By Philippa Campsie

Paris France Portrait Coco Chanel Barbara Redmond Mississippi Alliance Française Minneapolis

Barbara Redmond

Well, we did it. We presented our illustrated talk on “A Day with Coco Chanel” at the Alliance Française, and from what we can tell, everyone there had as good a time as we did.

We’d decorated the room in pinks and greys, and added touches of Chanel—some perfume samples, strings of pearls, printed cards with useful fashion vocabulary for one’s next shopping trip to Paris. The room was packed and the mood was almost giddy—or maybe that was just us.

The audience enjoyed Barbara’s stories of her Chanel-related adventures in Paris—finding Chanel fabric in the back of a tiny shop, picking up a Chanel silk camellia from the dust outside the Chanel boutique, trying on vintage Chanel in a consignment store in the Palais Royal. Philippa talked about the time that she and her husband inadvertently walked into one of the see-and-be-seen hotspots in Fashion Week one year, and were amazed at the over-the-top clothes and over-the-top people.

We also talked about Chanel’s life and legend—since Chanel tended to reinvent her past as she grew older, it is hard to know where the life ended and the legend began. We also talked about some new designers and artisans who carry on traditions that Chanel started in fashion, perfume, and accessories.

Chanel fabric, camellia, “the Little Black Dress” and Paris

Barbara wore the skirt she’d had made from the Chanel fabric and her Chanel camellia. Philippa wore her LBD (little black dress)—not Chanel, but in the same general spirit—with pearls, of course, and earrings she had bought in Paris.

Barbara’s one-of-a-kind illustrations successfully made the transition to PowerPoint, and we raffled off six of her giclée prints after the talk was over, along with two bottles of Veuve Clicquotchampagne (the champagne of a famous French widow, of course), cosmetics from Neiman Marcus, a gift certificate from the Alliance Française, and a gift certificate from the catering company, Lily’s Café (the dinner they served was an excellent advertisement for their services).

We wondered if there would be questions. There were. Are you going to lead tours to France? (Not immediately, but we wouldn’t rule it out.) Is there going to be a book? (Quite possibly. Stay tuned.) Who else are you going to profile? (We have dozens of ideas, but here’s a clue to our next woman in Paris: she is associated with an important anniversary coming up later in 2010.)

We also asked people for their ideas, and set up a flip chart on which we had written, “Which Paris woman, past or present, would you most like to meet?’ Here are the ones people wrote down. Marie Antoinette. Colette. Josephine Baker. Simone de Beauvoir. Anais Nin. Gertrude Stein. Jeanne Moreau. Claudette Colbert. Brigitte Bardot. Leslie Caron. Mrs. Mitterand. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. All well worth investigating in a blog, an article, or a presentation.

At the end, we told the audience we would be in Paris from April 10 to 20, 2010, and we are planning to host a cocktail party on April 16 in our apartment, so if you will be in Paris on that day, do send us an e-mail and we’ll send you the invitation.

Here are some of the words from the fashion glossary we compiled. Did you know that the braided trim on a Chanel suit is known as la ganse? That the low-heeled pumps that Chanel favoured are escarpins? That the interlocking Cs on the famous quilted Chanel bag form Chanel’s signature or hallmark or la griffe de Chanel? That the word for Chanel’s style is indémodable (meaning something that will never go out of fashion)? Or that the people who wear Chanel are often referred to as BCBG (bon chic bon genre)? Now you know.

VOCABULARY: French to English translations

BCBG: (Bon chic bon genre) In the highest fashion and style.
Escarpins: Low-heeled pumps.
Indémodable: Something that will never go out of fashion.
La ganse: Braided trim.
La griffe: Signature or hallmark.

Philippa Campsie

Philippa Campsie teaches part-time in the urban planning program at the University of Toronto and runs her own writing and research business, Hammersmith Communications. Before starting her own business, she was editor-in-chief at Macmillan Canada. Philippa lived in Paris as a student and regularly travels to Paris and Normandy.

She is interested in stories of famous Parisian women throughout the ages and how they influenced the Parisian style we have come to love and know.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Diving into Paris Fashion: From famous to fresh, by Parisian Abby Rodgers, who asks the question, “…with veterans such as Lagerfeld making the move to the street-wear market, where is fashion headed in Paris and what influence does the newest generation have?” Included are fashion brands and stores that are favorites of Abby and her friends.

Imperfect Perfection: The new French woman, by writer Kristin Wood who reminds us of the words attributed to Henry David Thoreau, the famous American author and philosopher who eschewed material excess and extravagance… “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Kristin writes about the predicted trends of the “undone” makeup look, and the “de-blinging” of luxury items. What better place to introduce these two trends on a grand scale than in Paris?

French Silhouette, a New Look, by Barbara Redmond who admires the Frenchwoman’s attention to the tiniest detail of her appearance, good taste and natural style – brushing fashion aside with her blend of reasonably priced purchases and small number of luxury pieces. Effortless chic. Simple style. Self-confidence. Including a link to Barbara’s treasured book, Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange with Sophie Gachet. 

Fashion Crashing: Paris haute-couture, by Barbara Redmond who crashed Maxime Simoëns’ haute-couture catwalk show during Paris Fashion Week with patience and persistence, but no invitation. The models, the show, the crème de la crème audience, and the style.

Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.