August in Paris

fashion images, Palais Galliera

Next week I'll have a review of Guerlain Shalimar Souffle de Parfum for you, but I'm not ready to review anything today. Although I'm spending a few weeks in perfume's heartland, Paris, I'm still getting my feet on the ground.

When I told people I'd be in Paris in August, I got a lot of "no one's there in August except tourists," and "isn't everything shut down then?" Sour grapes, my friends. The truth is that Paris is wonderful in August. Sure, every street corner holds a few people unfolding maps, and a glance down the Champ de Mars shows dozens of tourists lined up for the camera pretending to pick up the Eiffel Tower while the diesel engines of rows of tour buses rumble in the background. But the mood is relaxed. People are here to enjoy themselves. Plus, I'm a tourist, too — who am I to complain?

While a ten-hour flight in coach (plus an unplanned day's layover and few hops up and down the west coast due to a missed connection) would be a circle of hell to a modern-day Dante, there's something magical about jet lag's ability to shake up a routine. I rose at five o'clock this morning, just as the sun was giving the gray sky a pearl-pink cast. Down the block, vendors are setting up for the farmers' market. I hear clanging and muffled voices, and soon the stalls will be heaped with tomatoes and Charentais melons and fish on ice.

Since I've been wildly lucky to have a friend's apartment to stay in while she's away, this is the second time within a year I've been to Paris. It's made for a relaxed trip. I don't feel pressured to go everywhere and see everything. Instead, I'm taking half-day walks, setting aside time for naps, and enjoying the little things, like the patterns of tile foyers, the iron work on balconies, and the pugs and terriers Parisians parade in the early evening.

I did make a beeline to the Palais Galliera, though, for the exhibition "Les Années 50: La mode en France 1947-1957."1 If you're in Paris any time between now and November 2nd, you've got to see it. The show walks you through the history, craftsmanship, and sheer beauty of the major couture houses in Paris after World War Two. I could practically smell the Femme and Miss Dior. One of the features was a Dior Bar suit,2 the iconic full-skirted, pinched-waist suit most people picture when they think "New Look." I've seen dozens of photos of the Bar suit (it plays a role in my next mystery, Dior or Die), but being inches from the soft texture of its wool skirt (so much fabric!) and ridged Shantung jacket shot chills up my arms.

I'd better refill my coffee, shrug off this old kimono, and get dressed. It looks like another rainy day (and to think I fell for Cole Porter's "I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles"). I just peeked out the window, and the awnings are unrolled over the market stalls and produce trucks are backed up to them. My big decisions today are what to make for dinner and where to walk.

Who says Paris in August is a drag?

1. The images at the top are from the Palais Galliera website. This short video, in English, gives a little background about the exhibit. A second video, in French, includes much more visual detail.

2. See the top left image here.

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39 Comments

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  1. austenfan says:

    I’m so envious, it sounds like a wonderful way to experience the city. Hope the rest of your stay will be as wonderful. Did you bring any fragrances?

    • Angela says:

      I came minimalist this time: one necklace (which broke before I even got on the plane) and no perfume! It’s given me the chance to try lots of interesting fragrances, though. Right now I’m wearing a spritz of Serge Lutens L’Orpheline on one arm and By Terry Nocturne Rouge (or something like that) on the other.

  2. tomate farcie says:

    I lived in Paris for seven years and even Parisians like Paris in August!
    bonne vacances!

    • Angela says:

      Thank you! I’m glad to hear that. I figure since there are so many tourists around, even my lame French will be welcomed, and so far I’ve been right.

      • AnnS says:

        I do think that people always like to complain about something! Anytime is a good time to be in Paris, travelling, wherever. Bon chance!

        • Angela says:

          No kidding! I’m sure not complaining. Plus, I hear it’s super hot at home, but here it’s been cool and very easy to be in.

  3. rose pepper says:

    An apartment in Paris sounds wonderful ANY time of year :). Those dresses are gorgeous! I am seriously in love with that pink strapless dress. I would go see that exhibit, but I am pretty much out of vacation time and money for this year …

    • Angela says:

      That amazing pink gown is by Gres, and it’s silk velvet, which was super unusual for her to work with. The color is like angel’s breath, I swear. Gorgeous.

  4. bastet says:

    I would love to be in Paris in August or any time! Lucky you. I hope you will tell us later what perfume(s) you end up coming home with.

    • Angela says:

      Of course I will! But I’m not sure I’ll be buying anything. I did run through my decant of Chanel Cuir de Russie, so I might buy a bottle of that, but I can always get it at home. Unless I want the parfum, of course…

  5. Ericgmd says:

    Angela,
    Make sure you grab some tourist flyers from hotel lobbies. They only distribute them there.
    Usually a 10% discount card at both Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette is inside. Sometimes at other department stores as well.
    Trust me it comes in handy when you whip out the credit card for a Frederic Malle for example. I know you said no purchases but famous last words…
    I learned that buying from Les Grands Magasins can be a better deal than from an individual brand store.
    Bon sejour!
    Eric

    • Angela says:

      You are so right about “famous last words”! I walked by Jovoy yesterday–a terrific perfume shop–and nearly went in but stopped myself. I knew I’d end up with a bottle of something otherwise…

  6. floragal says:

    I too visited Paris in August and it was just perfect. The weather was great and frankly I liked that the city was a bit empty of the locals – easier for us to get around and we did not find it overly crowded at all.

    I love that you’re slowing down to take in some of those extra special details of such a beautiful city.

    • Angela says:

      It really is nice to take it slow, although another part of me wants to go go go and see everything. But I’ve been lucky to already have spent time in Paris, and now I just want to *be* here without all the pressure. I want to relax and just enjoy keeping my eyes open as I wander.

  7. Filomena says:

    I was only in Paris once many years ago and always wanted to go back again perhaps with a lover, boyfriend, husband…but neither ever happened. In the interim I did manage to get to Italy 11 times but even the last trip there was almost 7 years ago. For over 6 1/2 years I went nowhere at all–even for a night. However, this past June I did get to San Francisico and L.A. where my older son lives. I still hope that maybe it will happen that I will get there before I am too old to walk! Enjoy yourself…it sounds like the best kind of get-away and a chance to appreciate the city in a different way.

    • Angela says:

      You love Italy! I’d love to spend some time there.

      It’s so funny how travel can come in fits and spurts. For a handful of years, life can sort of take over, and the thought of traveling never has room to grow. Then all of the sudden you’re on a plane. If you want to do it, it will happen! Even on a budget these things are possible.

  8. hajusuuri says:

    Have fun on your month-long stay in Paris. How fabulous is that?!? I was there for one day in August last year but also did not try to do too much because I’ve done all the touristy stuff the first two times I was there and I did not want to pressure myself except for the visit to the Lutens mothership.

    • Angela says:

      Yes, we perfume lovers do have our priorities!

      • Angela says:

        Whoops! I should add that I’m not staying a month–just a couple of weeks, and barely that. In my dreams, I’d stay a bit longer…

  9. AnnE says:

    Angela, thanks for posting; I hope you have a fabulous time! I’ve heard that about August, too, so I’m happy for you that it does have its rewards. My DH used to travel to Europe for work frequently, and one Christmas we rented an apartment for a week. So much more relaxing than a hotel. :)
    I love that Gres gown!

    • Angela says:

      I think apartments are the absolute best way to go if you’re staying more than a few nights. You can cook, stay in a real neighborhood, keep your own schedule, and don’t have to worry about maids busting in when you’re trying to nap.

      • AnnE says:

        I loved that last part especially!

        • Angela says:

          Exactly! You’re on vacation and should be relaxing, knowing that your space is your space without interruptions.

  10. solanace says:

    In August there is much less traffic, smaller lines at the good places to buy food, such as street markets and small cheese shops, and the trees and parks are beautiful. There is a calm, a stillness to everything that is very inspiring. And you can always refresh yourself at those water sprays chez Paris plage, if you happen to feel too hot. They never failed to make me feel like a kid.

    • Angela says:

      Yes! All of those things sound wonderful. The weather right now, though, is cool–not really Paris Plage weather. (Although Robin did send me photos of people playing foosball at the Paris Plage, which she pointed out that the French call “baby foot,” which really cracked me up.)

  11. annemarie says:

    Thanks for the links to the videos. Those dresses are sublime. And yet … All those corsets and padding! Ouch!

    • Angela says:

      The corset is one thing, but I believe I can provide the padding more naturally! It was a great exhibition. Here and there throughout the show they had television monitors showing actual video news reals released in the late 1940s and the 1950s of the fashions. I tried to find them online and failed, but it’s worth another look.

      • annemarie says:

        The New Look was quite controversial wasn’t it, because of the extravagant use of fabric so soon after the war?

        • Angela says:

          Yes, it was. The exhibit showed a news story from (I think) Look magazine where an American woman wearing a New Look-style dress had her clothing ripped off of her. The exhibit’s headliner–the dress on the poster–was a super plain dress in a dull dusty rose (Rose Soupire) wool made to look work-a-day, but it was Dior and of course cost a mint. That way, the wearer would know she wore couture, but at a glance it might be a normal day dress.

          • annemarie says:

            On the one hand that sounds like it defeats the purpose of wearing couture, but, on the other, I bet the dress was beautifully styled and made. The beauty would be in the detail.

          • Angela says:

            I would have loved to have been able to take the dresses off the mannequins and examine their insides and feel their weight. It’s so rare these days to see a dress that’s actually designed in three dimensions instead of the cheap-to-produce two dimensions.

  12. AnnS says:

    Thanks for your fragrance travel writing. I will travel, in my mind with you! I hope you have a wonderful time. More stories please! When I was a teen, I was lucky in that my parents paid for me to do about a 2 week European trip with our French class. We went to London, southern England, and then took the small boat to St Milo (there was a lovely massive Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle PR poster in the ship’s duty free, which I will never forget), and then off to tour Paris and the Loire Valley. It may have been August. I don’t remember, and if it was hot, I didn’t care. But I do remember getting to tour the Fragonard shop in Paris near the Opera. I was overwhelmed and loved every minute of it. I still have a gold colored aluminum bottle with a tad of the house “Mimosa” in it…. It seemed so elegant to me to go to a fragrance house! In Paris!

    • Angela says:

      What wonderful memories! I especially love that the Jardins de Bagatelles poster is so firmly locked in your mind.

      Today I had a marvelous lesson on bra fitting. I went to a tiny lingerie shop way on the other side of Sacré Coeur that specializes in my favorite brand, a Belgian company called Prima Donna (make note, you better-endowed gals out there). I wish I could have videotaped the whole thing. Truly excellent advice, and now I’m well prepared to give my poitrine the attention and care its deserves. You just don’t get that kind of service at Macy’s.

  13. Celestia says:

    April in Paris:
    Well, it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. My first trip in 1994 for three weeks saw Pairs experiencing an unusual Arctic front that had descended from the UK. It felt like -10 but was about 10 C. above. My 10-piece wardrobe for Malibu (what was I thinking?) left me freezing. My skin peeled on my face because I didn’t take any moisturizer. (I’m oily.) I wasn’t in the beauty business yet and didn’t know better.
    Next trip two years later, was in May. Not as cold but still rainy. Three more weeks alone, but this time I was working for a major French perfume house. Took the right clothes!
    I went two more times for two weeks with a French woman who was in the perfume business. One trip was in June. In September it was 32 C. Whew!
    That was in 1998 and 2000. Honeymoon there in 2001 for six days in October. And I still work for the perfume house nineteen years later!
    Whenever, wherever you go, you are at the mercy of the weather.

    • Angela says:

      Isn’t it crazy? I was sure that August would mean sweltering heat. Boy was I ever wrong. I brought one little thin cashmere cardigan, and I don’t leave the apartment without it.

      Fortunately (or not so much), the cheese and pastries don’t care what the temperature is…

  14. Celestia says:

    Sorry for the ‘dyslexic’ spelling of Paris. I tend to type that way all the time and have to go back and correct, and no matter how many times I re-read, something slips through. I wanted to say that the exhibit you saw must have thrilled you to no end since you love vintage couture so much. I enjoyed the videos you posted. I went to the Palais Galliera for a show on fashion too but I still wistfully remember going to the Grand Palais for an extensive show on Art Nouveau and being desperately jet-lagged but in heaven nonetheless.
    “Dior or Die” is a fabulous title!

    • Angela says:

      Oh, a show on Art Nouveau would be heaven! Did you manage to take home a catalog of the show, at least? It’s not the same, but it’s nice for stirring those memories.

      • Celestia says:

        No, I didn’t get a catalogue, unfortunately. The BBC three-part series called Sex & Sensibility can be viewed on YouTube. I think you would really enjoy it, Angela.

        • Angela says:

          Oh, I will definitely sit back with my ipad and enjoy it! Thank you.

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