Friday, September 27, 2013

Il était une fois, Gabrielle Chanel... Once upon a time, Gabrielle Chanel...

Chanel... A name. A brand. An iconic logo. 

Chanel... The little black dress. The tweed jacket. The fragrance. 

In her private suite at the Ritz Hotel, Paris

Arriving at "the office," 31 rue Cambon, Paris.

Chanel... Behind the legend, a woman. Gabrielle ChanelCocoMademoiselle

Ambitious, opportunistic, strong-headed and outspoken. Mysterious, complex, rebellious, fiercely independent.

Chanel... Loved life; loved men; loved her work. In everything she did, sought perfection.

With her great love, Boy Capel

Chanel... To me, to many, an inspiration... 

"Mon petit, ne sortez jamais de chez vous, même pour cinq minutes, 
sans que votre mise soit parfaite, bas tirés et tout. 
C'est peut-être le jour où vous allez rencontrer l'homme de votre vie."

"I don't understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little -
if only out of politeness.
And then, you never know, maybe that's the day she has a date with destiny. 
And it's best to be as pretty as possible for destiny."

How I love the carefully crafted quotes she left behind, creating her own legend, one line at a time...

Quotes about fashion and style...

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably, 
and they remember the woman.” 

“Fashion changes, but style endures.” 

“A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future.” 

Inspirational quotes for women...

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” 

“You live but once; you might as well be amusing.” 

“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.” 

“You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, 
and irresistible for the rest of your life.” 

And always, the inner-strength, the self-awareness, the incredible faith in her own destiny...

“I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like.” 

“I imposed black; it still going strong today, for black wipes out everything else around” 

“Arrogance is in everything I do. 
It is in my gestures, the harshness of my voice, in the glow of my gaze, 
in my sinewy, tormented face.” 

Chanel, you amazing creature, you notorious pain-in-the-derrière... You paved the way for other unique, independent and successful women...

First there was Gabrielle Chanel... Then came... 
(Annie Leibovitz) 

Forty years after your death, they are still talking about you... 

A young Chanel and her aunt in front of her first boutique,
Deauville, France (1913)

How they respect your name, your brand, the world over!

Karl Lagerfeld, your successor, another creative genius and talented marketer, has just offered us a special gift, a few months before Christmas.

Several short movies who remind us all what an incredible life you had, "once upon a time," against all odds. Like you, like your creations, these little gems are stylish, smart, and captivating. 

The best installments:

Chapter 5 - "Coco" 

Chapter 6: "Mademoiselle"

Chapter 7, Mademoiselle Chanel, my favorite, details Chanel's great comeback at age 70, and her final years. Beautiful and moving. Available here (film #7.) 

Because for Gabrielle Chanel, only the best would do. 

Mademoiselle may be long gone, but even today, whenever the Chanel brand is concerned, only the best will do.

Illustration: I (and many of my countrymen,) will never forget the 1992 TV ad for Coco (the fragrance.) Shot by Jean-Paul Goude, with Vanessa Paradis (Singer, award-winning actress, model and French icon,) the short movie became an instant classic.

Merci, Madame Chanel

You continue to impress, and inspire. 

A bientôt.

"In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."
-- Coco Chanel --


I once followed in Coco's footsteps. Read the story here...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Antoine et Lili: Brightening up citylife one collection at a time

Once upon a time, in Paris, France, there were three colorful stores lined up along the Canal St Martin. Every morning, oblivious of la grisaille, (the grey skies) the three stores cheered up busy city dwellers. "Regardez-nous! Regardez-nous," they enticed. Look at us, Look at us! And among the hurried commuters on their way to the office, many slowed down, tempted; and finally stopped, indulging in a few stolen moments of lèche-vitrine (window shopping.) Others shouted back: "I will return at lunchtime!" For who could resist the cheerful, irresistible window displays of Antoine et Lili? The child in each of us could not resist candy years ago. He won't resist candy now. And this is exactly what Antoine et Lili is:  eye candy...

But wait... Isn't it a well-known fact Parisian women only dress in black, grey or navy blue? 

Think again, my little friends... 

(Photo credit:

Even though Antoine et Lili can found at several locations in downtown Paris (and in other major cities in France,) this French Girl always returns to the same stores, located in the République neighborhood, by peaceful Canal St Martin. It does not hurt that Le Brother's office is five minutes away. It's become a bit of a Parisian tradition: I arrive early to meet him for lunch, so I can visit the stores on the way... 

Le Brother: "So, what did you do this morning?"
French Girl: "Oh, you know... A little bit of this... A little bit of that...

Antoine et Lili was created about twenty years ago in the Montmartre neighborhood. The young brand made a splash right away: It was fun and did not take itself seriously. Always flattering and eye-catching, the ready-to-wear collections offered an irresistible mix of exotic designs and more traditional lines. The home decor collections found their inspiration in Asia, or India... By 2000, Antoine et Lily had won over the "Bobo" (Bourgeois-Bohême) crowd. Alongside the old Canal St Martin, the heart of "Boboland," the three colorful stores became as incontournables (inescapable,) as a happy hour apéritif chez Prune.

Home decor in the yellow [façade] boutique...
Hip collections for little Parisians in the green boutique...
Women's collections in the pink boutique...

Today, the brand and its ethno chic collections attract a wide variety of shoppers. 

For this French expat, who lives year round in American suburbia where shopping almost always involve chain stores and a local mall, visiting an Antoine Et Lili boutique is a treat; a change of pace; an excuse to feel like a girly girl. It is a also an opportunity to see; to touch - and sometimes select - special pieces of clothing, made of attractive natural materials (wild silk, woven cotton, linen or wool.) Chez Antoine et Lili, customers still get to read the magical [endangered] words: "Made in France" on many items.

Antoine et Lily's clothes are unique and flattering. My favorite pieces: Les vestes et manteaux (jackets and coats,) les hauts (tops,) and les chaussures (shoes.) 

I am lucky I visit Paris during the twice-yearly sales, les Soldes, for at my favorite stores, the collections aren't cheap. But if you don't want to splurge, there are affordable accessories to bring home as a souvenir, a small bracelet; a brooch; a cheerful scarf...

The only thing I would change about Antoine et Lili? Their website. It is corky and un peu déjanté (crazy...) After all these years, I still have not gotten used to seeing these beautiful and flattering clothes on display gold mannequins... Bizarre...

This week, enticed by the fall-winter collection, titled "Ballade Irlandaise," (Irish ballad,) I did some virtual shopping, and it inspired this post. This is what I put my imaginary shopping cart...

1. Le Moher Pull (Mohair sweater,) in Prune.

2. Le Shanghai haut (Shangai top,) in Prune

3. La Gaelic Robe (Gaelic dress,) in Aubergine.

4. Les Glam Salome (shoes,) in Vert.

Now wasn't that fun? Don't you just love virtual shopping? 

I realize my selection is plum-oriented. I just happen to love plum in the fall... such a warm, flattering, happy color. 

Well, what about you? Would you shop chez Antoine et Lili, and if so, what would you choose? (And please just ignore the golden mannequins!)

Happy fall! 

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use, re-post or Pin without permission.
-- French Girl in Seattle.

Chez Prune, Quai de Valmy, Paris

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nostalgie, quand tu nous tiens. Nostalgia, when you hold us...

Ecole Maternelle (nursery school,) on Paris' Left Bank...

This week, Junior and his friends returned to school.

C'est la rentrée, as the French say. 

A few days ago, I was watching the French news on TV5. "Le Journal" is a dinnertime tradition in many French households. For me, it is a daily ritual that enables me to keep my finger on the pulse of my homeland. Every evening (I tape the afternoon show broadcast on Antenne 2,)  I get to hear what has been happening in France, in Europe, and in the rest of the world. It's particularly entertaining to watch the French news cover American current affairs, of course. Thanks to TV5, I know what topics my friends, or relatives, are interested in and what they are discussing at the dinner table or at work. I am always amazed at the variety and scope of topics covered in about 30 minutes. But I digress...

The other night, I watched an interesting segment on la Rentrée, or going back to school season, (one of many similar segments last week.) This one was about a French icon, over 60 years old, la pointe Bic, the famous BIC ballpoint pen introduced in 1945. A pop culture icon. An international success. 

"Elle court, elle court, la pointe Bic."
"It runs, it runs, the Bic ball point pen"

Then nostalgia hit, and I remembered the mixture of dread and excitement I used to feel as a young child on the first day of school, my cartable (French school bag,) filled with new school supplies, carefully selected at the local store with my mother a few days earlier. 

When purchasing school supplies, French parents look for deals like any other parents around the world. But my countrymen still love visiting specialty stores. They may cost more, but they offer better quality. I wonder how many little Parisian school children bought their supplies at neighborhood stores this month...

"The Narrow Door" bookstore, somewhere in Paris

Gaubert stationery store

I am certain the ubiquitous Monoprix chain got a lot of business. Not quite as affordable as the gigantic hypermarkets found in the suburbs, but convenient. It so happens I spent some time taking a few discreet snapshots at a Monoprix this summer, as I was looking for shelter during a rain storm. It was still the beginning of July, but school supplies were already lined up nicely in a corner of the store. I was the only one there... or so it seemed.

If you have one of these in your 'hood while staying in Paris,
you are in luck! 

I have always loved the smell and feel of paper, so I headed to my favorite section, les Cahiers (notebooks.) 

I was happy to see that my favorite brand, Clairefontaine, still rules the coop. 

While American students use lined paper, French school children learn to write on paper adorned with the traditional rayure Seyes, named after the Parisian bookstore/stationery store owner who invented it during la Belle Epoque.

The red margin is reserved for "le Maître" or "la Maîtresse" (the school teacher) 

Kindergartners get to use a simplified version... but they still learn the importance of penmanship and write in beautiful cursive. 

As I made my way along the Monoprix aisle, I bumped into some old friends...

Le cahier de Solfège, used in music class...

... Le papier Canson: How many art assignments and special projects did I complete with this strong, quality paper? The folder has not changed one bit... My poor profs de dessin, (art teachers.) May they be thanked for their patience. I did not have a single artistic bone in my body!

And the pens. Ah, the pens! I was so happy to see French school children still write with fountain pens. And what would we all have done without these wonderful "effaceur d'encre" (ink erasers?)

Stylos et stylos à plume (pens and fountain pens,)
by BIC

Like their American counterparts, French school children love to show signs of individuality; or pay respect to their heroes. As always, I saw many messages and logos written in [bad] English, and photos of international pop stars. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the following... 

I can't imagine a better school buddy than Idefix, Obelix's little dog! 
"My little black dress..." for the budding fashionista
A notebook quoting Simone de Beauvoir is certain to make an impression...

Yes, school is still a big deal in France, and that is a good thing. Children learn early on the importance of reading, and learning. During my Monoprix adventure, I spotted a few young customers, and most of them had congregated by the book section of the store...

"Nursery School..." 
"Nursery school: What is it for?"
Jeune lecteur... Young reader...

I was so proud of these two: They walked right past summer toys (well, it was raining that day, remember?) and headed straight for the book section...

If I had just woken up in the store, I would have guessed immediately I was in Paris,
or at least somewhere in France, just by looking at their clothes...

But it was only the beginning of July, and there would be more time later to open those summer workbooks; purchase supplies and new clothes; and eventually show up in front of the big gates with their parents, on the first day of school. 

For now, most Parisian children, like other children around the world, were busy having fun, and enjoying their summer break... And that is a good thing too.

Colonie de vacances (summer camp)
Versailles gardens

Trottinette (scooter) escapade on the Left Bank...

A bientôt.


To learn more about the French school system, and its founding principles, read Il était une fois, l'école, (once upon a time, school,) a story I wrote some time ago. 

To experience la rentrée (the first day of school,) through the eyes of an American expat parent, visit this excellent post by an American Mom in Bordeaux, C'est la rentrée. I'd say it complements this story quite nicely, wouldn't you?

All photos except when noted by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use, re-post or Pin without permission.
-- French Girl in Seattle 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Road trips, antique train rides, and cherry pies: Snoqualmie, WA.

Junior loves road trips. For him, they are all about cars. Riding in a car. Talking about cars. Checking out cars zooming by. He is a die hard fan of the iconic BBC Top Gear show. Need I say more?

Labor Day is the official end of summer in the United States. This week, schools reopen across the country (if they haven't already,) and parents everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief: The little darlings are finally leaving the nest - at least for a few hours every day.

Labor Day weekend seemed like the perfect occasion for a last-minute summer celebration. In the middle of a busy weekend filled with music, activities, and time spent with friends, Junior and I drove east, on a beautiful country road, to Snoqualmie, WA.

A former logging and mill town, Snoqualmie is best known for its famous falls. They are said to be higher than Niagara Falls. This time of year, after such a long and hot summer, they are lucky to still be running. 

The fancy Salish Lodge, next to Snoqualmie Falls
(not my photo, and likely not taken in the summer months...) 

This time, we skipped the falls. From the looks of the parking area nearby, nobody else did. Our destination was Snoqualmie's Northwest Railway Museum

Because I have had to fly between Europe and the United States in increasingly uncomfortable airplanes for the last eighteen years, I have become quite fond of train travel. This summer alone, I took four train trips in Europe: The French T.G.V. (best way to zip across France, hands down,) the Eurostar (excellent, except for those twenty minutes under the English Channel that make me a bit nervous,) and a regular French Corail train (like in the good, old, pre-TGV days.) Train travel may not be as popular or efficient in the United States as it is in my homeland, but I still go out of my way to ride trains when I can, as illustrated in this story I once wrote about a trip to Portland, OR

Riding the train from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR

The history of the United States is irreversibly linked to the development of the railway. Trains connected settlements, and towns, allowing them to expand and thrive. By 1900, small town life was organized around the local railroad depot, the main link to the outside world. Snoqualmie, WA is lucky to own a beautifully restored depot, inaugurated in August 1890. The depot would help bring visitors to Snoqualmie Falls until the 1920s.

Visiting this historical landmark, complete with its former waiting rooms, freight rooms and original ticket window, is wonderful enough. Being able to ride antique railroad coaches through local small towns and the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley for an hour, is even more special. 

Our [slow] ride... All aboard! Get ready for the bells and whistles!
This guy has the best job in the Seattle area this summer!
Not super comfortable, but this aesthetics-loving French girl
would pick this over the average airline coach cabin any day!

Is it me, or does everything look better from the windows of an old, rickety coach? Ours was built in 1912 and restored by museum volunteers.

Sleepy, small towns look better... 

Or do they? 

Those of us who followed the cult TV series Twin Peaks in the 1990's know that there is more than meets the eye in those quiet streets, and small shop windows... That afternoon, as our train reached North Bend, WA, I could have sworn I spotted special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) ordering a piece of cherry pie at his favorite local restaurant...

"You know - excuse me - this is a damn, fine cup of coffee!"
- Special Agent Dale Cooper. 

The part of the trip that does not disappoint: Overlooking the sprawling Snoqualmie Valley...

And I don't know if Special Agent Dale Cooper would approve, but our [very] late lunch at the Black Dog, in downtown Snoqualmie, was one of the day's best surprises. Black Dog, we came in for a drink; stayed for the all-day brunch; loved your fresh ingredients and generous portions; and will definitely return for some music...

Snoqualmie (and North Bend,) WA.: Best antique train ride. Best cherry pie. Best - excuse me! - damn, fine cup of coffee. Best road trip with your teenager.

A bientôt.

All photos except when noted by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use, re-post, or Pin without permission.

Afterword: Special Agent Dale Cooper's finest coffee moments (just because...)