From The Archive: First Trip to Paris for the Fashion Scholar

Acknowledging the importance of Paris to fashion scholars and many others, in July 2010 Lauren Michel created this post. Here, she provides insight into travel guides and properly planning your journey to meet specific needs and get the most of a visit to Paris.

Paris: City of Light. International fashion capital. Epicenter of fashion as we know it.

This post is for anyone burning with that particular desire often possessed by the aspiring designers in my classrooms: the desire to see Paris. Did I say often? Try always.

Here are some of my favorite resources for fashion scholars preparing for a first visit to Paris, particularly those unfamiliar with the culture and the language, and those travelers making their trip as a pilgrimage to fashion’s holy city.

General Travel Guides
For a general travel guide, I prefer Rick Steves’ Paris. He updates it yearly, and while Steves is solidly embraced by baby boomers, the guide is also hip enough for generation y and good for families with children of all ages. A great companion is his pocket-sized French Phrase Book and Dictionary.

French Culture
If you are unfamiliar with French culture, start studying. Now. Knowing something about the culture and history of the great nation of France will make all the difference in terms of how much you get out of your trip. You will see more, learn more, and appreciate more, which of course is why you are going there in the first place. One book I recommend is Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong by Canadian and American husband and wife, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.

Museum Exhibits
You may want to (make that should) plan your trip around an important exhibition, or simply visit as many fashion exhibits as possible. This year, until August 29, the Petit Palais, the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, is hosting the world’s first large Yves Saint-Laurent exhibition, The World of Yves Saint-Laurent. Check the Fashion and Textile Museum at the Musée des Arts décoratifs at the Louvre, and the Musée Galliera (the City of Paris Fashion Museum), for their current shows, and visit the Pierre Cardin Museum.

Shopping in Paris
If you are going to Paris to shop (and if you are reading WornThrough, I imagine you are at least halfway considering it), then you will want to know where the various shopping neighborhoods are, plus where to find what you want, and quickly. Think you can plan your tour of the little boutiques of Paris with a google search? Think again. Many, if not most, of Paris’s unique shops do not maintain an internet presence. Therefore, I recommend you pick up more than one guide to the type of shops you seek, with the shops organised by arrondissement. (For those unfamiliar, Paris is divided into municipal districts, or arrondissements, numbered from 1 to 20.)

Vintage Paris Couture: The French Woman’s Guide to Shopping: It would probably take me a whole month of nonstop shopping to see every place in this guide. It covers all levels of the market, from thrift or charity-style shops, to antique eighteenth-century clothing, to twentieth-century designer couture, including the Paris flea markets. Price levels are given for the shops covered. There are so many great photos in this book that I recommend you buy it even if you are not planning a trip any time soon. It makes a great smaller-sized coffee-table book for you armchair travelers. This book has a hard cover, so I recommend photocopying the pages with info on shops you are interested in, take the copied pages with you, and leave the book at home. Lighter baggage on the way there, more room for your purchases on the way home.

Paris: Made by Hand: 50 Shops Where Decorators and Stylists Source the Chic & Unique: I wanted to go to practically every shop in here. It leans towards hand crafted items for gifts and interior design, yet also covers shops with the raw materials for your own chic creations, plus apparel, including children’s apparel. Another one with great photos, it also includes some ateliers, or studios. Also happens to be paperback and relatively compact, meaning you can put it in your day bag with your phrase book.

Chic Shopping Paris: Yet another almost-pocket-sized book with great photos, and like the above, shops organised by arrondissement. Covers a variety of boutiques, including apparel and accessories, in addition to fine china, linens and flatware. In short, everything you need for an elegant Paris pied-à-terre.

Bon Voyage!

Now that you have your recommended reading, here is a brief clip from a 1986 film by William Klein, featuring three models dressing (and undressing) in the popular fashions of the twentieth century, decade by decade. They look like they are probably wearing museum pieces, which should make your inner historian cringe, but try to enjoy it for what it is, an amusing romp.

For those of you who have traveled, studied, lived, and worked in Paris, what can you recommend? How did you get there? What are your favorite places in the city? What, in your opinion, should every fashion student be sure to see?

Photo credit: Photo at top by digitalmisfit.

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