Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Fashion in Paris


It struck me as my driver careened around streets narrow enough to sweep unsuspecting bicyclists onto the sidewalks – I was in the middle of the fashion capital of the world, Paris! Settling into the Montmartre district, I whipped out my phone to check my itinerary. First up was a trip to the Museé Decoratif, the Decorative Art Museum. A featured display entitled “Annees 80” called to me. A child of the 80s, I spent part of high school and all of college in that decade, and I was eager to peruse the collection of fashion on display. I wandered through the great hall, reading the placards, absorbing displays and watching the accompanying videos. It became clear that couture fashion shows, once exclusive events by invitation only, experienced a shift during that era. I stood transfixed watching an Yves St. Laurent fashion show on a television monitor. It struck me that by opening up the couture fashion world through televised events and by selling tickets to live shows, couture fashion became available to a wider audience. With the advent of ready-to-wear fashions patterned from the runway, fashion houses realized the need to reach more customers. While exclusive, small invitation only fashion shows are still prevalent in the industry, more accessibility to the public was defining the future of the clothing and accessories world.  

In 1984, audiences in Paris saw a never-before-done event that took the fashion world by storm. Thierry Mugler opened his couture show by offering his collection to the public and selling tickets to 6000 people. Worthy of a Broadway production, music swept the audience as models paraded down the catwalk. In a final coups d'état, a model soared from the sky in a cloud of smoke. Since shattering the exclusivity of the couture fashion world, other houses have staged larger and even more accessible shows. In 1988, Yves St. Laurent participated in the “Fête de L’Humanité”, another first in the industry.  With over 50,000 in attendance, the fashion house presented 180 designs and set a new trend for couture. 

Leaving the museum and sauntering down the backstreets of Paris, I wondered what that meant to those who appreciate good fashion and desire to dress well. Even the ready to wear collections of the top fashion houses is cost prohibitive for many of us. Yet the construction of the garments along with the fabric and finishes make these pieces beautiful, fit well and last forever. To check out the current fashions, I made my way the next day to the Champs-Elyseé. A trip to Paris requires a stroll down the avenue (at least in my mind). There, the top designers anchor every corner and since I traveled during the holidays, beautiful displays graced the towering windows. It was a feast for those who love fashion. 

Later in the week I realized what a unique opportunity it was to be in Paris, with a chance to seek out vintage and thrift shops. Next on my itinerary was to take advantage of the ready-to-wear offerings that were marketed by the designers throughout the past decades by seeking out those Parisian vintage shops. Scurrying down steep cobblestone streets and darting into tiny shops tucked away, I discovered highly curated clothes at affordable prices. Turning into one such shop, I saw, hanging innocuously against the wall and draped with a pair of sunglasses, an amazing vintage black and white sweater. It was beautifully constructed with quality knit, and a double rows of gold buttons. Chanel? Possibly. A Chanel look-a-like? Probably. Did I care? Not at all! My trip was complete as I hugged my bargain and hiked back to my Airbnb to pack. Leaving Paris with a sigh, I looked over my shoulder as my Uber wound down once again through the streets of Montmartre.  

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