INTERVIEW

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Living Our Parisian Fantasy

Alice Gee & Jade Poulters | 15/06/2022

The little feel-good things, it’s often easily naive to underestimate the full effect they can have on our mental health. So, when it comes to needing a pick me up or to simply find a moment of joy, it’s a given that you will find me curled up on the sofa watching Devil Wears Prada for the millionth time. From the moment of its conception in 2006, I’ve been obsessed. I vividly remember my teenage self, watching it wide-eyed for the first time, the glistening high-end fashion, the bright lights of New York, the understated cool surface appearance of working in fashion and publishing (understated it is not), to me it was heaven. While over a decade has passed, many of the film’s attributes remain in place, as I continue to muse over every fashion look, the only difference now being my role in the industry as a fellow journalist and founder of a cultural magazine is a reality. So, as I yearn for a moment’s respite on a Saturday afternoon as I traditionally pull out my slightly worn Devil Wears Prada DVD, I can’t help but lust over a couple of days in Paris. Before I know it, I’ve taken out my calendar, and I’ve pencilled several days away in Paris already mentally flicking through my wardrobe in the hopes of living my very own Devil Wears Prada fantasy.

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Two weeks later I find myself on the way to London’s St Pancreas for my early morning train to Paris with my HATC colleague Jade to live out our Parisian fantasies. Arriving early at St. Pancreas, I order a croissant from Paul’s alongside my usual daily Coffee, dreaming about the many fresh Parisian croissants I intend on eating. We check-in for the Eurostar having not travelled with them for quite some time, before moving briskly through security. Something I love about travelling with Eurostar is even if you can’t arrive as timely as you hope you know you will be able to move through security and customs fear-free of missing your train. The process is as seamless and I settle in. When it comes to working on short commutes to different countries, I’ll be honest, often I can feel quite unsettled, unable to get into as good a working rhythm as I can in the office. Sometimes just the thought of knowing I may not be as productive on shorter journeys whether it be by plane, or train can make deadlines stressful. But not today, from the moment I board with Eurostar, I’m shown to my seat without queueing, without a moment of discomfort, and set up in record timing. The journey itself is just over 2 hours (much quicker than the DWP flight from New York) and includes a change in time difference which for me fits in well with their timing of lunch. Having a Premium Ticket has its perks, including top-tier seating and service. As we pull out of St Pancreas, we are straight away offered drinks before lunch service. The train itself is fitted with WIFI that is not only strong in reception but isn’t interfered with at any point (I know right! A miracle for a train). Not before long, we are served a notably good lunch. I’m not usually one who enjoys lunches on journeys, flight food especially, but Eurostar outdid themselves, with a selection of lunches to choose from, including a main, side, and pudding. Something I did take away from the meal was its freshness, which alongside highly hospitable service, dealt with dietary requirements with ease and pleasure. The experience went down a treat. After just around two hours we begin to pull into Paris before grabbing our luggage and disembarking in the front of a relatively quiet Gare Du Nord.

 

As I start my DWP (Devil Wears Prada) trip we catch a taxi to our hotel, Bourg-Tiboug Hotel in-between the 3rd and 11th Arrondissements, a 5-minute walk from The Notre Dame. Bourg-Tibourg Hotel boasts some of the most luxurious furnishings, designed by notorious interior designer Jacques Garcia. It’s simply a masterpiece. With a neo-gothic theme throughout, every detail is meticulously placed from the hand-designed skirting to patterned motifs. When entering the hotel, you are met instantly by staff who are quick to check you in and show you each space the hotel boasts before your room. What may appear on the outside as a dainty building, is soon transformed into personalised spaces with nooks around every corner. The traditional Parisian antique furniture continues throughout each floor to the extent of the quiet terrace found just off the entrance. One of the most interesting pieces of the hotel is how each clover and stripe motif emigrate into every room including my boudoirs, sequencing, and uniting each room. As I make my way from the petite lift to my room, the heavily detailed touches continue throughout the wallpaper and headboard. The room itself is a good size yet feels intimate between the large bed, table space, and hidden wardrobe. I take a moment to open the French windows to overlook the quiet cobbled street before casting open the wooden motif engraved double bathroom doors. The bathroom, bigger than expected features wood panelling and a mosaic trim alongside a nestled bathtub. The Victorian-style sink is one of my dreams both in style and size below a large mirror and tasselled lighting. The interiors are perfect if you lust after traditional Parisian even renaissance-esque features and notes and a quiet warm space with the hotel’s service extremely attentive and next to none.

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Once settled, we change into something a little more out there, after all, Paris is the city of fashion. My first stop is pastries and if there’s only one place to go then Stohrer, the oldest bakery in Paris founded in 1730, is top of my list. Being only a short walk away it’s the temple of sweet and savoury pastries from the old-fashioned classic Rum Babas to the elegant choux pastry and French patisseries. I decide to go to town, buying both pastries, croissants, and pain au chocolate alongside a French patisserie Black Forest gateau. Following a rather generous pastry stop, we decide to walk further into the city embracing the long walk through the Parisian streets and past monuments towards Paris’s designer sector. The weather is pleasant and warm, perfect for a day venturing around the city. As we move through the Parisian streets, we welcome some of Paris’s finest cultural statues including Statue Equestre De Louis XIV and Colonne Vendome. The cobbled streets are the epitome of Paris, albeit a challenge for those in heels.

 

When it comes to Parisian shopping there are two go-to’s, the first is Les Galeries LaFayette, one of the world’s most famous shopping centres close to Opera Garnier, and the second is Rue Saint Honore, home to fashion houses like Dior and Hermes with the original Chanel boutique located just off the main thoroughfare. As we browse the designer stores past the well-lit and classically designed Chanel and Fendi we move towards Le Marignan, a sweet street-side restaurant. We take a seat to order, as I go for a classic Ceaser Salade. Although more on the expensive side my order arrives briskly followed by our drinks, the first of many coffees over the week. The quality of the food is exceptional, worth every penny, with the quiet street being a good location for a moment of peace, a phone’s throw away from Place de la Concorde, where Andy dumps her phone in DWP.

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Next on my itinerary is of course French Macarons, traditionally held to have been introduced in France by Italian chef Catherine de Medici in the Renaissance. In terms of Macarons, I always find myself at Laduree, the ultimate French Maison for the delicate deserts. Once inside, there are macarons as far as the eye can see, with over 20 flavours perfect for a bespoke box. For €22.50 for a box of 12, they are on the more expensive side, but when you have the reputation le Laduree does then it’s a no-brainer for the quality.

 

Sufficiently recharged from lunch and a swell of macarons, we head towards the Musee Yves Saint Laurent via The Eiffel Tower to get our dose of high fashion couture from one of the most renowned fashion houses. The museum exhibits the couturier’s body of work on the legendary premises, his former haute couture house. Following the fashion house’s 60th anniversary visitors can explore the museum and pay tribute to the designer. The museum is a sensory journey unveiling key steps in the couturier’s creative process As you walk through the museum you get a first-hand look at notable designs highlighting the beauty and what is involved in their making. You get to see each design journey from sketches to the final product. Throughout the exhibition, you see everything from the array of hats, St Laurent’s scarves, and polaroids from each show. Following the museum’s presentation, you have the chance to buy some of the fashion houses’ publications including prints at a price you won’t want to miss.

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As we begin to near the early evening, we move back to the hotel to change for dinner. In terms of the best places to visit there are a few options on our itinerary, La Nouvelle Seine, and Le Louis Philippe. If you’re looking for something a little special, I would recommend booking a table at La Nouvelle Seine, a floating restaurant serving French classics opposite the Notre Dame. If you are looking for a quiet restaurant without your sea legs (as Jade discovered the hard way a sailor’s life was most certainly not for her) then family-owned restaurant Le Louis Philippe, an adorable classic just off Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame is a great choice. The restaurant itself is quintessentially perfect for classic choices with Beouf Bourgoin being an excellent one, and something a little different from the restaurants overlooking The Eiffel Tower when travelling at short notice. Following dinner, we move towards the Eiffel Tower in the hopes of seeing it in all its glory, sparkling bright. We make our way to Passerelle Debilly, a sweet bridge between the 16th and the 7th district. The passage has an incredible view of the tower, perfect for some beautiful photographs and a stone’s throw away from the Arc De Triomphe for that perfect late-night passing.

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As we wake to another morning in Paris, we dress before heading out for coffee and a pastry from Boulangerie du Marais, at the end of Bourg-Tibourgs street. Having slept well, thanks to an extremely comfy bed and black-out drapes I feel energetic following my morning shower. As we leave to go to go have a closer look at a range of designers in Les Galeries LaFayetter, we make a must-have stop by Le Lautrec Chocolatier for mouth-watering treats you have to take home. Les Galeries LaFayetter is about a 40-minute walk from the hotel, with a taxi taking slightly less for about €10 if you’re tired. We take the walk passing some of Paris’s best-known cultural spots including the Opera. Although the outside of Les Galeries LaFayetter may look like any other shopping centre, it is anything but! The 19th Century department store is made of 5 stores organised around a Neo-Byzantine-style intricate colourful sublime glass dome. The Nouveau-style architecture is breathtaking as it hosts some of fashion’s most exciting houses. I quickly find my feet moving towards Miu Miu before lusting over Courreges Sac de Loop bag. In all honesty, it’s easy to mentally get lost in everything in the store although the store itself is easy to navigate. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything whilst there it’s worth taking a browse and a closer look at the designer products whilst under one roof. And if you lust to know a little more about what the store offers historical tours has recently gone through a bit of a rebrand - while two Saturdays a month. As we gather our things from Bourg-Tibourg, we organise a Taxi to our next destination, where Jade will take over the trip.

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As we gather our things from La Pigalle, we organise a final taxi back to Gare du Nord for our evening train home back to London. We move through Gare du Nord, extremely efficiently before boarding the Euro Star home. On the journey back we are met again by incredibly intentive service, with a light meal included with our seats. The journey is quick, again just over two hours as we pull into London’s St Pancreas as the sun sets. 

Now while I’ve also spent one too many an evening sitting on the couch watching Devil Wears Prada (or the Season 4 opener of Gossip Girl) Andy Sachs and Blair Waldorf were not living my Parisian fantasy - Lou Doillon was. Because While Alice is definitely the Fashion Week, Champs-Élysées and Cafe de Flore french girl who wanders down the Seine as La vie en rose plays delicately in the distance, I am more the Rock en Seine, Rue de Rivoli wannabe french mess who can be found falling out of a bar on Rue Oberkampf while it blasts throwback Wolfgang Amadeus Pheonix.

 

Two very different girls.

 

So as Alice hands the reigns of the trip over to me we head to the parts of Paris where I belong, the Arrondissements where the artists live. Or at least, where they probably used to before they all got priced out. Gentrification is a global issue guys, wake up.

 

Our next stop is Pigalle, home to the Moulin Rouge. The former seedy red-light district of Paris the sex shops still rule the high street - it’s been re-dubbed SoPi by locals who now flock into the area to patron the Instagram-worthy resturants on Rue des Martyrs and the vintage-inspired boutiques around Rue Clauzel.

 

The neighbourhood has always attracted bad boys and artists, musicians and adventurers who show up for the instrument outlets and stay for the rowdy bars. But without a monument or easy tourist-free meeting spot to congregate in Le Pigalle, the authentic neighbourhood hotel situated just off the Plaza became the unofficial representation of the area’s brazen spirit and musical energy. And it is there where we will spend the next two nights.

 

Uplifting the local scene is the mission statement of Le Pigalle, all the staff are residents happy to share their favourite places and stories that bring the neighbourhood alive. The croissants at breakfast are procured from a nearby bakery, the books on the shelf free to peruse are selected and loaned by a bookstore around the corner, and the songs playing throughout the day and into the night are meticulously chosen by neighbourhood djs and vinyl collectors. Local artists, shopkeepers and restaurant owners also pop in to contribute to the old collective feel of the common areas. As we walk into the reception, to make it very clear this is a place for creatives, a fashion spread and a music video are being shot in some of the private little alcoves as guests and regulars mill about drinking coffee and reading books.

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The room is impeccably stylish, mixing retro pieces with modern finishes in a painfully cool way. Decorated in the style of the area, known as Nouvelle Athènes for its neoclassical architecture, which inspired artists and poets in the late nineteenth century, interior designers Charlotte De Tonnac and Hugo Sauzay convey a specific image of Pigalle: historic, modern, decadent, multicultural and musical.

 

It’s simple and comfortable, full of domestic touches, feeling more like the apartment of your incredibly hip- and rich- Parisian friend than a soulless hotel room. Each one is completely individual and features a collection of objects, souvenirs and second-hand furniture, with a personality all of their own. In the corner of the room is a piece of furniture I would steal if it wasn’t so huge, a combination fully stocked art deco bar and turntable where you can spin a rare selection of historic vinyl, lovingly selected by Victor Kiswell to express the spirit of Pigalle and its past. For lovers of more modern music, an in-room iPad connects to the room’s wireless speakers.

 

In the bathroom, the individualised luxury continues as the hotel has exclusively collaborated with the team at Le Labo to create signature toiletrie s mixing the iconic Santal 33 scent with Jean Andre’s cheeky cartoons that can be seen all over the hotel. Shower gel, soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are all available in full-sized bottles and replaced for every guest. But don’t cry about not being able to sneak them out in your luggage as full sets can be purchased on the in-room iPad to enjoy back at home.

 

After settling in and getting the lay of the room, we head out for an early tea choosing to wander around the area and find something off the cuff at the recommendation of the hotel staff. We end up at a traditional bistro overlooking Palace Saint-George choosing a rustic dinner of Chicken and Salad after the luxe meals of the night before and sit and people watch as dusk begins to fall.

 

After two long days and with an even bigger night instore tomorrow we head back to the big cotton marshmallows that are our beds, high enough in our room that the sounds of the bustling bars below are only whispers in the night.

 

The next morning we wake to a flurry of snow, so wrap up warm as it’s a long day of walking ahead. While Alice quite rudely dragged me to Les Galeries Lafayette, knowing full well I’d end up crying over pair of Mellow Yellow glitter platform boots that I couldn’t afford after I splurged in duty-free, I set our sights on the more realistic shopping destinations of Rue de Rivoli and Rue du Roi de Sicile.

 

Located on the North bank of the Sienne in the Come on Eileen, yes that is its name, has a mix of some great vintage basics and carefully curated 3rd Arrondissement the two parallel streets host a wealth of vintage stores and “fripperies”, filled with well-loved but still sturdy denim, oversized leather jackets and the odd designer piece if you’re committed to the hunt.

 

The historically LGBTQ-friendly neighbourhood of Les Marais was once the aristocratic district of Paris famous for its medieval architecture and traditional cobbled streets. Now it feels as if you smushed Soho and Shoreditch together and threw a bit of Dalston in for good measure.

We began our big day of shopping on the south side of the neighbourhood where you’d find your traditional if touristy, vintage stores. Think Rokit and Beyond Retro, but French. Noir Kennedy feels like walking straight into Camden Market with its faux-gothic style and leather coats hanging from every possible vantage point. The familiarity makes sense once the staff inform me they import the vast majority of their band-tee stock from London. Tilt Vintage is your Parisian Pop Boutique with an eclectic mix of 70’s Flares, Retro 501’s, 80’s bleached Madonna jeans and old school Adidas shell suits (honestly I can’t escape them).

Dior, Channel and YSL pieces. We spent a good 10 minutes eyeing up what looked like a Hermes Kelly on a very very high shelf, too scared to ask to bring it down to check if it was real. UniShop was an accidental find with floor-to-ceiling shelving so full of Levi’s it’s almost suspicious.

 

We head slightly north hitting King of Frip but are quickly overwhelmed with the number of people digging through the piles and piles of incredibly affordable pieces. Then there is Palace Vintage, Vintage Bar and FRIP’IRIUM to hit before heading further north to the big hitters Free’P’Star and

 Kiloshop.

 

As you continue to head north up the winding cobbled streets the shops get more curated, Hippy Market specialises in flower power throwbacks and Relique on 70’s disco/funk pieces. Bleach Vintage specialises in the more modern 80s and 90’s pieces with racks full of converse and Levi’s cut-offs. But if its those special designer items you’re after then you need to keep going, if you follow Rue du Temple up to Rue Commines and Rue de Lancry you’ll find Studio W, La Jolie Garde Robe and Louise Paris to name a few, where you’ll be able to get your hands on some Chanel, Dior, YSL and more - if you’ve got the budget.

After racking up nearly 30,000 steps we head back to the hotel to refresh ourselves for a night on the town in Oberkampf.

 

Once changed and ready to go, we head to our first stop the stunning Charbon Cafe. The mirrored walls reflect the racks and racks of bottles behind the bar as we walk in and the impossibly tall ceilings of the old coal merchant building are filled to the brim with low-hanging, vintage-style lampshades. The drinks are decently priced and the food is traditionally bistro. As it begins to fill up before a gig kicks off next door, the eclectic mix of clientele surrounds the small wooden tables completing the hipster vibe the place sets out to achieve. Yet it’s not overly pretentious, still feeling comfortable and welcoming to two very obvious Brits.

 

After our delicious Crepes, we hit the streets to find the bar local band Entropie recommended, promising the best “indie-sleaze” night out in the city. We start at L’Alimentation Generale, which is not a general store for those of you who took GCSE French, but a bar, club and music venue. Depending on the night the rotation of DJs will spin an eclectic mix of indie, rock, disco, funk and hip hop, the only nightly guarantee is the place will be packed.

 

The next stop is Pop In, located a bit further down into the 11th and perfect for those of you who love a big one at The Amersham Arms. A rock bar that has a reputation for playing a bit too much Oasis as well as platforming some of the best new upcoming bands in the city. It’s scruffy but cool, has a typical sticky dance floor and incredibly cheap drinks for Paris. Don’t worry about getting your glad rags on, it’s casual cool all around.

 

As the amount of walking we’ve done over the past few days begins to hit us we sadly skip out on Supersonic and HIDE which came strongly recommended in favour of our lovely squishy beds as we save our swollen feet for one last day in the city.

 

Waking up the next day to more snow, it’s time for my favourite part of travelling. Record shopping. Over my many years of collecting Vinyl I discovered that mainland Europe is often the best place to track down those special releases long sold out in the UK and if you can figure out a safe way to get them home, they can also be cheaper than your local HMV.

 

The best place in Paris to record shop is the 11th but there are a few cool places in Marais so wrapping up warm I set out to see what I could find. First up to get my fix of cheesy goodness is Lucky Records, which specialises in all things Madonna, and I mean all things - Vinyl, CDs, magazines, dolls and t-shirts - if Madonna’s face is on it this place has it. The other pop girlies are represented solidly too with a nearly complete Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Cher, Celine and Lady Gaga discography. They even had those Urban Outfitters exclusive pressings so difficult to get here in the UK.

 

I then head up to Rupture a beautifully cosy and impossibly cool shop and cafe that has one of the widest selections of Rap, Hip-Hop and R&B vinyl I’ve ever seen. With sections solely dedicated to emerging French artists the staff were so keen to talk about, I had to walk away before I called the bank to extend my overdraft.

 

Then it’s a big walk to the 11th. Sadly when I get to Supersonic (the bar we skipped last night is a record store in the daytime) it’s closed, as is Vinyl Office and a few others that I walk past and I worry that weekdays may not be prime vinyl selling hours. Luckily the other three stores on my list are open for business which is great as the snow is starting to come down now.

 

La Silence de la Rue is my next stop and it is huge, with shelves so stacked to the brim I wonder how the whole building hasn’t fallen from the weight of them all. Mixtures of French, British and American artists from every genre you could think are all on sale and I find myself again having to negotiate myself down from some very expensive purchases. (Look guys I’m broke and my case is full leave me alone)

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The shop workers continue to be incredibly attentive and understanding of my broken French as I stare longingly at wish list items long sold out in the UK. Hands & Arms is next, a record shop cum independent label that is also so packed with products it’s a workout combing through the stacks. This is where I find the holy grail, well to me anyway, a near-complete collection of Arctic Monkeys 7

 

7 Inches at retail price. almost died. It was so painful to walk away but I couldn’t risk them getting damaged in my case. The lovely shop worker clearly sensed my anguish as he gave me the store email telling me they could maybe ship to the UK if I couldn’t find them back home.

 

The last store on the list was Born Bad Records, a speciality rock, punk, hardcore and grunge shop just off the Palace de la Bastile. Here I was prepared to buy something, if they had ‘Dead Boys’ it was coming home with me. Alas, they didn’t but their collection was full to the brim from classic rock n roll to french post-punk, with even a small selection of self-released titles that I had a quick flick through. What Born Bad did make me realise though was the French peoples’ clear affinity for Sleaford Mod, who I realised in every store I went to had a well signposted heavily stocked collection, something I can’t say is true for any record store I’ve been in in the UK.

 

But as the afternoon started to close in, it was time to head back to the hotel, catch up with Alice and get ready to head back to the train station as our little trip away had very quickly come to an end.

 

We organise a final taxi back to Gare du Nord for our evening train home back to London. We move through extremely efficiently before boarding the Eurostar home. A word to the wise it would be best to stock up on snacks before heading through border control as Gare du Nord’s selection of eateries left a lot to be desired.

 

On the journey back we are met again by incredibly attentive service, with a light meal included with our seats. The journey is quick, again just over two hours as we pull into London’s St Pancreas as the sun sets.

 

As we arrive home, the first steps through the door, we can’t help but feel the blues. Paris was as ever beautiful and entertaining. But this trip in particular brought a spring to our step. Exploring both worlds above and underground, we got the chance to unwind and enjoy, finding true escapism in both the worlds we cherish. So go and live your film fantasy. 

 

 

Words: Alice Gee/ Jade Poulters