  The pieces are distributed following the direction of the youngest from under the table.  Once everyone has a piece, the youngest takes his or her place at the table and everyone enjoys their cake.  Note - If you ever participate in a Fete de la Galette be aware that it’s important to chew your Galette des Rois carefully.  You see, inside every cake there is a special Fève (bean) similar to the bean in the story of the Roman Saturnial.  Every bakery has their own version of the Fève, varying from a tiny day-glo plastic baby to a porcelain figure or even a gilded metal bean for the most chic Galettes.  The primary difference between the Galette des Rois and the Pithivier Frangipane is that there isn’t a fève inside a Pithivier.

My friend S also reminded me that since the Galette is fairly easy to make, it’s quite often made at home.  The advantage, if you grew up in a large family like he did, is that Grandmère can “forgetfully” put more than one fève in the cake to ensure more smiling grandchildren.  It’s also not unusual for the person cutting the slices to “stack the deck” by peeking under the top layer of crust to make sure the youngest (who’s under the table) gets the féve.King Oscar - Le Roi de 2010!

If you get the Fève in your slice, you are entitled to choose the King or Queen who must wear the special crown that comes along with the cake.  Made of shiny gold cardboard, it’s much like one you might see at Burger King.  Depending on the ages of the group this can be a way to delight children or embarrass adults, all in good fun of course.

Fortunately, I have never had to do the crawling around under the table.  However, I do remember one memorable Fête de la Galette when I was working for a software company in the suburbs of Paris.  The President of company, who wasn’t French, had the mistaken idea that celebrating the Galette des Rois in the office would be a good team-building exercise.  That fateful afternoon, he gathered the team in the conference room.  The unfortunate guy who happened to be the youngest, despite being in his mid-thirties, was forced under the table in accordance with tradition.  Truly a good sport, he performed his duties as required while the rest of us looked uneasily at one another.  In the end, things didn't turn out so well for the boss.  You see, the woman who got the fève was brave enough to name him King and he was obliged to wear the silly crown the rest of the afternoon.  We were never quite sure if he realized the joke was on him.

While writing this post today, I saw a news story on television about the special Galette des Rois made for l’Elysee (The French equivalent of the White House).  Besides explaining which baker had the honor to make the enormous Galette and how he did it, the highlight of the story was seeing Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, cut the first piece.

There wasn’t however, the journalist confirmed, ever a fève placed in this special Galette.   Because France is a republic, no one can name the President King.  Frankly, I think it's much like my experience at the office and actually no one wants to risk seeing the President of the Republic reduced to wearing a silly paper crown.

Click image for video highlights of event




Monday
Jan042010

Paris in 3D on your iPhone

I am still amazed by the iPhone.  The best part is the explosion of cool apps that are available.  Here's a great looking new app called MobiCity3D that allows you to "let your fingers do the walking" as you take a virtual tour of Paris.

More info about MobiCity3D Paris

If you are looking for other cool iPhone apps, my pal Josh Clark has reccently published a best-selling book on the best iPhone Apps, aptly named Best iPhone Apps