Image shows the Paris London brasserie on Place de la Madeleine in Paris

Paris – Irving Penn and Christian Dior

Image shows the Paris London brasserie on Place de la Madeleine in Paris
The Paris London brasserie on Place de la Madeleine in Paris

Paris is a special place in the autumn.

The wide pavements wear their leaf carpet well.

Shop windows have started their festive season sparkle.

And there is wardrobe inspiration to be found on every street – those Parisiennes wear winter coats very well!

Image shows - The recently opened Louis Vuitton boutique on the Place Vendôme in Paris
The recently opened Louis Vuitton boutique on the Place Vendôme in Paris. The founder M. Vuitton opened his first boutique in this area 160 years ago.

As dusk makes its appearance earlier and earlier, visitors to Paris are rewarded with a son et lumières like no other. At last count, the so-called City of Lights had 61,900 candelabra streetlights and 28,900 lights attached to building fronts. Their soft glow seems to warm the cold air.

Then there is the flicker of candles in café windows, an invitation for an early apéro if ever I saw one. Well, that’s how I view it anyway.

I was in town for a spot of culture. Well two spots to be precise.

I had a date with two men who shaped the fashion world we know today.

First stop Irving Penn at the Grand Palais

Image shows - The Irving Penn retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris
The Irving Penn retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris

 

The show is a masterpiece with a human touch. The lay out is simple, stylish – and lets the photographs shine. It is a perfect echo of the man himself.

Irving Penn worked as a photographer for 70 years. He balanced his Vogue fashion shoots with nude portraits that celebrated the glory of flesh, with all its folds and rolls.

Image shows - A selection of Vogue covers shot by Irving Penn, on show at the Grand Palais, Paris
A selection of Vogue covers shot by Irving Penn, on show at the Grand Palais, Paris

Irving Penn was equally at home photographing famous faces or street sweepers. He was part photographer part psychologist, waiting until he could see the real person in front of his camera before clicking the shutter.

Image shows - Peasant woman from Cuzco, Peru. Shot by Irving Penn in 1948.
Peasant woman from Cuzco, Peru. Shot by Irving Penn in 1948.
Image shows - Newspaper seller from Cuzco, Peru. Shot by Irving Penn in 1948.
Newspaper seller from Cuzco, Peru. Shot by Irving Penn in 1948.
Image shows - Peasant woman in traditional dress from Cuzco, Peru. Shot by Irving Penn in 1948.
Peasant woman in traditional dress from Cuzco, Peru. Shot by Irving Penn in 1948.

This exhibition celebrates the sheer range of his talent and even though the very civilised air-con was probably to keep prints and not people cool, it was much appreciated.

Image shows - Enjoying a long lunch at the Paris London brasserie in the Place de la Madeleine, Paris
Enjoying a long lunch at the Paris London brasserie in the Place de la Madeleine, Paris

After lunch at the Paris London café on the Place de la Madeleine and a short stroll through the Place Vendôme to the rue de Rivoli, I joined a worryingly long queue at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. I thought buying an advance ticket online for the Christian Dior show was sensible. But the advance ticket queue was longer and slower than the normal ticket office queue. Hmmm.

And we all ended up in the same place – squished in front of undulating glass-fronted  cabinets, bumping each other with armfuls of winter coats as we peered through the semi-darkness inside the show and tried to work out what we were looking at. Or, was that just me?

Image shows - A garden of inspiration at the Christian Dior show at the Musée des Arts Décoratif, Paris
A garden of inspiration at the Christian Dior show at the Musée des Arts Décoratif, Paris

The Christian Dior retrospective was hot. And I am old and far too uncool to use that term to describe anything other than temperature. It was hot and laid out to look good on instagram.

Which is maybe why so many people around me felt it best to look at every piece on show through their phone or tablet. I know, I know… I sound like an old grinch. But really! When did people stop looking at life without the prism of a screen in front of them?

Christian Dior was a master. The pieces on show were masterpieces. To be this close to them in the flesh was a treat.

With my lunch still gurgling its way to my tummy I marvelled at the wasp-waist suits and dresses.

Image shows - Couture and crowds at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Christian Dior exhibition, in Paris.
Couture and crowds at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Christian Dior exhibition, in Paris.
Image shows - 'Something for the weekend Madame?' A wall of Christian Dior couture at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
'Something for the weekend Madame?' A wall of Christian Dior couture at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Staff from the Dior atelier, in their white coats, were on hand to answer questions from a herd of fashion students. Their sheer delight in their work was a joy to see. But I couldn’t get close enough to hear a word they said.

This show probably wowed in concept meetings and the lights that traced the Avenue de Montaigne silhouette on walls were a nice touch, but in reality there was so much going on that I struggled to see the clothes. Rooms were either bright pink or nightclub black. And have I mentioned the heat? I went at 4pm on a weekday. I cannot imagine the squash on a weekend.

 

There was some calm to be found in the heaven-high room filled with walls of white toiles.

But, when that space filled with people too, I headed for the exit and took some very welcome gulps of fresh air in the Tuileries gardens outside.

Image shows - A wall of white toiles from the Christian Dior atelier, on show at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, in Paris.
A wall of white toiles from the Christian Dior atelier, on show at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, in Paris.