Of course, the Paris Meetup wasn’t the only fabric shopping I did in France…
We landed in Marseille in the south of France on a Sunday, and headed to my husband’s old stomping grounds in Aix-en-Provence. He spent his “junior year abroad” in Aix during college/university, leaving behind an all-men’s school on a Tennessee mountaintop and landing with an old French host family that had a large villa on the outskirts of town. It was culture shock in all the best ways.
That’s a picture, probably taken by my husband, of his American student roommates and his French host family members playing “boules” on the villa’s lawn.
We visited their home once 25 years ago, and the matriarch threw a dinner party for us on a balmy May night at a table set up outdoors. She served the “spring plate” of lamb chops, flageolet beans cooked with bacon, and a “jolie” French red wine. In other words, paradise.
Check out the early-60s Kennedy-era fashion in these pictures from the yearbook, now online, of my husband’s 1964 class at the Institute of American Universities, an entity that still exists in Aix. It’s a lot of fun seeing these idealistic young American things, who came from places like Kalamazoo (third class on the Queen Mary), and landed in another world.
Duffle coats, pencil skirts, those parkas with the single kangaroo pocket worn with capris…the 60s mod “youthquake” was just about to begin.
Just a short drive from the villa where my husband stayed that year, is this view of Sainte-Victoire, a mountain frequently painted by Cezanne. Still gorgeous.
Aix-en-Provence is one of those old town that was occupied by the Romans way back when, and some of the structures still exist. My husband thinks that the main thoroughfare was designed much later by Pierre L’Enfant, the same guy that created Washington, D.C.’s circular layout, which looks stately but makes it absolutely impossible to make a left turn. However, I wasn’t able to back up that claim (in the five seconds I spent googling it).
As we were walking along the main drag of the Cours Mirabeau, my husband reminisced about how he had been standing in line at the movies theater there when he overheard that President Kennedy had been shot.
Later, we had dinner in the Grillon brasserie, which looks exactly the same as when he was there 51 years ago.
Mmmm, warm goat cheese salad with olive tapenade. Old France does still exist.
The first day we were there, I spotted this congenial fabric shop, Tissus La Victoire which had a number of printed cotton Provencal fabrics from region.
But I was afraid if I bought some, I would have to sew (shudder) home dec, so I stuck with the garment fabrics on the other side of the shop. The very patient people working there tirelessly pulled bolts down onto a large table while I hemmed and hawed, and finally I settled on a good-quality wool blend Missoni knock-off and a bonded knit masquerading as a tweed. Unfortunately, I don’t have more pictures of the shop, because my husband ran off with my phone that day!
In the same market square, there was one of those magazine gazebos you see frequently in Europe.
I looked around the shelves of craft magazines, but then had to ask the man, “Burda? Pour coudre?” And I don’t know what kind of reputation French Burda has, but he pulled it out of some hidden cupboard in the back and plunked it on the counter, like a girlie magazine.
While we were there, we rented a car with a navigational system that gave us very polite, officious and, frankly bossy instructions in a clipped British accent, whom we quickly dubbed “Miss Moneypenny.” Using Miss Moneypenny, we were able to find this archeological site of the remains of a Gaul, then Greek, then Roman town in Glanum, near St-Remy (a male family member’s idea of course).
But while walking around there, I thought about the women who lived in these houses, cooking, weaving, sewing, and possibly hanging out in the place I’d most likely be found:
After that I got Miss Moneypenny cranked up again, while my gadget-mad husband put on the American voice from Google maps “as a backup.” Well, Miss Google Maps must be doing her year abroad from Little Rock, because she kept saying things like “turn on the “Rooo Suh-ZANE” for “rue Cezanne” while Miss Moneypenny barked at me to “PLEASE prepah to tuhn left!!” in that Sloane Ranger voice.
After some spirited back and forth between my husband, Miss Moneypenny, Miss Google Maps, and me, Miss Google was sent to back to Mayberry to study her French some more, and smug Miss Moneypenny soldiered on with the ugly Americans. Then all of a sudden Moneypenny croaked out, SZERGLSZZZZZ! and died a swift death. (Probably from some Bond villain’s leftover cold war laser). So we had to settle for Nellie Forbush again, telling us to turn on rooo dess eckol-ess militar-ess.
Suffice it to say, the 13-year-old in the back was the most mature of the bunch.
All around us, the landscape looked like every Impressionist painting, with the rounded, leaning pines and tall, straight, skinny evergreens (probably evolved like that from the winds that can be, as the road signs said, “vent lateral” which basically means “sideways winds that can blow you the hell off the road.”). As we drove through Van Gogh country in St. Remy, the road was lined with a tunnel of solitary trees. Still so beautiful. Vive la France for having the discipline not to mess up this gorgeous area.
Then it was just a short trip, less than four hours, on the high-speed TGV train to Gare de Lyon in Paris, where I ran off to the meetup.
The next afternoon, after ditching my family, instead of heading to the left bank where I intended to roam, my feet made a sharp right down the rue du Faubourg St-Honore, past the rows of tony designer shops, in the direction of the fabric store that dares not speak its name. (But I wrote about it last year here.)
On the way, I spotted Chanel on the rue Cambon, and walked into the part of the shop where her famous staircase resides. I took a picture of it last year, but this time I was determined to get a selfie. As I walked up to the stairs, I was stopped by the guard, but after asking nicely in bad French, he let me have a seat, and was friendly enough to take some pictures.
Score! (Sorry, Coco, but the Chanel-style puffer jacket I’m wear is from the Monoprix, AKA the Target of France.)
While I’m thinking about it, I wanted to mention that if you’re going to Paris, and would like to arrange an insiders’ tour of fabric and notions stores, Barbara of Stitching Up Paris can arrange it all for you. She came up with a garment district itinerary for the Paris meetup, with a lot of great shops on the list.
So then this happened:
I wanted to get more of the Italian printed wool I’d used to make things like this:
because the feel is so light, warm and luxurious when I wear them. So I picked out an Italian wool/silk fabric, with a retro print that reminds me of the Fuller Fabrics “Modern Masters” fabrics from the 50s, and decided that was enough.
But then, looking at the silks (bad idea) I found a gorgeous 30s-looking twill and remembered that I still had black Italian Chanel tweed from last year’s budget-blowing visit to Janssens et Janssens. The tweed was slated to become a little black jacket I’d dubbed “The Kaiser” (Lagerfeld’s nickname, though probably not to his face), and though I’ve already bought silk to line it, I thought this would be better. Uh oh.
Then I went downstairs to look at the sparkly stuff (not for me, fortunately) and found the trims. Nooooo!
I am just going to have to start sewing faster.
So that’s what I did when I skipped Thanksgiving! Hope your sewing’s going well!