Paris in the springtime … it’s a travel cliché, sure, but one I’m very happy to adhere to.
I do love an injection of the city at the beginning of the year. The Hotel Relais Saint Germain is my base for a few days while I attend Premier Vision, the fashion industry’s fabric show, to choose fabrics for SS19. Yes, just one week after we showed the SS18 collection, we are in the massive Parc des Expositions near Charles de Gaulle airport, comparing wools, tweeds and silks, selecting for next year’s collection. Fabric is hugely important to me and to my design process – often it’s the very starting point for a piece – so I relish this twice-yearly trip. Shows are gruelling but we do manage, after the work is done, to absorb the current Paris mood (more buoyant than in previous years, I am very happy to observe) and the elegant way Parisian women wear their clothes and charmingly go about their business.
The hotel is located between the Sorbonne University and La Croix St Germain, where Les Deux Magots and Café Flore face Brasserie Lipp across the Boulevard St Germain. So it’s the absolute heart of the Left Bank, which has for centuries been the literary hub of Paris, and the gathering place of writers and philosophers. Fittingly the rooms at the Relais Saint Germain are called after writers: Balzac, Hemingway, Joyce, Proust, Casanova – each room with a little motif which links it to the writer. The restaurant of the hotel Le Comptoir is presided over by one of Paris’ hottest chefs, Yves Camdeborde, and you should absolutely reserve a table when booking your room, or you just won’t get in. The terrasse of Le Comptoir is the perfect place to people-watch. Look out for beautifully dressed ladies with Hermes (17 rue de Sevres) and Le Bon Marche (the chic department store at 24 rue de Sevres) bags swinging from their wrists. You might prefer to have an aperitif at the little wine bar next door, L’Avant Comptoir – you don’t need a reservation and can just jostle along with everyone else at the bar, having a glass of bubbles and a few oysters. By the way, the Hermes store is not to be missed – there is a divine in store florist as you walk in the door (French women love their flowers) and the homewares collection is in the original swimming pool of the Hotel Lutetia next door, another Left Bank institution with its grand salons and red velvet banquettes.
After three days, my vision for SS19 is beginning to take shape, literally, and I can see how those shapes will be expressed in the exceptional fabrics we have chosen. It’s thrilling, in the same way that seeing the fabrics I selected this time last year on the catwalk at the RHA Gallery last week, was immensely exciting.
There isn’t any time for culture this trip, immersed (buried, even!) as we are in fabric – we must have handled hundreds of samples at this stage. But of course, if I did have time, I’d be hot-footing it to the Musee Picasso and the Musee Rodin. Next time. With luck, in this business, we’ll always have Paris …