The French Mystique

After a long and eventful stay in England I was ready for a more relaxed pace in France. My introduction to this city was very low-key and involved a tour of the major tourist sites via bus. We saw the Eiffel Tower and learned all about France’s history and importance in the art and fashion realms. As our time in France was limited to only five days we had to pack more visits into our schedule. Our first stop was at an exclusive French luxury lobbyist group known as Comite Colbert. Our guide for this visit detailed how Comite Colbert, which was founded by famous perfumer Jean-Jacques Guerlain in 1954, gathered together the biggest and most well known French luxury brands (including fashion, furniture, and glassware brands) in order to promote their specific type of luxury worldwide. In a sense, that was my biggest takeaway from France as a whole was the idea of perpetuating the degree of luxuriousness that the French as a whole have attained. From the shops, to the restaurants, and even to the tourist attractions France exuded this kind of quite elegance throughout. Another interesting experience was our group’s visit to the Dries van Noten exhibit in the Louvre. Inside, we discovered this incredible man’s inspirations for his own collections displayed side-by-side with the finished products that he created. One of the collections that I admired the most in this exhibit was one where he had taken his inspiration from the keys and body of pianos, and then translated those details into intricate filigreed patterns for tailored jackets. Another very special side trip that I made with a group of my friends was to the fabulous French queen Marie Antoinette’s Palace in Versailles.  Of course I had heard of the over-the-top style of this particular monarch (her extreme lavishness and spending eventually got her murdered by the desperate French peasants) but the degrees of opulence in every corner of her palace truly astounded me. From the expansive paintings on every ceiling in every room, to the marbled floors, to the sprawling and lush garden, and even down to the crown molding on the floorboards every single detail of the palace was meticulously crafted. If French luxury has a specific origin then it definitely comes from this woman’s attention to fashionable living. However, despite all of these obvious grandiose displays of wealth and prestige scattered throughout the city, I was surprised to find that the French people themselves did not seem all that glamorous. Almost everybody that I observed in this city dressed with the kind of slouchy indifference that I would usually associate with America. Sweatpants and sneakers abounded as well as hoodies and loose-fit pants, which really struck me as strange considering the French people’s reputation for good taste in clothing. One of our lectures for the class portion of this study abroad that I’m on really opened my eyes as to why this is the case though. My teacher told us that while France is one of the foremost producers of luxury goods they are not one of the top consumers of said goods. Rather places like America, Japan, and the U.K. far outbid the French for the amount of luxury goods purchased and consumed. This obvious divide was made even more apparent by the fact that almost every single person that I saw with a high-end retailer’s shopping bag was not speaking French or was clearly from outside of that country. Despite this realization however, France still held quite the mystique for me especially at night when the Eiffel Tower was lit up and glittering. Now I am just looking forward to spending time in Milan and seeing all there is to see in that beautiful city as well.

Me next to the Eiffel Tower!

Two of the dresses in the Dries van Noten exhibit.

A display in the gourmet chocolate shop Laduree.

Marie Antoinette’s famous “Hall of Mirrors”

The garden of Versailles.

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