One stormy night in Zurich, I couldn’t sleep, storms make me nervous and expect the worst, floods, fire and being smashed to death by branches, like Ödön von Horvàth was on the Champs-Élysées, I, however, would be smashed to death in some way more modest street, completely unknown to the rest of the world, and nobody would ever quote my way of being one of mother earth’s lesser loved children, one of those that made it on her list of people to be made extinct by bad weather, or, if I should survive this storm, one of the ones that made it on the list of people to be made cranky by severe sleep deprivation. To put it in a nutshell: I was wide awake that night, went online, visited Mr Porter and ordered a shawl by Balmain, the very last they had in stock, object permanence does not occur reliably at Mr Porter, a black and white and, well, mostly grey, cashmere and silk mixture, made in Nepal or Tibet, showing some sort of dragon, which would protect me against all these formerly specified odds of dying in bad weather. How ironic that mother nature made sure I would get that last shawl, maybe she does like me after all…
We met in late summer 2001. I was a copywriter at D’Arcy in Hamburg, an advertising agency from New York, operating worldwide, or in my particular case, a network operating in Hamburg, Germany. It no longer exists, it was shut down in 2002, but in the 1960s it was still famous enough to be named in Mad Men, one of my favourite tv shows, as competition to Sterling Cooper’s genius Don Draper, I instantly sat a bit more elevated on my couch as it made me feel like playing a part in Mad Men, an exciting opposing part rather than a boring supporting one, I might add. Anyway, I digress, D’Arcy’s Hamburg office was close to Prada’s Hamburg store, and in a lunch break during that late summer I saw her, meaning my jacket, in their windows, having their autumn-winter collection 2001/2002 on display. It was love at first sight. The grey wool, the simple cut, a bit military, no chichi, just plain simple rigour, very high waist, nothing for people whose kidneys can’t bear the cold, a bit haute couture, it looked so perfectly put together, so very much like important tailoring, I purchased it this very lunch break in 2001 and I am still wearing it. Sadly, spring is here, temperatures have already risen, and we now must part for another spring and summer. Hopefully, we’ll enjoy an early autumn.
At the bottom of my heart, I am a Shropshire lad. Though never having been to Shropshire, I think this status of a man describes best the mind of someone who gets excited about nature in spring, about daffodils and crocuses, lilacs and violets, and who is going “Oh, look, a bumble bee!”, when he sees one cruising on Avenue Montaigne, totally forgetting about shouting out “Oh, look, there’s Inès de la Fressange!” first – or worse – at all.
Where ever I went in Paris this late March, there were little squares, backyards, museums and parks, filled with proof of spring that made me do just that, forget about all the things I came to see in the first place, but then again, how could I not get distracted? After all, I am a Shropshire lad.
30 years ago, when I and all of my friends were about to pass our Abitur, my friend Katja was about to pass her baccalauréat. I was green with envy. First of all, baccalauréat – or the bac, as the French say – sounds so much better than Abitur, and then, much more importantly, ever so more importantly she went to school in Paris. I still think life is unfair. But to be fair myself, this unfairness offered the opportunity to visit her there, during all those holidays you have at this time in life, Easter, Christmas and Pentecost holidays, summer, autumn and winter vacations, plenty of time to visit her and prolong the visit with a so-called feverish infection (in winter) or food poisoning (in summer).
Her school, the Collège Sainte-Barbe on rue Valette, was very old, very beautiful and very close to the Panthéon, actually just next to it. This year, at the age of 48, thirty years later as I said, when having coffee in a café next to the Panthéon, one of my favourite sites in Paris, I took a moment to travel back in time. Nothing has changed. Everything looks the same. Everything but me.
I didn’t come to see trunks when I went to see the Olga Picasso exhibition in Paris’ Musée Picasso, beautifully situated in an hôtel particulier in the Marais, Paris’ oldest quarter, one of these elegant mansions, châteaux to go so to speak, family mansions shrunk to fit into Paris, like Levi’s 501s in the 1980s, but Olga’s fabulous trunk by Goyard, exhibited on a par with Picasso’s paintings, struck me nonetheless. I can’t say that I liked it more than the stunning portraits Pablo did of her and their son Paul in the 1920s when they lived on rue de la Boétie, but it was the only object in the exhibition I took three photos of. Three! I therefore declare Goyard trunks works of art and give you all three photos – and some of the café on top of the Picasso museum (just because it’s such a great place to have a coffee). Picasso’s famous portraits, well, I leave them to the others, all these people less interested in art and coffee.
80 % of my mother’s wardrobe is and always used to be black, so I am quite familiar with the sensation of being attracted by black (seize the Oedipus connotation), but when I went to see the Balenciaga exhibition in Paris at the Musée Bourdelle this week, I was stunned as if I had never seen a black dress before. “L’œuvre au noir” showed nothing but his black masterpieces, but whether it was a daytime suit, apparently inspired by the military, or an evening dress, the way the cloth was draped, stitched, sewn and adorned, the way the fabric floated as if it didn’t weigh a thing, yet perfectly in shape, a shape only Balenciaga could ever have come up with, lace and mink, wool and crêpe de chine, embroidered or pure and simple, all of it looked out of this world, this world of quickly put together pieces, from China or Malaysia or where ever work is cheap, made for fashion victims, nouveaux riches or just plain stupid people, who only care about the label but not about quality, those who do know what I mean, you feel completely duped when a 500 dollar shirt loses buttons after the first wash, and I’m talking handwash. Anyway, now I get why Mona von Bismarck refused to leave her bed for three whole days when Balenciaga decided to retire in 1968. A dark day, though not black at all.
Paris is full of marvels. Numerous big and fatty ones like the Arc de Triomphe and croissants, and smaller ones, like the elephant who is welcoming customers at Paul’s on Boulevard Haussmann, a bakery where you get those fatty croissants (and more importantly, although equally fat, Paul’s highly recommendable pains au chocolat, I just can’t get enough of them, so yummy), but you have to open your eyes, I know what I’m talking about, as I’ve been plenty of times to this shop without ever noticing its beautiful entrance, so I decided to keep my eyes open and discovered even more stunning attractions off Baedeker. A dachshund at Hermès, totally distracting me from all these fine leather goods, not for sale of course, otherwise he’d be sold out, I’m sure, an endearing sloth at Deyrolle, I’ve had a thing for taxidermy ever since I saw Hitchcock’s “The Man who knew too much”, but this guy was really adorable despite his being dead, I might be the only one who discovered a stunning detail in one of Cy Twombly’s paintings at the Centre Pompidou, maybe I was the only one who lingered long enough in front of it, and although I always wanted to steal a painting like Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole once did in Paris, I had to give up that sudden urge as all of my favourite Cy Twomblys are way too expansive to do it just as elegantly, meaning “to do it at all”, I stood in front of Marcel Proust’s old dwelling, (another dead guy, why are they all dead?), and was amazed that he lived almost next door to my favourite Starbucks where I had a Soy Caffè Latte Venti (I’m sorry, I know it’s not what you are expected to have in Paris, but try ordering soy milk with your café au lait) and in the end of this open eye excursion I was almost thrown out after entering an intriguing building on Boulevard Haussmann where I saw the most beautiful elevator I’ve ever seen. Totally worth it.