The train from Charles De Gaulle smelled of piss, the seats were torn and it was impossible for me to haul my 25 kilo suitcase through the crowded doors. Not one person moved to allow room for my suitcase and I, the men simply looked down their noses at me as if wondering why I was there.
The train is the only affordable way into city and offered me an excellent tour through the grimy, graffiti-ridden outskirts of Paris. I finally made it to my final station, Blanche, just to confront the challenge of finding my hotel, apparently on a street not listed on my map– in the pouring rain.
My luggage and I embarked upon an uphill struggle on cobblestone roads, we were engulfed by thick clouds of cigarette smoke and the stench of slightly-off seafood lingered in my nose. I hoped the rest of Montmartre was unlike Rue Lepic and was relieved when I found my accommodation, an art themed hotel on Rue Tholoze with a bright, red facade and baroque gold signage.
My first impression of Paris disappointed me greatly, while I knew the weather would be against me, diving straight into winter, I wondered where those quaint streets and carousel from Amelia were, the Champs Élysées from Gossip Girl, and the enchantment those who have visited spoke about?
Truth be told, I never truly expected this experience but I also didn’t expect the filth of Paris, the amount of homeless and beggars and the stench of rotting food on the streets.
While I marvelled at the city of lights when I visited the Arc De Triomphe, the beauty of Versailles palace, the Louvre, its gardens and appreciated the architectural achievement of the Eiffel Tower, I was unfulfilled.
Although the cup was, at this point, definitely half full.
Paris is referred to as the fashion capital and the home of couture.
Designers and fashion editors around the world constantly refer to ‘Parisian chic, glamour and style’ in their descriptions of alluring clothing, and I guess I expected the city to emulate the fashion – beautiful, clean and classic.
While the city somewhat disappointed me, the infamous Parisian style did not. While I stalked the streets of Saint-Germain, Les Halles, Champ Élysées and the Opera region I saw women who quietly impressed me. Most wearing heels, their ankles bare in form fitting pants, hair sleek and face bare but for a slash of lipstick across their mouths and a man-style coat thrown about their shoulders and a scarf slung about their neck.
It appeared to be effortless, yet unattainable for the average, non-French person.
Nearly every woman I saw carried an identifiable designer bag, their red soled Louboutins clicking against the floors of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps luxury malls.
The men were just as fantastic as the women, more so in fact. Skinny jeans and casual laced shoes were topped off with tailored coats and an ever-changing arrangement of scarves. Their hair was styled to look freshly brushed back from a morning shower if it wasn’t adorned with a hat. Their collection of man-bags, man-purses and man-clutches rivalled those of the collective female population and they enjoyed a stiff drink at 11:30am.
I wondered how people looked this way, so elegant and chic in a way that appears so natural to them, and then I paid a visit for Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Citadium.
Galeries Lafayette stocked only the best of the best with everything from Zara to Chanel, the golden encrusted indoor mall was ceilinged by a wonderful stain-glass mural. The prices are high and on Friday, when they are host to the latest fashion on their private catwalk, the style competition is fierce.
Printemps prides itself on its Laduree store and assortment of international labels including Rag&Bone, Alexander Wang and Rick Owens, whose urban collections seemed to fit perfectly within the cityscape of Paris. The French labels such as Zadig&Voltaire and newly renamed Saint Laurent Paris offered minimalist chic to urban-glam wares offering me an opportunity to emulate the French way.
Citadium is the most youthful of the major malls and gave voice to definitive metropolitan labels such as Cheap Monday, Vans, Superdry, Pull&Bear, Pepe Jeans, Lacoste and the Ralph Lauren Denim collection. It’s significant difference to the other two malls were its emphasised approach to a styled lifestyle, with areas dedicated to lomography, cult classic confectionary, collectibles, books and gadgets.
After further examination Montmartre turned into a treasure trove with independent boutique and vintage stalls, the Village in Terte Square and cute leather shops hidden in corners.
The true gem and epitome of French style and design was found in the heart of Aux Puces Marche Saint-ouen, the largest flea market in Paris and home to the best antique and vintage clothing dealers for cities. Antique Louis Vuitton travel trunks and provincial furniture, King Louis chairs and hand carved one-ofs filled stalls while vintage Chanel jackets, second-hand Prada shoes and Hermes bags could be found hanging between racks of authentic furs made from foxes, rabbits and mink.
I envy the French people for their inherited style, luxury fashion and markets of wealth, but I do not envy their endurance for the smell of pee on the metro and hassling beggars on the street.
Paris is a beautiful city with its facade of romance and lights, but the true beauty as most will discover, lies within the people’s elegance and style, their approach to self presentation and design.
Truly the fashion capital of the world speaks for itself and its ability to produce such unique and successful designers, however, perhaps they shouldn’t rest on their laurels and rely on the coat tails of travellers enchanted tales and put a little of that elegance and style to work in the streets.