May 31, 2015

The woman who invented French fashion

Reuniting Les Flaneuses in Paris meant coming up with a programme that would allow us time to catch up as well as some cultural activity. None of us, however, are extreme museum buffs, therefore an elegant, easy-digestable dose of fashion was to be the answer.

The first Parisian retrospective of Jeanne Lanvin in the Musee Galliera was ideal after a short wander around the market on Avenue President Wilson. Luckily our foodie Flaneuses hadn't brought her shopping trolley!

We stepped into a world of past elegance and grandeur admiring the exquisite handcraft of the items made over nearly a century ago. In the days when there were no digitally or electronically commanded machines to seam, sew or knit, when every single stitch was handmade with a fragility and patience unheard of in the fast-paced world of today. We discovered the unrivalled story, the legacy and the name that ignites inspiration of many in the fashion business.

Jeanne Lanvin, founder of the oldest French fashion house still in business, started out in 1889 with a millinery shop on Rue Boissy d’Anglas, later branching out to women’s wear, children’s clothes, bridal fashions, lingerie, furs, interior decoration and men’s wear. The label employed more than 1,000 workers. In the 20s, the colour blue and its variations become a trademark for Lanvin, while Jeanne Lanvin made evening and lame boleros another trademark piece. She has been considered a key torchbearer for French elegance thanks to her workmanship and artistry as a designer.

Lanvin's creative director Alber Elbaz explains that for years Jeanne Lanvin didn’t get the recognition she deserved because her pieces whispered, they didn’t shout.

Musée Galliera here we come. 
No photography allowed inside!

A very romantic entrance to the museum's garden

 Madame Lanvin at work in the late 1930's

 Time for lunch with a view at "Les Ombres"

Best millefeuilles à la framboise ever!

May 30, 2015

From Mosquée to Roman Arena passing by the zoo... only in Paris

We were to discover the secrets of the Left Bank with my favourite guide from Paris Walks. We started off at the Place Monges. Arriving early I had the chance to stroll around the local market and admire all the fresh produce as well as a quick café crème to keep me going.

We started off by admiring the Grande Mosquée de Paris founded in 1926 as a token of gratitude, after World War I, to the Muslim tirailleurs from France's colonial empire, of whom some 100,000 died fighting against Germany. Our guide Chris enlightened us that the mosque was built following the mudéjar style, and its minaret is 33 meters high.

We ladies actually got carried away by the charming courtyard café decorated with colourful ceramic tiles and a superb selection of delicious sweets which of course we had to taste.

While munching on our wonderful traditional honey pastries, we strolled through magnificent botanical gardens, the Jardin des Plantes. The garden was planted in 1635 by Guy de La Brosse, Louis XIII's physician, as a medicinal herb garden. It was originally known as the Jardin du Roi. In 1640 it opened to the public. In addition to the gardens there is also a small zoo, founded in 1795 by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre from animals of the royal menagerie at Versailles.

We heard all about it’s history - it is after all the second oldest civil zoo in the world - and about the real story of Zarafa the first giraffe in France. We admired the architecture of the old style glass hot houses newly restored to their original splendour until we got stuck in a storm of hail and had to find refuge next to the Kangaroos.

But nothing was to stop us, with our umbrellas in hand, we carried on to see the spectacular remains of the Roman arenas, once flooded for naval battles, and discovered in the 19th century by chance when Paris was being redeveloped. Well, looks like there are about to be flooded all over again.

La Grande Mosquée de Paris

Just in case...

Grande Galerie de l'évolution

Wishing I could be jogging through this park

Art Deco Mexican winter garden 

The Australian greenhouse designed by Rohault de Fleury.

Home of the bees

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre himself

Entering the enchanted garden

Rain, rain go away, come again another day!

May 28, 2015

Vamos Rafa!

It is first and foremost a social event, I dare say, more than "just" a sports tournament. By mid-May Paris starts buzzing with the Roland Garros fever. Traffic becomes more intense and the topic of the day is the gossip around the celebrity players.

Lucky me, my Flamenco friend invited me to watch "Il toro español" try to reclaim his glory of the past decade. Upon our arrival at the grounds, we headed straight to the players lounge, to have lunch at the bar side-by-side with old-time players such as Cedric Pioline and Guy Forget. Oh, did I forget to tell you, I was officially an invitée of M. Nadal himself! We cruised around and next to Nadal's ever present family, I also spotted my compatriot Stanislav Wawrinka which made me smile. He must be as Swiss as I am with a name like that, right?

We had the honour of watching the match from the players' tribune right behind Nadal's trainer and uncle. Rafa played against a charming 18-year old French who's game was refreshing to follow. Quentin Halys really gave Nadal a run for his money!

The atmosphere on the court was tense but the audience was here to have a good time. Cheering and clapping for both parties who were a pleasure to watch.

And although Rafa is much loved by the Parisians, the young challenger gained more support every time he popped up with a new creative answer to Rafa's bomb services of 190 km/hour.

Sitting in the Spanish player's box, I had to keep my enthusiasm in check but not the rest of the audience who by the third set were making a lot of noise for Quentin. However, as we went into the end of the set and the audience were just getting warmed up, it was clear that experience trumps over youth... and when Rafa's mum got up before the end of the match, we all knew where he was heading towards... victory! Vamos Rafa!!!

My magic braclet

Waiting for the star to arrive

Focus is everything

A 190 km/h serve

Uncle Tony looking on

Roland Garros: it's always a pleasure

May 27, 2015

Who said Paris was grey? Me?

On days like today, it is pleasure to go out for a run. Every sunny day in Paris is a treat and should be appreciated as such... Parisian will know what I'm talking about!

Therefore I hitched a ride from Italian Super-Mom for the second time in a week to start my morning run in the Bois de Boulogne. I couldn't help myself I ran around the lake twice... in all honesty, I did think of all the Dulce de leche macaroons I had devoured at the Roland Garros party the night before... I know, it's a tough life.

Come run with me....

Spectacular morning atmosphere 

Reflections in the lake and in my mind 

No time for a break

Run girl run!

A new discovery: a little waterfall

It's me and nature calling

Where are my friends the "pompiers"?
They usually hang out round about here!

Mmmhhh, so delicious I had to take a picture!

May 25, 2015

Tourists, tourists and more tourists....

It seems to get worse every year. How many visitors can a city take? Now, at the risk of sounding toffee-nosed, I do sometimes understand the Parisian and their attitude towards tourists. Just when you think you've seen it all, there is more.

The Eiffel Tower closed down this Monday because its staff went on strike complaining about all the pick-pocketer interrupting their business, however when I drive pass the Place Trocadero and see the double-decker tourist buses not only double-parked but quintuple parked around the piazza, I too get fed up with all this tohu-bohu (confusion).

We usually avoid going to any public places on the weekends but this Sunday the sun was out and we felt like having a little stroll down to the Eiffel Tower. This is what we encountered:


May 23, 2015

A funky fashion icon

With Les Flaneuses back in town, I needed to come up with a plan. My absolute favourite exhibition ground is Le Grand Palais and sure enough I was not disappointed when looking up their programme.

Who doesn't remember Madonna's bustier from 1990? Yes, that would be 25 years ago but it stuck in our minds. Did you know this iconic cone brassiere, worn during her Blond Ambition tour, sold for $52,000 at the Christie's Pop Culture auction in 2012?

As it happens, the first major exhibition devoted to the celebrated French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier was in town. We were to explore his avant-garde fashion creations and cutting-edge designs, that has shaped the look of fashion over the last 40 years.

The theatrically-staged exhibition brought together more than 165 cutting-edge couture and ready-to-wear garments including iconic costumes for film and performance from the early 1970s to the present day.

We went from one room to the next umm-ing and ahh-ing AND giggling at the exotic and frivolous creations. The multimedia touch of the exhibition had us in awe. Were the mannequins models actually staring at us or were the animated faces just eerily realistic?

The avant-garde Montreal theatre company UBU
directed by Denis Marleau and Stéphanie Jasmin
used innovative technology to animate the mannequins.

Recognise the lady?

From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk

For the "À fleur de peau", "Metropolis" and "Urban Jungle" sections, French artists Lucie & Simon created a video installation especially for the Paris exhibition.

For the first time in an exhibition,
Odile Gilbert (Atelier 68) designed hairstyles for each mannequin

The Punk Cancan gallery features the voice of actor Catherine Deneuve.

A mechanical catwalk à la Parisienne

May 21, 2015

With a little help from my friends...

It was planned to perfection, months in advance. It was to be a Flaneuses reunion of friendship, fashion and food. Apart from celebrating being together again after nearly a year, we were also in Paris to bid farewell to yet another friend.

In January, my Italian Super-Mum friend had declared they were moving to the US this summer; in the same breath she also complained that no one was left to see her off, apart from myself. Since I am now down to one, I decided to change my status from Flaneuse to Welcome Committee, especially since it looks like I won't be leaving Paris anytime soon.

Therefore, jumping into action, I called upon Les Flaneuses in Kuala Lumpur, Michigan, Stockholm, Istanbul, Milano and Rome, proposed a date to surprise Italian Super-Mum with a farewell reunion and after a few e-mails back and forth we were all set.

Of course, I had to come up with a programme that would make this reunion enticing as well as unforgettable. A combination of fashion exhibits at the Grand Palais and the Musée Galliera, lunches with prime views onto the Eiffel Tower, and a dinner served at Paris' trendiest terrace sounded perfect along with some time at home to chill and catch up with each others lives.

The Italian delegation had some trouble with their flights but managed to improvise and even the Japanese-American contingency who did not commit until the very end pulled through and arrived just in time. We didn't quite manage to get all the girls here physically but certainly in spirit each and every one of Les Flaneuses were with us in Paris this week.

When we turned up at school, Italian Super-Mum didn't believe her eyes. She is never at a loss for words but today her giant smile said more than 1000 words. Bon voyage mon amie! I will miss you! But as the saying goes: "Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget!"

May 20, 2015

You've gotta friend...

The Expat life has many a perk and these we are renowned and famous for. What many don't realize is that every couple of years you get kicked into a new reality and you are obliged to begin all over again, just when you were getting comfortable.

It is like a game of snakes and ladders only if you land on the snake - i.e. your husband comes home jubilant with a new contract in hand - it feels like you've been sent back all the way to the starting box. BUT over time you will have climbed so many ladders that you'll know how to skip a few steps. THAT's when your Expat experience and network is worth gold.

Expats tend to be more outgoing or simply bolder. We have learnt what we need to get our families settled as fast as possible so we can get back to a normal life. Efficient communication is vital, literally!

Last month I bumped into a lady I meet once in a blue moon at the gym, she was telling me how she had moved to Luxembourg but stills plans her little day trips to Paris (which seem to include pilates classes). Knowing that one of my friends was about to move to Luxembourg, I asked her if she'd mind my friend contacting her for some insider tips, thinking in terms of a telephone call. As an expat it is not unusual to receive calls from a friend of a friend (whom you have never met) who has lived in the country you're about to be deployed to, in order to get some vital, realistic survival info. More often than not that person is in the middle of moving herself and you will never meet, nevertheless you spend a good 30 to 60 minutes on the phone happily sharing all your experiences to ease the imminent arrival.

There are some moments I am just plain proud to be part of the Expat community. I am also a firm believer of what goes around, comes around! Opening my inbox this morning, this mail just made my day:

"Your contact in Luxembourg is a wonderful doll and I am so grateful that you introduced us. I reached out to her before spring break saying I was coming up for a couple days and we arranged to get together. (Later I found out she was leaving  the next day for the US for a couple weeks and it would have been easy to say no but she didn't.) She not only picked me up from the train station, she also gave me a tour of the city and pointing not only neighborhoods but also specific streets we should try to find homes on. We went for tea/coffee and just had a wonderful afternoon. She truly is a beautiful person, inside and out. She said she was just paying back what others have done for her when she has moved. It was more than I could have ever imagined and I have you to thank for making the connection."

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