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Entries in French life (5)

Wednesday
Mar022011

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

 

Tuesday
Jan252011

A Puppy in Paris…

 Our Concierge recently had an unusual request for travel planning assistance.  To help a woman from California transport a rare breed of puppy from Toulouse to her home in San Francisco.

A reasonable request, but not so straightforward as first expected.  Turns out there is a temporary embargo on shipments of unaccompanied animals from France to the USA.  So David from our staff accompanied the dog from Paris to SFO.  

In itself, this is not such an interesting story.  However, once the dog had arrived in California, the family wanted some advice on naming their puppy.  After all, a dog from France should have a French name – mais oui, bien sûr! (but, of course)

So like many of the articles here, it illustrates the remarkable idea that in France, a country with countless social rules and customs, there are actually rules about how to name your dog.

The custom, dating back to 1885, refers to the fact that for purebred dogs to be included in the official listing recording births (called the L.O.F. – Livres des Origines Francaises) they must be have a name that corresponds to the letter of the year they were born.   The current sequence started in 1973 with the letter “I” and exludes the letters  "K", "Q", "W", "X", "Y" and “Z” which are considered too difficult.  So, every twenty years one returns to the same letter.

Apparently, this custom exists in many countries, including the US and Canada, where it is controlled by the AKC and CKC.  However, the sequence of letters differs in each country.  For example in Belgium, 2011 is a “K” year.  Despite the prevalence of the idea, in France people seem to be much more aware and I noticed long ago that when someone mentions a new puppy, this invariably leads to a discussion where people try to figure out what letter it is this year.  In fact, this very thing happened in the office when we were asked to help with a French name.

For example, the puppy we helped “emigrate” to the US was born in 2010, a year corresponding to the letter “F.”  So his birth name was Fakir.  You can understand why the family wanted to change his name.

If you have a new puppy and are looking for a French name, there are countless sites where you can get suggestions for male and female puppy names starting with the right letter.

Names starting with G for 2011:

Another site with more than 6,000 choices starting with all letters.

If you are visiting Paris, don’t be surprised to see a dog under the table at a restaurant or café.  There doesn’t seem to be any rules against it and even if there were, most rules in France were made to be broken.  I have even seen dogs snoozing under chairs on stools in three-star Michelin restaurants.  They are nearly always extremely well-behaved and only once did a small dog leave the comfort of his carry-bag to come over and beg for a treat from my plate.

One other canine anectdote is inspired by my friend J.  A dog lover with a keen interest in the differences between French and English language he has long searched for an equivalent word in French for the game “Fetch.”  The exhausting pastime for dog owners that never ceases to amuse the dogs themselves.  In French, it turns out, there is no word for this game.  It’s simply called “Throwing the ball for the dog.” 

Huh, here is yet another sign that the English language actually has a larger vocabulary than French.  I’ve heard there is a difference of as much as 250,000 words in French to 400,000 in English.  Of course, no self-respecting Frenchman (or woman) would ever agree to such a dramatic difference. 

So perhaps “Those French don’t actually have a different word for everything.”

If you would like help from the Paris Private Guides Concierge, click here.

Opening Photo: Princess Lee Radziwill with Thomas, her pug, by Henry Clarke, August 1960

 

Our Concierge recently had an unusual request for travel planning assistance.  To help a woman from California transport a rare breed of puppy from Toulouse to her home in San Francisco.

We were able to accomplish this with little trouble, but it was no simple feat.  Initially the idea was to send the dog unaccompanied on Air France, but there happens to be an embargo on such shipments from France to the USA.  So someone from our staff accompanied the dog from Paris to San Francisco. 

In itself, this is not such an interesting story.  However, once the dog had arrived in California, the family wanted some advice on naming their puppy.  After all, a dog from France should have a French name – mais oui, bien sûr! (but, of course)

So like many of the articles here, it illustrates the remarkable idea that in France, a country with countless social rules and customs, there are actually rules about how to name your dog.

The custom, dating back to 1885, refers to the fact that for purebred dogs to be included in the official listing recording births (called the L.O.F. – Livres des Origines Francaises) they must be have a name that corresponds to the letter of the year they were born.   The current sequence started in 1973 with the letter “I” and exludes the letters  "K", "Q", "W", "X", "Y" and “Z” which are considered to difficult.  So, every twenty years one returns to the same letter. 

Apparently, this custom exists in many countries, including the US and Canada, where it is controlled by the AKC and CKC.  However, the sequence of letters differs in each country.  For example in Belgium, 2011 is a “K” year.  Despite the prevalence of the idea, in France people seem to be much more aware and I noticed long ago that when someone mentions a new puppy, this invariably leads to a discussion where people try to figure out what letter it is this year.  In fact, this very thing happened in the office when we were asked to help with a French name. 

For example, the puppy we helped “emigrate” to the US was born in 2010, a year corresponding to the letter “F.”  So his birth name was Fakir.  You can understand why the family wanted to change his name.

If you have a new puppy and are looking for a French name, there are countless sites where you can get suggestions for male and female puppy names starting with the right letter.

2011: http://ecoledeschiens.com/prenoms-chiens-2011.html

Another site with more than 6,000 choices: http://www.noms-de-chiens.com/

One last dog anecdote is inspired by my friend J.  A dog lover with a keen interest in the differences between French and English language he has long searched for an equivalent word for the game “Fetch.”  The exhausting pastime for dog owners that never ceases to amuse the dogs themselves.

In French, there is no word for this game.  It’s simply called “Throwing the ball for the dog.”  Huh, yet another sign that the English language has a larger vocabulary.  I’ve heard there is a difference of as much as 250,000 words in French to 400,000 in English.  Of course, no self-respecting Frenchman (or woman) would ever agree to such a dramatic difference.  Perhaps “Those French don’t have a different word for everything.”

Wednesday
Jan052011

Top Five Posts from 2010

At the start of a new year, it's always good to reflect on the past year.

 So here is a recap of the top five articles that I wrote in 2010:

1. TALK LIKE A PARISIAN

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can actually “learn to speak French” in the course of planning a holiday vacation to France.  However, you can use a few commonly known words to your advantage.  You just have to use precisely the right word at just the right moment. read more...

2. HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN PARIS

In France, things aren’t often easy.  As my good friend J always says “Those French, they’ve got a different word for everything” and this is certainly true for coffee.  So here’s a quick primer on how to get a satisfying cup of Joe just like you enjoy on your way to work back home.  read more...

3. SERVICE AND TIPPING IN PARIS RESTAURANTS

In a Paris café or most average restaurants, fast, efficient service is not a highly-prized part of the experience. So expect to have to wait more than you’re used too.  Why would that be, aren't servers supposed to well, "serve?"  read more...

4. CHICKEN OR BEEF?

It's an age old question, but perhaps you never thought it was an important link to French culture.  It was one of the first lessons I learned about the cultural differences between Americans and the French when I moved here in 2001.  read more...

5. WHO CUT THE CHEESE?

France's food culture is one of the most celebrated in the world, but the rules that surround it are not always easy to comprehend.  As an expat living in Paris I've learned the hard way that there are a myriad of French customs related to food that can surprise you when you least expect it.  read more...

Monday
May172010

Pause Gourmande

Mr Creosote - Monty Python's ultimate gluttonA Gourmand or Gourmande, depending on if you are speaking to a man or a woman (the feminine form has an "e" at the end) can be gentle teasing way to call someone a glutton.  A pause gourmande, pronounced Pose Gor-man-d, is a little gourmet break, a delightful snack.  A good way, I think, to introduce a quick post about eating in France.

 

I was having lunch with J recently and he noticed on the menu, hiding amongst the desserts, something called “Café Gourmand”.  It was priced at 7€50, slightly less than the other desserts yet much more expensive than a coffee.  Because he knew both meanings of Gourmand, he cynically joked that it was the owner who was the glutton, gouging the customers with his overpriced “gourmet” coffee.

In fact, this is a recent trend that has started to appear more commonly on Paris menus.  A Café Gourmand is not an overpriced “gourmet” coffee, but three small desserts paired with a little espresso.  Or for those in the know, a Noisette.  A great guilt-free dessert where you often get to sample three mini-versions of the desserts on the menu.   It’s the perfect end to a nice lunch and ensures you get “just a bite” of dessert without having to cajole your friends into ordering a full dessert to share.

During the course of another lunch, with MC, a close friend who frequently inspires my posts, we talked about table manners.  Her French husband is quite a stickler for the rules, even though he breaks them with abandon himself.  He shrugs off protests from his family with the classic comment “its okay to break the rules as long as you know what they are”

We were having Terrine de Fois Gras, a chilled version of Fois Gras, usually served with little Brioche toast points and some sort of sweet relish.  That day it was a mild Mango Chutney.  As we ate the Fois Gras, MC explained to the others at the table the proper way to eat such a dish.  Voila, more rules about eating in France.  You see, there is a tendency for people to spread the creamy rich fois gras on the toast point and then happily eat it like a breakfast Tartine, akin to an open-faced peanut butter sandwich. 

The word tartine (Tar-Teen), comes from the verb tartiner (Tar-Teen-Ay) which means to spread.  A Tartine is a 3-4 inch long half baguette spread generously with butter and sometimes jam too - if you are a gourmande.  This is dipped in the bowl of coffee for breakfast.  Well, just like a big milky coffee, that’s the end of “tartines “ – “spreading” for the day. 

Here’s the rule, aside from breakfast you should never - tartinez- at the table.  So, taking a big chunk of Fois Gras and spreading it all over the toast to make a sandwich is not correct.  With the tip of your knife, you pick up just enough Fois Gras for one bite and you put this on the corner of the toast.  Then you take a bite of the toast along with the morsel of Fois Gras.  Then savor the perfect bite...

I already knew this rule about Fois Gras, but MC called me out a bit later when I was liberally spreading the amazing Bordier Smoked Salt Butter all over a piece of bread.  It turns out that the rule “No spreading after breakfast” applies to butter as well.  You are expected to put just enough butter for one bite and never to spread the entire piece of bread with butter, take a bite and set the rest down on your bread plate. Well, on the table actually. 

That is another odd thing; if you have been to France you know there is almost never a bread plate.  Once you have taken a piece of bread, between bites you set it directly on the table to the left of your plate.  This is probably because that the French use bread the way the rest of us use a knife so it rarely gets put down.  Any time you need to push something onto your fork it is more polite to use the bread than a knife.  Most important of all, you must never “sauce” with bread.  This is using the bread like a sponge to wipe up any remaining sauce and pop it into your mouth - Very tempting with most French sauces.  One exception, allowed only at home, is to spear your bread with the fork and “Sauce” using your fork to hold the bread.

The last and most counter-intuitive point in French table manners is that you are never allowed to put your hands in your lap during a meal.   I had heard this early on, but didn’t really believe that this could be considered impolite.  After all, I’d been badgered in the opposite direction for years as a child. 

One day over lunch with Jacqueline, a very feisty friend in her seventies, who I consider to be my French Grandmother.  At a moment between courses, I placed my hands politely in my lap.  Hey, she said “Qu’est-ce tu fais là-bas” essentially, “What are you doing down there”?  A bit embarrassed at being accused of who-knows-what, I put my hands above the table.  No elbows, just the forearms and hands.  “C’est mieux” – “That’s better” she said and we resumed our conversation. 

"Souper chez le Prince de Conti", 1766 by Michel Barthélémy OllivierI don’t know the origins of this rule come but one imagines the famous intrigues of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and other clandestine love affairs between gentlemen and their mistresses.  Affairs that went on under the noses of husbands and wives, perhaps at dinners with all parties present.  In such a case it would be very important to know what people were up to “under the table.”

In the immortal words of Julia Child, a fellow alum from the Cordon Bleu Cooking School - "Bon Apétit!"

Sunday
May092010

Talk like a Parisian

I’ve come to the conclusion that since the tours created by my company afford visitors a glimpse of Paris that isn’t in the guidebooks, the people I meet are especially curious about French life and culture.  As a result, we are often asked what French to learn before coming to Paris. 

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can actually “learn to speak French” in the course of planning a holiday vacation to France.  However, you can use a few commonly known words to your advantage.  You just have to use precisely the right word at just the right moment. 

The best place to start is to forget everything you think you know.  There is a charming term used in French language schools called the “Faux ami” – pronounced Fauze-amie.  This translates litteraly to false friend and refers to words that seem like they should mean the same thing in English and French but don’t. 

An example is “excusez-moi” which is generally thought by English speakers to work like “excuse me” when it’s closer to “sorry.”  “I’m sorry” is actually “Je m’excuse”  So this is the first thing to remember.  In my opinion you should forget about “excusez-moi”.

If you are in a crowed place or in the Métro and want to get by the thing to say is not "excusez-moi", but “Pardon” pronounced par-DON.  With the emphasis on the second syllable and with a nasal “own” sound if you can manage it.  When the doors open in a crowded Métro car and you are stuck far from the quickly closing door, saying Pardon firmly and emphatically will part the crowd in seconds. 

If you are curious about other ways to attract attention, you can read this post for advice on service in restaurants.

The next thing to learn is when to use the words Bonjour, Bonsoir, Au Revoir and Adieu.  “Bonjour” which means “Good Day” is used from morning until dusk.  “Bonsoir” is “Good Evening.”  Both greetings are used in common speech so there’s no faux-ami lurking here.  While there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule about when to switch, it seems that this often happens around dusk  I notice it also can happen when you meet someone working in a shop in the late afternoon who has become bored and tired.  I think they say Bonsoir out of wishful thinking that their workday is almost over.  I would say, it's a safe bet to start using Bonsoir about 6pm.  Of course, you will quickly relize that you are using the wrong greeting when you say "bonjour" and the person responds "bonsoir."  Note: This only works with native speakers, the rest of us are sometimes as confused as you are.

What about Au revoir and Adieu you ask?  Well, just thinking about what each of these words mean will give you a clue when to use them.  “Au revoir” translates to “See you again” and “Adieu” is “To God”.  Clearly the finality of “To God” makes it something that is not necessarily used when saying “goodbye” to people.  The lesson here, unless you are at a funeral, forget Adieu.

I’ve saved the easiest for last.  “Merci” and “Merci beaucoup”.  “Thank you” and “Thank you very much” – nothing tricky here.  At last -- Something that you can thank Madame Charles, your Junior High School French teacher, for telling you. 

Now that we’ve reviewed the words, we can now discuss the more challenging part of this effort.  When to use the words to get the effect we want --  Like when we need to get people to step aside quickly to let us out of the Métro before the doors shut.

There is a myth that the French are rude, but I think this is no more true in Paris than any other big city in the world.  In most cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, there are some basic cultural guidelines for being polite to strangers that don't necessicarily apply in English speaking countries. 

When you enter a small boutique or a café  you are expected to say “Bonjour” (or Bonsoir) to the person working there.  Once you have looked around (and regardless of whether you’ve bought anything) one says “Merci – Au Revoir” when leaving.  This is also regardless of whether the person in the shop has even bothered to come over and offer to assist you.  But I can assure you, no matter how disinterested the person working in the shop may have seemed, when you leave and say “Merci – Au Revoir” they will respond with “Au Revoir.”  

The same is true when you leave a neighborhood café.  I have already written about how to order coffee in Paris, but after a having a coffee at the counter or a table, when you pass by the bar on your way out the door, you should say “Merci – Au Revoir”.  Again, no matter how disinterested the barman may seem they will generally respond with an automatic “Au Revoir.”

The final and perhaps most important moment to use “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir” is when you are asking a question in any store, shop, grocery store or department store.  Imagine you have been looking around inside for a little while and now have a question for someone working there.  In English, it’s acceptable to glance over and say “Excuse me, do you have this in red?” all in one quick and efficient phrase. 

Not so fast there partner, we’re in France;  things are different here.  I learned this the hard way in the first few weeks of living in Paris back in 2001.  Armed with just a couple of weeks of French studies, I went to the Monoprix grocery store in my neighborhood of Passy.  I was looking for something that I was sure they stocked but I simply couldn’t find. 

I looked around and found a man who was stocking the shelves.  I went over to him and said – “Excusez-moi ou est mayonnaise?” -- “Excuse me, where’s the mayonnaise?” Okay, it was a bit roughly said, but I thought I was getting my point across.  After all, I'd only been studying French for two weeks.   The man responded with a blank stare and replied “Bonjour”.  I repeated my question differently assuming I'd made a mistake.  “Je cherche mayonnaise” - “I’m looking for mayonnaise”.  Again he replied “Bonjour”.  The third time I thought I should keep it simplesaying only “Mayonnaise” which I probably pronounced slowly “May-onnnn-NAIZZZZZE” to ensure that I was as clear as possible.  By now I became convinced that "Mayonnaise" was not actually a word in French because he responded again with “Bonjour”. 

Exasperated, I didn’t know what to do.  It was clear that I was not going to be buying any mayonnaise that day.  So, I started to walk away.  “Monsieur” the man called after me “En France on dit Bonjour d’abord” -- “In France we say Bonjour first”. 

Ah, I finally understood, and started over.  This time I said “Bonjour”.  He replied “Bonjour”, then I said “je cherche mayonnaise” and he replied “Aisle five”.  Success!  It was my first cultural lesson, and it happened right there in the middle of the Monoprix where I recently had another cultural awakening.

One last moment when I think it’s very important to say Bonjour is on the bus.  When boarding the bus, most people greet the driver who says “bonjour” in return.  A nice custom I think.  In general, when you come up to someone and you want to ask them a question, start with “bonjour” or “bonsoir” and you'll never go wrong.

So, it’s not necessary to learn a lot of French to blend in a bit and give the people you meet in shops and cafés the impression you are making an effort.  In reality more and more people speak English in France and so it’s generally not so difficult to communicate in most shopping, eating or sightseeing situations.  In most shops even if the person you first greet doesn’t speak English, they will find a colleague who does.

So instead of studying French, I recommend you spend your time reading guidebooks and scouring the internet for places to go, things to see and hidden restaurants to discover.  Or, you can let our concierge do the planning for you and simply enjoy the result.  Bon voyage!


Thanks to Scott Schuman from sartorialist.com for the images.