April in Paris has its charms, but so does July, especially during haute couture week which is when I spent a few whirlwind days in the City of Light, getting an up-close look at glittering jewels and glittering fashions, all the while enjoying some wonderful meals and squeezing in a bit of shopping (mais bien sûr).
I had traveled to the French capital at the beginning of July to see a few friends and to attend a special jewelry exhibit at Christie’s and a gala dinner at the Louvre, both organized by Judy Price, founder of the National Jewelry Institute. The festivities, which also included a cocktail party at the peerless Hotel Le Bristol, were part of a collaborative educational initiative between the National Jewelry Institute and Parsons School of Design called The Fine Art of Jewelry and Timepieces.
The excitement continued as my companions and I moved on to Versace’s Fall 2016 Haute Couture show where A-list attendees caused a paparazzi stampede. It was all an eye-popping if not movable feast.
At my first stop, Christie’s, guests were treated to a dazzling display of jewels and timepieces chosen by a select jury for awards recognizing the best single piece from several of the world’s leading watch and jewelry brands. Participants included Bulgari, Breguet, Chopard, Hublot and de Grisogono, among others. The awards ceremony followed at my favorite Paris hotel, Le Bristol, where the cocktails and conversation flowed.
Some of the jewels on display at Christie’s:
Several of the “best of” award winners:
The next evening, July 4th, saw a mix of jewelry industry heavyweights, European aristocrats and even some Hollywood denizens attend a gala dinner at the Louvre which was co-hosted by Princess Camilla de Bourbon des Deux Siciles and Burak Cakmak, dean of the School of Fashion at the Parsons School of Design.
With some of the shimmering gowns and jewels on display, it was a veritable feast for the eyes. It was also a feast for the taste buds for the three-course menu was prepared by Le Bristol’s triple Michelin-starred chef, Eric Frechon. No one attends galas for the food so it came as a pleasant surprise that Mr. Frechon’s banquet was a mouth-watering occasion from the soft egg with truffle at the start to the roasted duck with cherries and finally to his take on the fraisier, a French strawberry cake.
The jewels and jewel-encrusted watches were not all that glittered in Paris during my stay. After the cocktail party at Le Bristol, my companions and I hopped into a cab and made our way to the Palais Brongniart, the former Paris stock exchange, for the Versace Fall 2016 haute couture show. As it happened, we were seated directly behind Naomi Campbell, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Garner.
No sooner had Naomi Campbell approached the front row than the paparazzi descended upon her en masse, gathering intensity as her A-list neighbors took their seats. There were so many flashes going off from the dozens of photographers in front of us that it looked like the runway was lit up with strobe lighting. Eventually, the press was shooed away, the lights were dimmed and the show began – a march of the relentless glamor that is Versace, capped off with an appearance by the platinum-haired queen bee, Donatella (all in black of course).
All the glitz left us hungry and thirsty so after the show, we made a beeline for Le Vaudeville — the art deco-inspired traditional French brasserie located across the street. Dog lovers that we all are, we were pleasantly surprised to come across a patron dining with her poodle sitting on her lap — something we would never see inside a NYC restaurant!
Several of the eateries we visited are worth mentioning. I had joined a friend for a delicious lunch at L ili, a Cantonese restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel. We ate outside on the hotel’s large covered terrace. One might not think of Chinese food when one thinks about French gastronomy, but the food, the service and the setting were wonderful and I look forward to paying a return visit. (Note to self: champagne pairs beautifully with Chinese food.)
To satisfy our craving for old-école French cuisine, my husband and I headed to Chez Georges on the rue du Mail, beloved by Julia Child and seemingly unchanged since she lived in Paris. The profiteroles deserve special mention here as they were the best (and biggest) I’ve ever had.
For a lighter take on traditional French fare, I recommend the contemporary Café de l’Alma, conveniently located near the Eiffel Tower. During our last evening in Paris, my husband and I enjoyed a dinner at La Haute Cloche near Avenue George V. This “bistrot gourmand” offers a fresh, seasonal, farm-to-table menu which changes daily depending on the market produce. An added bonus – the affable owner Jean, a lawyer-turned-restaurateur – creates a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.
Of course, no trip to Paris is complete without a bit of shopping and these shoes called my name when I saw them in the window of Lorena Antoniazzi on the rue de Castiglione, steps from the Place Vendôme. The brand specializes in Italian-made luxurious knits and cashmere goods. These knitted espadrilles have become a summer mainstay as, lined in a soft buttery leather, they are extremely comfortable.
And just like that, our Parisian adventure came to an all-too-swift end. But, it’s au revoir and not adieu as I’m already plotting my next trip, for a regular Paris fix is one of life’s necessities!