Paris sketchbook

Paris! If you were wondering where I was, I was in Paris for fashion week – okay, I went to a handful of shows. Straight up, I went to Paris to be in Paris.

The first show I saw after stepping off the Eurostar was Manish Arora (above right). It was one of the best fashion shows I have ever seen, even though I couldn’t see much of it. The clothes were vivid and imaginative, the beauty was striking (from my vantage point I mostly saw heads and shoulders of the models). The show featured a magician who made a girl appear and disappear on the runway, something which was obscured by smoke and crowds for me, but the excitement was palpable even so.

Getting into the Manish Arora show was a lesson in and of itself. Unlike London, Parisians do not queue – they cluster.  I don’t like a cluster, so I tend to stand to the side, and in this case I positioned myself against a wall. However, my position was such that the cluster swallowed me and I ended up being jostled or shoved around, something I find very uncomfortable. Just as I was starting to feel a sense of absurd panic, I turned around to find myself face to face with Suzy Menkes who was carving through the crowd. “I don’t belong here,” I thought (or may have said aloud) and I squeezed my way out of the cluster. Just a few feet away, outside the cluster, there was a virtually empty parking lot where I stood at a cool distance trying to assess how this worked. I watched the cluster part for famous fashion editors and important fashion people, and people with seat assignments, and then in due course the security guards called those with standing tickets, and I found at that point, I could walk right in too. The cluster was just people without invitations who were hoping to get in, like some kind of parasitic (Paris-itic?) infection at the door of every show.

Lesson learned – stand at a cool distance and my turn will come.

The second show I saw was Barbara Bui (above left). She showed a series of neutrals – sandy beiges, whites and blacks, that played on texture blocking, arranged in horizontal layers. It was a simple, confident idea, executed very well. What was also very striking about this show was the statement non-diversity of the casting. Not only were all of the models white-skinned, they were also almost all blonde, and it was clear in the final procession that they were all within an inch or two of the same height. The lack of diversity was clearly not only unapologetic, it was very deliberate.

The Barbara Bui show was inside the tent at Place Concorde, and it is the nicest fashion show tent I’ve ever been in – in particular, the seating was at a steep grade so every row and the standing room all got a terrific view of the show.

Sonia Rykiel had brilliance and spectacle – it is clear that Paris really knows how to put on a fashion show. With a chain link fence down the middle of the runway and a soundtrack that sounded like a story, the scene was set for (once again, nearly identical) models who sat amongst the front row, sashayed down the runway hand in hand, met and chatted by the fence, and most endearingly, smiled. All while wearing fabulously vibrant colours, lush furs, deeply saturated plaids. This show really gave me the boost I needed to start mixing my pinks and reds, a combination that is so incredibly lively – in fact I did that the very next day.

Waiting to get into Sonia Rykiel was an exciting event in and of itself – many celebrities and famous fashion folks came through the crowd surrounded by much flash and fanfare, though the only one I recognized was Kanye West. It was incredible to see him come through the crowd, and everyone was smiling and lifting their cameras. He literally lit up an already very bright scene. That is real celebrity!

The first show I had a seat for was Amaya Arzuaga, so I attempted to sketch with watercolours live – which isn’t an easy proposition – above shows what I managed to get. This show was incredible for the exploration of dimension, volume, and line – using stiff felted fabrics in saturated colours. The construction ideas were new and interesting to my technical curiousity – the best was the way Arzuaga used the fabric on edge to create honeycomb embellishment echoing bone structures. It was a nearly flawless show, marred only by a finale dress which was too long for the model to walk in.

As I said, I spent a lot of time just sketching from imagination in cafes, and two of the better results are above. In addition to my new paintbox, I acquired a few brush-pens (introduced to me by Steffi in Berlin) – brushes that have water in the handle. You can squeeze the handle to dispense water as you need it, which makes watercolours so much more mobile – no need to carry around a container of water with you. Watercolours do take a bit of practice to use, and I’m still exploring the difference between an unintentional mess and an intentional mess.

My final two shows were Estrella Archs and Valentin Yudashkin, and once again I was seated and attempted to paint live, with the rough results above. They both had some lovely pieces, they were both shows that would have seemed quite outstanding in any other city. I think Paris had raised my expectations very high by this point. Archs show was all camel and fluorescent pink, and raw edges that seemed either not raw enough or just unfinished. My favourite piece had a tangle of spaghetti straps accenting a bare back. Yudashkin’s show was a series of very rich girls in rich-girl dress-up clothes, short short skirts, fishtail trains, lots of lace and exaggerated fedoras, finishing with a great furry black hat and an orange and black coat. It was much muchness, and not to my taste.

I think the best part of Paris, besides the fashion which was spectacular, was the spaces in between shows. Watching the street life and fashion crowds was sublime. The weather was perfect – I didn’t see a single cloud the entire time I was there. In between fashion shows, I spent my time walking the streets and my euros on cafe au lait in cafes. With my new watercolour box, I spent a lot of time just doodling fashions I saw or imagined.

The spaciousness of time and mind was just as clear as the skies, as open as my schedule. Nothing is as satisfying as nothing. Exactly what I wanted, exactly what I needed. Merci, Paris.

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5 thoughts on “Paris sketchbook”

  1. This all sounds so intense – in both good and bad ways. The watercolours are stunning, though! Amazing trip. (Hope you’re recovering well!)

  2. Thanks Ellie! Mostly intense-good, but I’m not going to lie, I crashed hard right after Paris. The trip was all good but coming back to London was all about coming back to reality, and my body and my head and my heart were well worn out.

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