The Magazine

When It Sizzles

Its Fashion Week in the capital of fashion.

Nov 17, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 09 • By PIA CATTON
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Every industry has its own language, and in the fashion crowd--especially among the retail buyers--the word "newness" is holy. Say it with your eyes closed and you can see its hiss trailing off into dollar signs. As in: "What will excite the consumer is newness," the fashion director of Bloomingdale's, Stephanie Solomon, said.

Buyers for stores around the world, like the New York-based Solomon, come to Paris in pursuit of salable innovations sparked by the runway collections. And trends do pop: All things sheer are in favor, leading to the possible return of pantyhose. After several seasons dominated by dresses, it's now time to look at separates again.

But in Paris, there is exciting newness all around. Not just on the runways, but in stores, streets, hotels, and even in the skies.
The most immediately visible trend on the sidewalks is the shape of women's
pants: low-waisted and baggy at the thigh, tapered through the leg to a cropped ankle. The shape is derivative of one that was popular in the 1980s, which takes a little getting used to. But with so much room in the seat, these pants are outrageously comfortable. I know because I was excited by newness. I hope I'm still excited when I get home.

Mine came from a shop on Rue Saint-Honoré, the lively thoroughfare lined with the shops including John Galliano, Longchamp, and, mais oui, Brooks Brothers. Running parallel to this heavily trafficked street is a quiet fashion alley: Rue du Mont Thabor. Located near the Place Vendôme and the wildly popular Hôtel Costes, this tiny side street is emerging as a destination.

"We opened here because this street is becoming trendy," said Régis Decour, the co-owner of the custom menswear outfitter Eglé.

Trendy, yes, but Eglé emphasizes personal style. Decour and his business partner Samuel Gassmann--both 34, friendly, and laid back about how cool they are--opened the shop to introduce a younger generation of men to the pleasures of custom-made clothing. Small accessories (knit ties, cashmere scarves, woven belts) can be purchased, but the shop is lined mainly with examples of the suits, shirts, and jeans that can be made. The shop's interior--dark and warm, with updates on French traditions--is itself worth a visit.

What anchors the hip factor of this street is the multilabel boutique Maria Luisa, which sells top labels, such as Balenciaga and Nina Ricci, plus forward-looking young talents, like Lutz and Manish Arora. If you're in Paris for fashion, you will end up at Maria Luisa, if not to buy things, at least to see what's new. I've run into New York friends here, and spotted Naomi Campbell. On the sidewalk nearby I once noticed a clump of stylish people moving down the street with the intensity of an offensive line--only they were in an odd circle formation.

At the center was Mary-Kate Olsen.

About two blocks away is the Meurice Hotel, which people are talking about because its central tearoom was recently redone by Philippe Starck. Lined with mirrored panels and Corinthian columns, the room has a classic French lightness made even more sparkling with whimsical details. My perch was a Regency-style chair with black-and-white pony hide near a fossilized tree stump and one of many gold floor lamps with mirrored inlays. From low, black-velvet couches, you can admire the fabric mural on the ceiling and touch the tile floor. The decor is one of the designer's most dazzling efforts, perhaps because it is more Meurice than Starck--or maybe because a martini costs 30 euros.

But luxury need not always be gilded. Sometimes, all it takes is space to make things civilized. And that is to be found on the new airline OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Airways that has two routes: Between New York (JFK) and Paris (Orly) and, starting this month, between New York and Amsterdam.

OpenSkies offers two categories of seating, Biz and Prem+. I flew one leg of each. Biz is designed for deep-
pocketed travelers who desire space, privacy, and a soupçon of pampering. The rows of seating are two-by-two, but one seat faces front and the other faces the back of the plane. So you sit facing the other person in the row with you. If you don't want to see that person, a fan-shaped shade separates the seats.

The champagne flows. The seats fully recline. And the braised short ribs arrive on full-sized plates.