Date with Dior

“I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body.”  – Christian Dior

Did you know that prior to becoming a fashion designer Christian Dior was a gallerist with a deep love for fine art? This was only a fraction of what I learned at the most recent exhibition to open at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, honoring 70 years of the House of Dior. With a carefully curated selection of 300 haute couture dresses alongside artworks, this expo pays tribute to the master himself Christian Dior, and those who followed in his vision including Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. This was without a doubt, one of the most impressive fashion experiences of my life.

Following are highlights from my recent ‘Date with Dior’, just in case you can’t make it to the show yourself.

Haute Couture / Fall/Winter 2012 / Embroidered organza evening gown / Raf Simons

Suzurka-San / Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2007 / Embroidered and painted linen coat / John Galliano

“After women, flowers are the most divine of creations.” – Christian Dior

Muguet / Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1957 / Organdy dress embroidered by Barbier

“True luxury needs good materials and good workmanship; it will never succeed unless its roots are profoundly embedded in sober influences and honest traditions.” – Christian Dior

Deep in every heart slumbers a dream and the couturier knows it: every woman is a princess.” – Christian Dior

A must see when you’re next in Paris, this exhibition Christian Dior, couturier du rêve ends on January 7th, 2018.

Story of a Sweater

Following my day and night discovering the secrets of Mont Saint-Michel with Centre des monuments nationaux, we headed to nearby factory Saint-James, one of France’s oldest and most famous brands which continues to manufacture locally. Being a designer myself, I was interested in discovering the history and makings of this label, located in Saint-James, a commune in Lower Normandy, 20 kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel. This is the brand that made nautical stripes famous, and I was about to find out how it all began.

How and when was Saint-James born? Around 1850, the Legallais family started to spin and dye locally produced wool. They resold this wool to the haberdasheries of Brittany and Normandy, later as woolen shirts which turned into the now famous fisherman’s sweater.

In 1950, the company changed hands and new owner Julien Bonte began manufacturing cardigans and sweaters, including the famous “Real Breton Fisherman’s Sweater” knit in pure wool. This became “the seafarers’ second skin”. Along with his son and much determination, Julien grew the company, renaming it “Tricots Saint-James” in 1970.

Julien’s son Bernard grew the company further in 1977 by building a new plant with an 1,800 square meter workshop and 300 square meters of office space. Tricots Saint-James also expanded its product range to include sea-themed seasonal attire for women. They were known across France as the knitwear leader, including a 100% cotton collection.

In 1989 Saint-James celebrated its 60-year anniversary as well as 100 years of Léon Legallais. In commemoration, they modernized their logo and knit the biggest sweater in the world, 8 meters high, and 14 meters from one sleeve to the other. Impressive! In 2001 the company further expanded and shirts, jackets and trousers were added to its wares.

In 2005, Tricots Saint-James received the trophy for “Ethics and Governance” following a company staff buyout. In the words of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, “The Company was chosen to recognize the good governance represented by Mr. Bernard Bonte (President until December 5, 1990) transferring power and capital to the employees, as well as the significant development of the company in France and abroad. The company’s takeover project of 1990 was declared a success for both its development and staff growth.”

What I noticed while touring the factory was the meticulous attention to detail. Every employee trains for over a year, taking pride in their work as each piece is carefully crafted by hand. Observing the process from weaving the wool or cotton to preparing the final product for shipment was fascinating. It’s no wonder Saint-James has such a stellar reputation!

These days Saint-James sweaters, shirts, scarves and dresses are available not only in Mont Saint-Michel, but in Nice, Paris, Saint-Malo, Strasbourg and Lyon, as well as  around the globe. Their timeless stripes and style continue to dress the world! What’s more, when you buy one of these shirts, you’re supporting the cloister restoration project! “The Tricots Saint James company is also associated with this major national heritage project with an exceptional and unique product-sharing operation. From 15 April to 15 October 2017, the “Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey” striped jerseys are on sale in the Saint James distribution network in France and abroad (Korea, USA and Japan), and in 3 bookshop-boutiques of the network (at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, the Alignments of Carnac and the Towers of La Rochelle). For every striped jersey sold at the price of €45, Saint James pledges to donate €2.50 to the Centre des monuments nationaux for the cloister restoration project.”

Mont Saint-Michel by night

I knew I would return to Mont Saint-Michel, a marvel of Norman Gothic architecture, after spending an incredible day last February exploring France’s first World Heritage site, this time to enjoy the sunset. With the ease of a new Intercités train to Villedieu-les-Poêles connecting to a bus directly to Mont Saint-Michel, I joined the National Monuments Center and jumped aboard.

We arrived to a rainy and gray abbey, quite a contrast to the sunny day I experienced on my last visit, but equally as enchanting.

After a private tour of the abbey, fellow bloggers and I had the privilege of meeting Philippe Bélaval, the President of 100 monuments in France for the Ministry of Culture, at a lunch in the Salle Belle-Chaise. I imagined all that went on in this grand hall so many centuries ago!

After lunch and a lesson in the abbey’s history, we had a look at the cloister restoration where workers were busy waterproofing the garden and the galleries, including cleaning the numerous columns. All the while it’s open to the public, impressive! Archaeological excavations revealed the original level of the floors, 25 to 30 cm below the level that was in place. The 260 square meters of the “Merveille” cloister were once occupied by a garden which the abbey plans to reclassify. We carefully walked around the space where so much care was being taken in the refurbishment. I was in awe of the work being done and all the attention to detail. Aiding in this ambitious 11 month long restoration project estimated to be completed in 2018, is the French Heritage Society. Locally based company Saint James company has also stepped in, donating €2.50 for every striped jersey sold at €45. Even more reason to love this French brand! The public too can assist by making an online donation on www.mapierrealedifice.fr.

Our tour continued into the regal halls of Mont Saint-Michel, deep into the soul of this 13th century abbey.


After an in-depth visit of the interior, it was time to discover the views from above. We climbed the stairs up to the top of the abbey and were rewarded with a stunning vista! An experience I would certainly never forget.


A few last gazes into the horizon and it was time for dinner at Le Relais du Roy nearby Hotel Mercure.

Following dinner I discovered exactly why sunset at Mont Saint-Michel is so breathtaking, and worth the wait.

VIP Shopping at Galeries Lafayette

Entering regal department store Galeries Lafayette at 40 Boulevard Haussmann feels much like entering a museum (more on its fascinating history, here). The difference being what’s on display are shoes, bags and a carefully curated selection of designer clothing. Much like a museum the experience can be intimidating. To avoid losing yourself in the racks of ready-to-wear, Galeries Lafayette now offers a VIP shopping experience. Curious to learn more, I decided to head over to my favorite store.

Walking through the majestic space, the first thing that caught my eye was the current art exhibition ‘Le Jour Qui Vient’. Various phrases in both English and French are strewn along the store, ready to catch consumers attention. What’s better than shopping in the midst of art? I also stopped by the Galerie des Galeries for a look at the ‘Africa Now’ expo, ending July 29th. But back to VIP shopping…

I took the escalator to the 5th floor concierge desk, presented my voucher and was led to a private lounge. Here began my VIP shopping experience. I settled in to enjoy the stellar treatment, champagne, and of course the shopping. I had a few key summer essentials in mind.

So what does recently launched Galeries Lafayette’s Parisian VIP shopping experience include exactly? Services that are perfect for a traveler or local with little time on their hands.

  • A dedicated concierge service
  • Fast-track payment and tax refund service
  • Delivery of your in-store purchases to your hotel or residence in Paris
  • Access to Personal Shopper service
  • Complimentary drinks and snacks (Champagne, anyone?)
  • International press
  • Private Wifi
  • Treats from one of their restaurants including Angelina and Vue sur Coupole
  • A Galeries Lafayette tote bag

If you’re still not sure about VIP shopping, I invite you to try it for yourself, and spend a day shopping like a vrai Parisian. You’ll be hooked! I’m offering two VIP passes (valued at 49€ each) for you and a friend. Just follow Galeries Lafayette on Instagram and leave a comment below. Winner announced June 23rd. Bonne chance!

Weekend in Valencia

This year, to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary we flew to Valencia. I hadn’t been since the student days and was curious to rediscover this city in Spain’s Costa Blanca. Especially with my adventurous Italian. We arrived on a Saturday and settled in to boutique hotel Vincci Mercat in the historic center. So how did we choose to spend 48 hours in this diverse city? By exploring and eating of course. It’s not everyday you’re in the land of paella… In addition to our favorite authentic Spanish dining spots, here’s my guide to this eclectic port city.

EAT LOCAL: For the best tapas head straight to Casa Montaña. Established in 1836, this local legend is both a tapas bar and a restaurant. We were lucky to find a table at the more casual bar, and loved every bite of of our seafood, meat and vegetable plates. If you’re looking for top paella, you’ll find it at La Riuà in the historic center or Casa Carmela on the beach. The latter is an institution and reservations are a must. Keep in mind paella is eaten at lunch and takes around 30 minutes to prepare. Well worth the wait!

EAT GOURMET: For our anniversary dinner we discovered Navarro, a real gem. This family run restaurant in the historic center dating from 1951, serves creative cuisine with all ingredients sourced from local markets. Whether it’s lobster paella or seafood salad with cucumber gelato, you will not be disappointed. One of the lovely sisters Guillermina, will make sure of that! Don’t forget to try their sangria, the best I’ve tasted.

SHOPPING: If you’re looking for specialties in the form of cheese and meat, head straight to the Mercado Central.  Over 8,000 square meters including a separate section for fish, you’ll find almost 300 vendors selling all local produce. Even if you’re not in the mood to shop or taste, walking around this market is an experience!

EAT SWEETS: A specialty of Valencia is a drink called horchata. This sweet milky drink is made from pressed chufas (tiger nuts). While drinking it you dip large finger-shaped pastries called fartóns, and enjoy! Horchatería de Santa Catalina is the best and most charming spot in town.

VISIT: Undoubtedly the most impressive place to visit is Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences. This entertainment-based cultural and architectural center merits an entire day, or weekend if you can spare it. You really do feel as though you’ve entered another world.

BEACH IT: What makes Valencia such a desirable city for both locals and tourists is its beach life. Only thirty minutes via bus from the historic center you’ll find yourself lounging on the beach. After a dip in the warm water, find a shady spot and enjoy a siesta, you’ll probably need it!

In other news, I’m honored to be nominated as best expat blog! Please take a moment to vote here. Merci!

Packing for Paris

Several years ago, I left behind my earthly possessions and traveled the world. One of the greatest challenges in this journey of 13 months and 5 continents (and a total of 32 countries) was what to pack? One backpack sized suitcase would carry my new nomadic life. While I prepared this bag with great care, a new freedom greeted me, as I no longer felt encumbered by my possessions. Along the way I discovered how little is actually necessary, be it a week, a month or a year.

In the years that followed, I became an expert at packing and have learned to live out of a carry-on during my frequent jaunts to Italy, Spain or the French countryside. When women ask me what to bring when traveling to my current home of Paris, I am well equipped with a response. Men need not worry too much as jeans and a fitted shirt will suffice in most settings.

Since the majority of travel to Paris takes place during the Spring, Summer and Fall months, less is more. Regardless of how long you’ll be spending in the City of Lights, you don’t need attire for more than a week. After that, unless your hotel has laundry service, it’s time to discover the laverie automatique, otherwise known as the laundromat. It might even be wise to under pack, as Paris’s department stores and limitless boutiques revealing an array of French brands, are worth exploring. Or join me on a fashion tour!

Paris is by all accounts the fashion capital, but unless you’re planning to dine in 5-star settings, you can leave your stilettos at home. Street style takes over the right and left banks, where latest trends mix with vintage classics. There’s an understated elegance pervasive in the Parisian woman’s uniform.

So, what exactly is needed for a week stay? A jacket or coat (depending on the season), a sweater, casual shirts both long and short sleeve and a simple white button-down will have your top half covered. For the bottom, a pair of comfortable jeans, elegant slacks or jeans, a skirt and a little black dress. If it’s summertime, make that two dresses and a pair of shorts. Yes, Parisians do wear shorts, but leave the sweatpants at home.

As for shoes, a pair of trendy sneakers, comfortable walking shoes or boots, and a pair of flats or low heels for the evening. Ballerinas are a favorite of La Parisienne. Bring a bag to carry your daily essentials, sunglasses for the Parisian sun, a clutch for dinners out, a scarf for chilly evenings and an umbrella for rainy days. Finally, a hint of jewelry for the finishing touch. Make sure your separates mix and match well, and pack only what you feel your best in. Confidence is the best accessory!

Now book that ticket, start packing, and head for the fashion show that is Paris. Once you arrive you can read more about Paris on Bonjour Paris, where this article first appeared. Or send me a note and I’ll share my tips!

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