Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreamsby Deirdre Kelly
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Over eight visits to Paris, Deirdre Kelly has found herself first as a 19-year-old and then later as a budding writer, a dance critic, and a fashion reporter. Subsequent visits with her mother, her future husband, and later as a mother herself have shown her that while some parts of Paris remain constant, her life is always evolving. More than just a beautiful and romantic backdrop for her self-discovery, Paris itself contributes to that discovery, emerging as a principal character in Kelly’s life, an influence that inspires, guides, and teaches as she ages. A terrific gift for budding travelers, Francophiles, and women on their own path toward growth, this book reminds readers of their own favorite place.
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From Chapter 7, “Fashionista”
I was now practically on top of Tokyo Wintour. I couldn’t squeeze left. I couldn’t squeeze right. I felt the crowd tight behind me, pushing forward as if to break down the ancient walls of the palace itself. It moved like a collective breath, in and out. Soon, I was within reach of the door. Tokyo Wintour had shown her invitation. I tried to hold onto her sleeve as she breezed in, but she shook me off. One of the bodyguards looked at me, expectantly. I made like I had the invitation somewhere in my Made in Canada purse. I fumbled, stalling for time. I wondered what to do. I was now so close to the entrance. I felt there was no turning back, and besides, I would likely get killed, trampled on by a stampede of Christian Laboutins, no less.
The guard was now glaring at me, as if reading my mind. I had been thinking of ducking under his large forearm, and running. And then I remembered the wolves at the Alexander McQueen show held earlier in the week at the Conciergerie. Real feral beasts. Fur was back with a vengeance that season. Another trend. I worried that in Paris there could be more animals at the shows, and they’d send them snarling after me. And so I hesitated. Just then, as luck would have it, it started to rain. A sudden downpour. The crowd roared its displeasure. Suddenly, there was a frantic push forward. I had to steady my fishnet legs because I could feel myself being lifted by the maniacal energy of the mob. They wanted in, and out of the rain. “Il pleut,” I said, absent mindedly, unaware that anyone was listening. “But Madame,” said the burly guard, regarding me with a bemused look on his face, “it always rains in Paris.”
The crowd pushed harder and harder. We were like a battering ram. And then I was airborne. But still I had my wits about me. Instead of settling back on my feet, I fell forward, and on to my stomach, just beyond the reach of Hercules, who was busily fending off an invading horde of fashion barbarians. I was in battle position, and I shimmied forward, crawling undercover into enemy lines. A fight erupted behind me. I could hear expletives, and the sickening thud of flesh on flesh. I had made it, I thought. And then to my horror, I saw another line of security guards inside the building. Wow. This was some hot show. I told myself not to look at them. They were big and black, and they could crush me like a pearl beneath their combat boots. I adopted the hauteur of the Paris fashionista. Made like I owned the joint. Fashion is all about appearances, remember. I walked disdainfully past them. Lucky for me, at that moment, another interloper, obviously not as smooth, had gotten himself caught between their paws. It was my chance to slip by undetected, and I did it, with my heart pounding.
I thought that the hounds (human and otherwise) might still come after me, and so was careful not to look too conspicuous, and not too cowardly, either. This fashion business was a fine art. I skulked towards a dark corner, and bumped right into the fashion reporter from the Toronto Star. Our newspapers were supposed to be rivals. He had been keeping his distance from me the entire trip. But when he saw me, he practically fell into my arms. “Omigod,” he said. “I am soooo embarrassed. I sneaked in, and I am not one to sneak into any place where I am not invited, but this is supposed to be a shit-kicking show and .” I told him to relax. That I had sneaked in, too. He laughed. When the lights finally went down for the start of the Viktor & Rolf show, he stayed by my side in “en standing” (we didn’t dare try to rush an empty seat), and allowed me to hold onto his arm so that I could raise myself up, on tip toe, to see the extravaganza unfolding on the runway.
That was the show to have stormed. It was magnificent, start to finish. If what Balzac wrote is true, that dress is the expression of society, then what I saw at Viktor & Rolf suggested a communal need for escape from the ordinary, for transformation and absolution through an exaggerated means of scale. Called Black Hole, the collection of “conceptually glamourous” clothes, to quote the program handout, was both black and oversized, with blouses featuring shoulders that puffed out grotesquely, like giant soufflés, and dresses with bustles cut like enormous pincushions. Viktor & Rolf interpreted the mutton sleeve almost literally. The emaciated models wearing them looking like overfed creatures, freaks of their own flocks. Necklines riffed on a theme of the Elizabethan ruff. The clothes steamrollered down the runway in strict silence. Only the sound of jaws dropping at the sight of such a novel presentation could be heard.
Augmenting the performance art aspect of the show was the fact that the faces of the models were painted completely black. The thick inky mask of make-up highlighted the principal hue of the collection, itself. Later, some American fashion journalists, perhaps sensitive to their country’s slave–trading past, said in print that the Viktor & Rolf show was in poor taste. They believed that the blackened faces were a comment on minstrelsy. But I thought that the blackening was about eliminating the personality of the wearer to draw increased attention to the clothes, in particular the heft of their silhouette. The distortion of human scale suggested to me a promise of endless possibilities, while black implied a wiping of the slate clean. It was the beginning of the new millennium. Over the past year, people around the world had been venting their doomsday fears in the media. Black was also a funereal color. Were the designers, a Dutch duo with a background in visual art and theatre, also lending expression to the inevitability of death? And yet the stateliness of the procession, the air of quiet dignity, not to mention the impeccable tailoring, made me feel uplifted by the clothes, as if they were acts of faith.
Black represented the end and the beginning of all things. The gargantuan dimensions of the clothes suggested something otherworldly, of something bigger than myself, and this whole crazy Paris scene. Black was chaos, the colour of the thoughts that had been churning in me on that trip. I hoped that something creative would emerge from those negative feelings. I was determined. I felt inspired. I left Viktor & Rolf finally knowing my theme.
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Meet the Author
Deirdre Kelly graduated with a Master's degree and the Gold Medal in Poetry from the University of Toronto in 1984 and then joined Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper as its award-winning dance critic before becoming fashion columnist in 2000, reporting regularly from Paris and Milan. Now a features writer with the city section, she has also written for Marie Claire, Vogue, Interview, and Elle, among other publications. Paris Times Eight is her first book. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children.
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A first-rate literary rendering of a series of visits to a great world city. Evocative, funny, sad, inspiring. I finished it in one sitting. It made me want to go to Paris all over again!
Think Eat, Pray, Love ... but set in Paris, meaning a whole lot sexier and inspirational, if, like me, you are a francoophile. The writing is gripping from page one. I burned through it. She's a journalist and there are lots of journalistic bits in there as well. Read the Fashionista chapter, when she's in Paris covering the shows for her newspaper in Canada. Hilarious! But there are sad bits. She's had a bumpy ride of it with her own mother. I found myself rooting for her.
As a long time French-anything enthusiast, I was delighted to read this book. What a great concept!: a memoir about growing up with each trip to the City of Light. The author Deirdre Kelly represents many of us who find Paris fascinating yet unattainable. Of all the cities in the world, the hardest place to "make it" is in Paris. (For Americans, that is. For Europeans I'd assume LA or NYC would be comparable to Paris, yet Paris is still seen as a feat for European foreigners as well.) I had a few issues with the book concerning the main "character." There are many instances as a teenager and in college that she shows signs that she is her mother's daughter, and they are more similar as two outsiders than she knows it. I was disappointed that the author did not express this more or at all, especially in the beginning of the book. The book dragged at times. I would've been more disappointed if this were a fictional novel, but as a memoir, her occasional digression and outlooks are expected; if you're looking for fast-paced Paris action, I would hold out on this one. I wish the author described more of the adventures she must have had, but it was still an insightful read and I will use the book as tour guide during my next trip to Paris. Aside from the tumultuous, odd, and at times inexplicable relationship with her mother, I found her outlook on her relationships to be very real, including her relationship with the city. The author is truly relatable throughout the book and her desire to achieve success in Paris is enlightening and seen with sympathy.