Notes from Paris – March, 2014 Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

What a difference a year makes. Just after I arrived in Paris last March for the annual French Affaires’ antiques trip, the French capital was blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Verrrry chilly temperatures accompanied us for days as we zipped around to the various Paris antiques fairs and flea markets. This year, the wintry weather is back in the U.S., and Paris is set to be sunny and almost balmy this week. To capture the ambiance of Paris at the moment, today’s post includes notes and impressions from the past few days here. Enjoy!

FASHION NOTE: It’s fashion week in Paris and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel has just made headlines with his “Chanel Supermarket” at le Grand Palais. Under the sparkling glass dome, Lagerfeld accomplished another fashion first as he showed off his fall-winter collection on models roaming grocery store aisles lined with Chanel ‘food products’ and other goodies.  What a spectacle! Click here for a photo series of Chanel’s new supermarket chic.

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FOOD NOTE: Speaking of supermarkets and chic, my favorite neighborhood cheese shop was closed Monday so I went to La Grande Epicerie, the gourmet food halls of the Le Bon Marché department store for some good fromage (cheese). After extensive renovations, La Grande Epicerie is more gourmet than ever. They have a fantastic selection of everything food related from France and around the world and it’s all gorgeously presented. However, the store is now so beautiful and mod that it almost feels like a museum. I half expect to see signs – Merci de ne pas toucher (don’t touch). And the prices are not for the faint of heart. Still, the quality is outstanding so I knew I’d get some great cheese.

As I waited in line at the cheese counter, an older French gentleman was putting in his order for camembert. So typically French, he began a long discours (speech) about how exactly he liked this Normandy cheeseun demi camembert au lait cru…crémeux mais pas trop fort…et pas de blanc (half of a raw milk camembert, creamy but not too ripe, and no white chalky layer in the middle). The saleswoman opened several of the round boxes to find the right one for monsieur and finally wrapped up one to his liking. Fortunately for me, this is exactly how I prefer my camembert so I then stepped up to buy the other half. Perfect!

Had I had a little more time, I would have taken the escalator down to the snazzy wine department on La Grande Epicerie’s lower level. They are always having great tastings of wines and champagnes. I have a good American friend and long-time resident of Paris who heads to La Grande Epicerie for her Vidalia onions – the only place in Paris that sells them – and also for a nice free glass of champagne at the same time. Only in France.

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RESTAURANT NOTE: La Grande Epicerie recently opened a gourmet restaurant called “La Table” on the second floor of the store.

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Sleek escalators whisk you up to the glass atrium accented by four full-size trees. This indoor-outdoor space features numerous tables and a bar where lunch and afternoon tea are served. I met a French friend for a mid-day bite this week and the place was packed.

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We both chose the suggestion du chef (featured dish of the day) which was a delicious beef parmentier – a French specialty of slow cooked beef in a lovely sauce layered with mashed potatoes…and this version was flavored with truffle and served with dressed greens on top. A great choice.

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WINE NOTE: I decided to stop in my neighborhood wine shop for a nice red to go with the camembert, incidentally one of the most difficult cheeses to pair with wine. Still, a full-bodied red sounded good so the monsieur gave me some ideas. As he was wrapping up my purchase, I asked about his training in French wines and vineyards. As I expected and hoped he would do, he launched into his own discours in French about how to appreciate and taste wines. He repeated it was crucial to taste wines “avec humilité.” He said to forget about the pretensions of whether this year or that year meant a great wine. Just taste it and let the wine speak for itself, he insisted. Excellent advice.

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TV NOTE: There’s good news and bad news about French television. On the plus side, I caught a program the other day where a French family decided to bypass their local charcuterie (deli) and make their own pâté, rillettes et saucisson (pâté, pork spread and sausage). It was fascinating to watch the process and see how a father and daughter mastered what has almost become a lost art. On the down side, current commercials on French TV include Old El Paso and Advil brand products. Seriously? And there was a French version of “The Bachelor” on the air. Were it not in the French language, you would have thought you were in America. Thankfully, one can turn the TV completely off, walk outside and enjoy real French life.

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PARIS TRANSPORT NOTE: The Paris Métro and Bus system makes getting around the city pretty easy. I hopped on the 63 bus the other night to meet a friend for dinner in the 5th arrondissement. To my dismay, my bus/métro ticket – they can be used for both – had become démagnétisé. In other words, the magnetic strip on the back allowing it to be validated in the bus ticket machine was no longer working. This phenomenon happens when you put the tickets in close proximity to a cell phone or some other magnetic field. In any case, I needed to make a bus transfer to another line to reach my destination and therefore required a validated ticket to continue. I explained the situation to the bus driver who kindly took the time to mark my ticket with the bus number, date and time. I then was able to change to the 47 bus with no issues at all. The French can be very sympathique (nice)!

Paris Fetes the Little Black Dress Thursday, Jul 11 2013 

Perhaps the most famous of all little black dresses was the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Created by French couture designer (and good friend of Hepburn’s) Hubert de Givenchy, the petite robe noire (little black dress, or LBD) attained such iconic status from the film that today it’s almost its own fashion category. Of course, Coco Chanel also deserves credit for the timeless and classy look when she brought forth LBDs in the 1920’s.

A propos, a new fashion exhibition just opened in Paris last week at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art and Culture celebrating this special piece of female attire. Entitled “Little Black Dress,” the show traces the historical and current significance of the ‘singular sartorial phenomenon.’  Approximately 50 black dresses from designer collections and closets of best dressed awardees are showcased until September 22, 2014. Interestingly, the exhibition was organized by the Savannah College of Art & Design and Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley and was first shown in Savannah last fall.

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Exhibition poster courtesy of the Mona Bismarck Center/SCAD

Evidemment (clearly), the little black dress is not new news to luxury vintage specialist Didier Ludot who first opened his landmark boutique in Paris in 1975. Located in the elegant Palais Royal on the Right Bank, Ludot’s ‘fashion gallery’ features vintage couture clothing and accessories of stunning quality and condition. And long ago, he realized the fashion potential of the LBD, selling vintage versions to fashionistas wanting that inimitable Holly Golightly look.

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When the classic LBD went mainstream and demand for the dresses increased, Ludot began creating new versions of the LBD based on vintage designs. Today, he has two boutiques in Paris – the vintage couture shop as well as his “La Petite Robe Noire” which sells the new black dresses. I treated myself to one of these new petites robes noires a few years ago and it remains one of my favorite clothing items of all time.

Never one to be left out of the current fashion conversation, Ludot has put on a temporary fashion exhibition this month to coincide with Paris fashion week. In his Palais Royal space, he pays tribute to French couture designer Anne-Valérie Hash with “Envers Endroit,” or “Inside Out Right Side Out.” On view until July 20, the exhibition highlights the cut, color and design of Anne-Valérie Hash’s fashion pieces as well as the couture techniques used to produce them. As a complement to the exhibition, Ludot has opened an Anne-Valérie Hash pop-up boutique (en français, ‘une boutique éphémère’) at La Petite Robe Noire for the duration of the show.

All that to say, if you are a fan of great French couture, you’ll want to make a beeline for Paris between now and September to see “Little Black Dress.” And I would also recommend stopping by Ludot’s “La Petite Robe Noire” shop in the Palais Royal. These days, it would be hard to find a fashionable Parisienne who didn’t mention ‘black dress’ and ‘Ludot’ in the same breath!

Exposition “Little Black Dress”
Mona Bismarck American Center for Arts and Culture
34 Avenue de New York, 75116 Paris

Didier Ludot
24 Galerie Montpensier
Jardin du Palais Royal, 75001 Paris

Didier Ludot’s “La Petite Robe Noire”
125 Galerie Valois
Jardin du Palais Royal, 75001 Paris

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For a taste of little black dresses without going to Paris, you might want to check out the book The Little Black Dress: Vintage Treasure published by Assouline in 2001. In it, Didier Ludot chronicles in words and photos the remarkable fashion journey of the LBD. Stateside, the book is available at Assouline boutiques in New York and California as well as online.

There is also a catalogue for the current "Little Black Dress" exhibition. It is available online at amazon.com.

And in 2009, French perfume maker Guerlain created a fragrance called – you guessed it – "La Petite Robe Noire," “The Little Black Dress.” In the U.S., it is available online at Sephora and occasionally at some department stores.

Art Meets Style at Paris’s Musée d’Orsay Friday, Oct 12 2012 

Swish new art exhibition featuring the Impressionists and the fashions of the times

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You can almost hear the swish of women’s dresses in the new exhibition “L’Impressionisme et la mode” (Impressionism and Fashion) at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. This groundbreaking show highlights the portrayal of clothing and accessories in the works of late nineteenth century Impressionist painters. It also marks the first time that the Musée d’Orsay has brought fashion and art together, joining the trend at other major museums around the world.

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© RMN (Musée d‘Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

“L’Impressionisme et la mode” reveals how the Impressionists sought to capture emotion of contemporary life in its most daily, simple and fleeting aspects. Both natural and urban settings provided rich sources of inspiration for the modernity of the time. And fashion, as is seen in this exhibition, was an almost inexhaustible Impressionist theme from 1860 to the 1880’s. It was no coincidence that this artistic focus corresponded with the emergence of fashion as a leisure pursuit and the birth of the era’s grands magasins (big department stores).

The exhibition’s first room includes an eye-catching array of dresses and outfits from the fashion collections of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la mode de la ville de Paris and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Also on display are vintage documents, fashion plates, engravings, catalogues, magazine pages, and photos all chronicling the gaiety of clothing styles during la belle époque. Particularly interesting were two paintings by Paul Cézanne juxtaposed with two pages from the illustrated fashion magazine La Mode illustrée of 1870 to 1871. It turns out that Cézanne copied the two pages almost verbatim, turning them into the painted works Les Deux Soeurs (The Two Sisters) and La Promenade (The Stroll). A great example of art imitating art.

Also visually arresting was the immense portrait by Albert Bartholomé of his wife entitled Dans la serre or Madame Bartholomé (1881). Wearing an elegant day dress of purple and white polka dots and stripes with a pleated skirt, she stands in the doorway of the greenhouse surrounded by plants and flowers. The actual dress worn by Madame Bartholomé in nearly mint condition appears next to the painting itself. It is the only original piece of clothing captured in the art that is still in existence.

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© RMN (Musée d‘Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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© Musée d‘Orsay, dist. RMN / Patrice Schmidt

Worth admission to the entire exhibition are the two rooms set up as runway fashion shows. World-renowned stage and artistic director Robert Carsen was tapped to create the theatrical ambiance of “Impressionism and Fashion,” and the result is spectacular.* Larger than life portraits of women by Edouard Manet and Claude Monet among others are hung in a row facing wall-sized mirrors. The effect is a series of models ‘moving’ through the red-walled rooms and displaying their finery. To create an ‘audience,’ Carsen includes gilded chairs lining both sides of each salle (room). Small ribbons tie elegant place cards to each seat and include the names of late nineteenth century notables, authors, artists, and social luminaries such as Emile Zola, Marcel Proust, Princesse de Wagram, Robert de Moustesquiou, Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, Charles Frederick Worth, Mademoiselle Marie Duplessis, Charles Baudelaire, and the Comtesse Clotilde Bonaparte. Viewers can participate in the performance art by taking a front-row seat and watching the painters’ fashion parade go by. 

“Impressionism and Fashion” also displays paintings of women at home, of women out and about at balls and plays, of women in lighter underthings, of men in their more somber attire as foils for shimmering ladies’ apparel, and also of exquisite accessories such as hats, shoes and fans. More than 90 works by Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Georges Seurat in addition to fashion portraitists Alfred Stevens and James Tissot showcase the fashion confections from the period. Every work merits a close look at the play of light and shadow and color on flesh and fabrics.

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© RMN (Musée d‘Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

“Plaisirs du plein air,” at the end of the exhibition, opens into the Orsay’s spacious belle époque ballroom. It has been turned into an outdoor setting with sky blue walls, faux green grass carpeting, park benches, and lighthearted birdsong on soundtrack. Huge canvases such as Monet’s Femmes au jardin (Women in the Garden) and Déjeuner sur l’herbe and Bazille’s Réunion de famille invite the viewer into picture frames of sunny country scenes layered with fluffy skirts and flowing dresses. What could so easily have been a corny setting turns out to be wonderfully compelling and a perfect ending to the show.

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© RMN (Musée d‘Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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© Musée d‘Orsay, dist. RMN / Patrice Schmidt

When I saw the exhibition last week, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about yet another museum effort devoted to Impressionism. But I walked out thinking how gorgeous and light and fresh the art was. And putting the paintings and fashion together made the artists’ visions much more three dimensional and consequently more real.

“L’Impressionisme et la mode” (curated by Gloria Groom of The Art Institute in Chicago, Guy Cogeval of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, Philippe Thiébaut of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and Susan Stein of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) is on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris through January 20, 2013. The museum is open daily except Mondays from 9.30am to 6pm and Thursdays until 9.45pm. Admission is €12. The main entrance is located at 1, rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris. www.musee-orsay.fr. No photography is allowed in the exhibition.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

If you aren’t able to catch this exhibition in Paris, then try to see it when it come to the U.S. next year. While the fashions will be different – the Paris pieces are too fragile to travel – the interplay between painting and style will be just as insightful and inspiring. The show will be presented as “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 26 to May 27, 2013, and at The Art Institute of Chicago from June 25 to September 22, 2013. 

Catalogue

In the interim, you can dive into the sumptuous exhibition catalogue. The English version will be published later this year. Pre-ordering is available through amazon.com (click here for the link) or you can check the backorder status with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

* Robert Carsen’s commentary on how he goes about creating the set for a museum exhibition (quoted from the exhibition catalogue):

“Quand on me confie une exposition, j‘essaie de créer un parcours qui aura un contenu intellectuel et un contenu émotionnel pour que la visite soit une expérience, comme une pièce de théâtre, avec un prologue, premier acte, deuxième acte, troisième acte. Il ne manque que les applaudissements ! Et c‘est aussi important que le public fasse partie de l‘expérience. Les musées, comme les théâtres, restent des lieux – dans notre monde où l‘on fait les choses de plus en plus individuellement, avec nos petits ordinateurs, téléphones et autres –, où on se retrouve pour partager une expérience ensemble.”

“When I have been tasked with an exhibition, I try to create a path which appeals to both the intellect and the emotions so that the viewing is an experience, like a play in a theatre, with a prologue, a first act, a second act, a third act. The only thing missing is the applause of the audience! And it’s also important that the public be part of the experience. Museums, like theatres, remain the only places – in our world where everyone does things more and more alone with our little computer, telephones and other devices – where we meet others to share an experience together.”

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French Affaires Book Club 2011-2012 Thursday, Apr 21 2011 

Do you love books about France and the French? So do we!

Join us for our unique French book club as we meet quarterly to read and discuss books on French culture, art, cuisine, wine, language, and travel. Our meeting locations and hosts tie to each month’s book theme which makes our gatherings and events especially rich.

At each meeting, we’ll enjoy French themed food and beverages and hear from our hosts / speakers about their ‘French connection’ to our book. Then Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz will facilitate a lively discussion about our book selection. And we’ll close with French Affaires’ signature “If you liked this book, then you’ll also like…”

Whether or not one has finished the book, our book club gathering is interesting, informative and delicious. Perfect for any Francophile wanting to enjoy casual conversation in English about great books on France and the French.

JUNE

Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Inès de la Fressange with Sophie Gachet

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“You don’t need to be born in Paris to have Parisian style. Parisian style is an attitude, a state of mind…” So begins our French book pick for June. Author, former face of Chanel, ex-runway model, designer, illustrator and business woman, Inès de la Fressange describes the secrets of the chic Parisian woman. She shares her best advice and tips on how to dress and develop one’s own beauty—French-style. She also includes her favorite resources in Paris for shopping, hotels, restaurants, excursions and more.

We’ll meet for our June book discussion at the very stylish Paper & Chocolate boutique in Dallas. Owner and creative spirit Vicki Petersen will host our gathering and tell us how she collects the wonderfully French objects, gifts and chocolates in her shop. We’ll enjoy a wine and cheese reception as part of our book club night and of course, there will be the opportunity to shop for French treasures!

Date: Monday, June 27
Time: 6 to 7:30pm
Refreshments: Wine & cheese reception
Location: Paper & Chocolate, 5460 West Lovers Lane, Suite 236, Dallas Texas 75209
(Directly behind the Inwood Theatre), www.paperandchocolate.com

AUGUST
The Red & the Black by Stendhal

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Our August book is some of the best of classic French literature. The Red and the Black by Stendhal is a towering example of 19th century French novel writing. Decades ahead of its time, The Red and the Black recounts the saga of a provincial young man determined to change his destiny in prominent social and religious circles. With its psychological portrait of the protagonist and biting social commentary, The Red and the Black remains a compelling work of literature even today.

We will gather for our book discussion at The Dallas Institute of Humanities & Culture where we will be joined by its Executive Director, Dr. Larry Allums. A literary specialist and humanities guru, Dr. Allums will lead our discussion of The Red and the Black and will give us his thoughts on the book as a work of literature. If you have never been to the Dallas Institute, you are in for a real cultural treat!

Date: Monday, August 29, 2011
Time: 7 to 8:30pm
Refreshments: French desserts & liqueurs
Location: The Dallas Institute of Humanities & Culture, 2719 Routh Street, Dallas, Texas 75201 www.dallasinstitute.org

The French Scarf Thing Wednesday, Feb 2 2011 

The French do many things well, and we have seen a lot of them in these pages. So since it’s winter and downright frigid this week in France and in North America, let’s take a look at yet another French talent—the art of tying scarves.

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A well-tied scarf in France is both a fashion statement and a meteorological necessity. Without une écharpe (long, rectangular wool scarf often with fringe on the short end) around one’s neck in the winter, walking around Paris streets would be chilly indeed. The kicker of course is that the French make something as practical as wearing a scarf a visually compelling event.  

How do they do it? Well, for one, they have a gift for tying a variety of knots and twists. They execute the various scarf positions with a sort of ’swish’ that many non-French find enviable. The French also have a flair for making each scarf ‘look’ appear elegant and comfortable at the same time. And this goes for women and men, young and old, well off and not so well off. I think it must be something in the French gene pool that ensures great scarf tying ability. Or perhaps there’s a secret school of scarf tying that only the French get to attend?!

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To sport a good scarf look, we also have to have some nice scarves to choose from in our closets. When in Paris, you can find an excellent collection of scarves at any large department store. You can find les écharpes, les foulards or les carrés (silk square scarves), and even les châles (triangular knit shawls typically worn by grandmothers in times past). Galeries Lafayette and Printemps on the Right Bank are good places to stop. On the Left Bank, Le Bon Marché is where you want to go. You also can find wonderful scarves in many small clothing boutiques around town. This is a great reason to start off walking in Paris and see where your feet take you in search of that next great scarf.

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These days, you can also find a fun scarf vendor or two at many outdoor Paris food markets. This vendor at the Boulevard Raspail market a few weeks ago was doing very good business selling wool scarves and hats. And why not? His offerings were 100% wool or silk or a combination thereof, and they were très bon marché (very well priced). In addition, the more you bought, the more he’d make you a deal. At this scarf venue, you could add a lot of scarf color to your wardrobe for a very small investment!

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But back to the real issue—what IS the French secret to their art of tying scarves? Consensus seems to indicate that a French person masters two to three scarf styles that look good on her, given her height, her hair style, her personality, and her fashion preferences. Then she decides which one to wear on a particular day with a particular scarf. And last but not least, she ties that scarf that day without trying too hard. It’s that aura of nonchalance in the tying and in the wearing which looks so French and so fabulous.

So cheers to not trying too hard in tying scarves—and enjoy these chilly times as a grand opportunity to fashion your own French scarf moments!

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

If you’ve been neglecting your scarf tying opportunities this winter, take this peer pressure challenge from the French and give your scarves some new twists. French Affaires is offering a special “French Scarf Tying Workshop” in Dallas in March. In this hands-on class, we’ll master a host of scarf looks from a French scarf expert par excellence and celebrate our scarf accomplishments over French champagne. You can even bring your favorite scarf from home and practice on it to make sure you love the way you tie it. Check our web site in a couple of weeks for complete details on this special French scarf and champagne event.

Made to Measure Tuesday, Sep 21 2010 

“Follow your instincts.” It’s possibly the best piece of travel advice around.

This summer in France, I was rewarded many times over for heeding this call. One particular instance occurred as I was exploring the Basque town of St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees mountains. I had been wandering up the Rue d’Espagne, one of the town’s main streets, with its charming houses and shops. Basque linens, espadrilles, gourmet food items, local wines, souvenirs, and berets were the main items on offer.

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Mid-way up the road, it appeared that the interesting boutiques and sights were tapering off. I was on the verge of turning back toward the center of town—when something told me to press on.

A few yards further ahead, I came up a small, unassuming shop not much wider than its doorway. Though the sign read “Sandales,” its specialty was espadrilles. The canvas shoes in solids and stripes of every color lined the shelves.

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But as I browsed, I noticed a small workshop in the back. A woman was seated at her workbench, and wonderfully enough, she making the colorful espadrilles by hand. What a find! It turned out that I had stumbled upon an authentic bastion of Basque culture. Madame Arangoïs and her family have carried on the tradition of hand-made espadrilles for generations. Madame Arangoïs learned the technique from her mother who learned it from her mother. It is Monsieur Arangoïs and their daughter who manage the shop.

On the spot, Madame Arangoïs gave me a private demonstration of her craft. All her espadrilles are faites main (made by hand), or more specifically, cousues main (sewn by hand), according to traditional methods. Though a quiet, patient woman, you could tell she was quite proud to demonstrate her creative expertise.

First, she selected a pair of hemp and rubber soles from the stock that she had pre-prepared. Next, she took the colorful cut canvas and glued it around the edges of the soles.

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The third step was to sew the edges down on the exterior with beautiful looping stitches. Her practiced hand was lyrical in its movements as she completed a pair of espadrilles in minutes.

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My next question was obvious. Could I order my own custom-made Basque footwear? “Bien sûr,” she responded. Of course! We do orders sur mesure. So I set about selecting the canvas for espadrilles that Madame Arangoïs would make especially for me. Uni (solid colors) or rayons (stripes)? The colors were fabulous—comment décider? How to decide? I ended up choosing a marvelous multi-colored stripe with red accents and also a black solid as black goes with everything. And my size–je chausse du 39. I wear an 8 and a half shoe size.

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Hmmmm, what about the timing? My train for Bordeaux left at 3pm le lendemain (the next day). Could she have the two pairs of espadrilles ready by lunchtime? Again, another robust “Bien sûr!” ensued.

So on Wednesday after a lovely final Basque lunch with my husband, I stopped by the Arangoïs shop to pick up my espadrilles. Sure enough, my shoe treasures were waiting—and what a bargain. The two pairs together were 20 euros, or about $26. J’ai vivement remercié Madame Arangoïs (I enthusiastically thanked Madame Arangoïs, or “Madame Espadrilles,” as I now call her.) And for a marvelous cultural experience—and for just a few euros, I had a tangible, chic souvenir of Basque culture.

For your own custom-made espadrilles, be sure to visit the Arangoïs shop when in the Basque country. It’s located at 42, rue d’Espagne, in St. Jean Pied de Port. Madame Arangoïs and her family are delightful hosts and would be happy to share the legacy of their livelihood.

And in case espadrilles for the feet aren’t enough, you can pick up a key-chain version at one of the many souvenir shops in town. Vivent les espadrilles (long live espadrilles)!

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