It’s a long road from Cranfills Gap, Texas, where I wrote essays in school to win journalistic writing competitions, to Paris, France, where I launched my first book.
So there I was, in Paris, at the Ritz – home to Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Cartier – in the front row, waiting to attend my first designer runway fashion show and my first book signing at the Paris launch of my book, Creating the French Metabolism: Eat, Drink, and Be Beautiful.
It was just like an episode of Sex and the City. But without the sex. And in a different city.
I was there at the invitation of my dear friend and favorite couture designer, Nathanaelle Hottois. Nathanaelle (Nat to her friends, of which I am fortunate to be one) is the founder and owner of Fashion Week Studios, and I’ve been buying, borrowing, and stealing dresses from her for more than five years.
Let me tell you about my friend Nat. She was raised in Belgium, and speaks fluent Flemish, English, French, and Italian. And she is to design what Edward Scissorhands is to hair styling; in other words, a natural … and an enigma.
Somewhere around her mid-20’s, she was sort of thunderstruck with the idea of designing clothes. And it went kind of like this (at least this is how it happened in my mind): she threw a bolt of fabric into the air, hacked at it with scissors and took a few swipes at it with a needle and thread on the way down, and a stunning gown fell from the sky. And she’s been designing couture fashion ever since.
From that point forward, her career has been a thing of fairy tales and little girl’s dreams. She’s entered design competitions where she’s won against the likes of Donna Karen and Michael Kors. She’s designed dresses for Emmy winning singers, television personalities, royalty, and fashion models. And me.
Then, after working her way up amongst the ranks of designers, she had an idea which she shared with me over dinner one evening – to start a new concept in fashion shows, where up-and-coming designers would have the opportunity to show their designs at an ultra-chic venue during Paris Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week, and around the world.
It sounded a bit daunting to me, not having a clue on where to begin finding a venue, designers, models, photographers, and a crowd of titans of the fashion industry, but Nat was confident it could be done. And thus, Fashion Week Studio was born.
She now holds two packed shows a year in Paris, during Spring and Fall Paris Fashion Weeks, and is launching Milan in 2020. Designers vie for position in her shows, which are booked well into the future.
But back to the Ritz …
Undetrred by the fact that I was dragging my own 50-pound, slightly worn suitcase full of books for my book signing, the Uber from my charming boutique hotel in Saint Germain arrived at The Ritz Grand Luxury Hotel. I was feeling relatively confident in my Christian Louboutin’s, Armani suit, and Louis Vuitton bag as my book suitcase and I baby-stepped through the massive revolving door of the hotel. Not too bad for a little girl from Nowhere, Texas.
The Ritz is indeed grand luxury. It was home to Coco Chanel for 34 years. Hemingway led a group of military men into the Ritz Bar and proclaimed it to be “liberated”, hence named Bar Hemingway. It’s the birthplace of the “Sidecar”, a cognac drink that can go for upwards of $1,500 euros.
Not wanting to descend the grand staircase to the event room with my 4-inch heels and 50-pound bag, I located a small service elevator which deposited me in the back corner of the room. But my exit from the elevator was blocked by an enormous, 7-foot banner of … something. Turns out, it was me – a bigger-than-life banner of yours truly. Ok Andy Warhol, if this is my 15 minutes, I’ll take it.
I thought about what a treat it would be to stay at the Ritz on a future visit to Paris. And then I got hungry.
The Ritz has maybe 7 or 17 restaurants, I’m not really sure. All I know is that I Googled menus on my phone, and the most “moderate” item they offered was a hamburger, priced at 40 euros (about $50). I had a cappuccino. It wasn’t the money, it was the principle. And as I slowly sipped and savored my coffee I thought to myself, Coco Chanel was a resident here for years – no wonder she was so thin!
The show was, in a word, surreal. Four shows – Ready-to-Wear, Avant Garde, Couture, and Bridal Couture, 18 designer collections, 20 or so photographers, a couple of dozen beautiful skinny models, and packed audiences of top buyers and executives in the fashion and makeup industry. And me.
The room hummed with excitement as each designer’s chosen music would start to play, setting the tone for a new spin on fashion. The day rolled out with everything from beachwear to bizarre (I’m not sure where to go to wear Avant Garde, but in that moment I could appreciate that it exists).
The models were fierce and focused, and I found myself pulling my shoulders back, sitting a bit straighter, wishing I were about a foot taller, and memorizing graceful arm positions as each one fearlessly descended the stairs in 5” heels and sashayed down the runway.
And I learned two things –
One, that fashion is a personal expression. I learned what it really means that the French are not slaves to fashion. It is beauty, in the eye of the beholder. It can be pretty, or it can be startling, or anything in between. But it is intentional and it is not a “trend”. It all comes down to creativity and attitude, about feeling confident, and caring to make an impression.
And I learned that those fierce, intimidating models, are real people. They grimace over high heels like the rest of us. They eat cookies. They work their asses off (literally). When it’s time to hit the runway, they’re all business. And they have great makeup tips.
And the book signing? Well, that was a total blast. And my friend, celebrity French photographer Serge Ramelli, was there to capture the whole thing.
I’ll admit I was a little worried about how French women would take being told what they do. After all, my book is about French women, not for French women.
Turns out it was no problem at all. In the first place, people travel from over the world for Paris fashion week, and they all have one thing in common – a love of Paris and all things French. I was surrounded by people from many different countries, all eager to learn how the French stay thin while eating anything they want (because who wouldn’t want to know that?)
Second, the French women were flattered and delighted that I had written about their habits and sort of “defined” what they do, and wanted to read about it themselves.
I’m hopeful for many more books and many more book signings. But there will never be another first, in Paris, at the Ritz.
I’m still pinching myself. Just a little.