Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

Girls (& Guys) Want to Have Fun

October 20, 2010

A chill wind swept over Paris this weekend.  Collars were up on coats pulled out for their first sortie of the season, as exuberant sun-burnished limbs of la rentrée went under cover along with fingers, toes, and décolletés.

Leaves scuttling along the pavement past gutters strewn with cigarette butts and vagrant scraps of trash, signaled the idyll of Indian summer had segued into la grogne of strike season…a shift apt to discourage the sunniest of dispositions.  Humor being the best revenge, I decided to amuse myself delving into the confidential milieu of luxury lingerie.

If Lingerie shopping is a veritable ritual for certain visitors to Paris, Sabbia Rosa in Saint Germain is among the blue chip destinations.  The discreet boutique at 73, rue des Saints Pères opened in 1976 and quickly established a reputation for its exquisite quality and extensive color range.  Everything is sourced and made in France – a range of little nothings in thirty hues of glossy satin silk and sophisticated prints – all trimmed in hand-cut Calais lace.  Coordinated sweaters in downy-soft cashmere respond to clients’ desire to show off their slinky knee length nuisette beyond the boudoir, accessorized with sporty boots and a swingy sautoir necklace.  Owner Monette Bismuth was dressed in a black camisole edged in creamy lace, with slim cargo pants and a fitted black blazer replete with signature rose pin.

Tunisian by birth, like good friend Azzedine Alaia, Monette explained that opening the shop was her reclamation of femininity after the breakthroughs of the feminist movement and renouncing the legal career she’d trained for.  Inspiration came from childhood memories of her mother’s jewel-toned velvet peignoirs and her own satin upholstered bedroom.  “Women stayed at home like spoiled geishas, in an aura of extreme femininity and total seduction.”

Monette has refused countless requests to supply prestige stores and expand distribution.  She prefers to remain one of a kind.  “Madonna appreciates that while she can shop for any designer everywhere, she can only find Sabbia Rosa here.”  If eighty percent of clientele are Anglo Saxon it’s because, “They love color and are more fun than French women who are more classic.”  01 45 48 88 37

Another temple of seduction at the other in end of the city is Les folies d’Elodie   56, avenue Paul Doumer in the 16th.  Laurence, a veteran of the boutique’s seasoned team is quick to explain, “C’est tout un univers ici!”  A cozy family comprised of owner Nanou, daughter Charlotte, sister Catherine, and Zohra, their retoucheuse of thirty years, et bien sûr, adored dogs Upsa, Billy and Melrose.

You’re not in Kansas here.  The ambiance is out of time; a curious hybrid of belle epoch, deco, burlesque & BCBG all rolled into one.  Staff and clientele clearly have fun. Workmanship and detail is staggering on some models.  The color range is subtle – perhaps because the clientele is primarily French, although Laurence is proud to announce, “One of your presidents is a client.  He even shopped with his daughter.”  (Wonder if Chelsea’s wedding trousseau included some of these fabulous confections?)

French artisans produce the custom made collection but more affordable imported items are also on offer.  One end of the shop is dedicated to evening gowns in the spirit of lingerie.  Floor length silk and lace numbers with a side panel of mousseline running down the skirt.  If sequins are your thing, this is where to find an entrance stealing holiday gown (think Catherine Zeta Jones).  Belts, shoes and a range of bijoux de fantasie are available to complete the look.

I’m curious to know more about who shops here.  Everyone apparently.  Mothers with daughters, women with their copines, husbands for their wives, professional women (no, not that kind!).  “Often we know the man but never meet the woman he shops for.  Men can be much more sophisticated about lingerie.  They come back with the wife who exchanges their gift for something basic.  One man told me, ’You know, I save money here because my wife wears your things in and out of the bedroom’.” 01 45 04 93 57

In another spirit completely is Eres; a line owned by Chanel with four independent, and three department store boutiques in Paris.  The bywords here are cut and sobriety.  The manager of the Saint Germain boutique at 4 bis, rue du Cherche Midi describes their designs as “architecturé”.  Cut is so good it eliminates the need for under wiring and padding.

The style pendulum has swung their way, as women tired of the trussed up implant look, crave the sensation of second skin.  Many Eres styles are subtly transparent.  Fabric, whether natural or sophisticated synthetic, is whisper soft.   More lace has been introduced in response to client demand for femininity, but no detail is superfluous.  Jill Sander would feel right at home.  The minimalist design of the shop is a tad cool, look-but-don’t-touchish.  Don’t be put off.  The bathing suit line is a marvel.  If you detest shopping for swimwear, do yourself a favor and splash out on an Eres.  I continue to wear some of mine ten years on, good as new.

There’s no question lingerie is something French women are very particular about.  If quality and design is outstanding at every price point, it’s because customers (both men and women) are so exigent.  An average sixteen-year-old French girl is more knowledgeable and discerning about the cut and fit of a bra than I was at twice their age.  Pointing out what I considered a cute style at a high street Etam with my fifteen year old, she dismissed it with a sniff,  “No, it looks cheap Mom, the lace is too shiny.”   She steers me on to Princesse Tam Tam, where a fifty-euro model seemed to her, perfectly justifiable.  Anything inferior, she informs me, simply “won’t look right under a t-shirt”.

Linda Hanselman said

October 23, 2010 at 1:10 am

Oh what I wouldn’t give to be able to shop for my lingerie at a shop like this!!

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