Paris: 5 Iconic Backdrops for Photo-ops
By Theadora Brack
Buds are bursting on the trees in Paris, making it the perfect time to update my list of iconic French backdrops for photo-ops, perfect for your social media portraits and status updates, too. There’s no sin in boasting. Besides, this outdoor repertoire is free.
Celebrating favorite photographers—Robert Capa, Man Ray, Robert Doisneau, Erwin Blumenfeld, Georges Dambier, William Klein, and Willy Maywald, (who often showcased France’s beloved national monuments in their haute couture spreads)—I’ve meshed the new with the old, fully appreciating the dynamic, overlapping, ever-changing juxtapositions.
So with Rolleiflex firmly in hand, it’s now time to snap, crackle and pop! Shall we? For the profound love of Bruno Ganz and Wim Wenders’ canted angles and slow, graceful arcs, here’s my “Wings of Desire” edition.
Flying to Paris?
If so, kick-off your jaunt at the Musée Galliera’s “Mannequin, Le Corps de la Mode” exhibition at the Les Docks, Cité de la Mode et du Design. Curated by Sylvie Lécallier, the exhibition smartly covers the history of modeling with photographs, sketches, magazines, videos, dress forms, and fine vintage garb, of course. My heart raced at the sight of a 1966 white dress by Balenciaga, side-by-side a film loop showing the Master Couturier creating the very same dress.
Color scheme: Gold, blue, beige and black brought to you by Haussmann
Attire recommendations: Mercantile green or pale baby blue
When it comes to classic French backdrops, it’s all about the view and location. The rooftop paradise at Printemps possesses both. Here you’ll find one of my all-time favorite views of Paris. A triple-threat photo-op, so strike a pose like there’s nothing to it with the Eiffel Tower, the Opéra Garnier, and Sacré Coeur. Heads-up: the safety barrier is crystal clear, so if you possess a fear of heights (like I do), tiptoe slowly!
Splendor in the Grass
Tip: Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop is just hop, skip and a jump away, and it also has some sublime catbird seating, along with faux green grass and funky red plastic chairs and sofas. Here is where I often kick back with a soda pop and rest my feet after window-shopping along Boulevard Haussmann. It’s another prime people-watching hot spot in the city.
After recharging your spirit and soles, check out the grand magasin’s estained glass coupole. Heaven on earth, this Belle Epoch stunner with a Byzantine twist was installed in 1912. Try gazing up without getting all weepy. Borrow my hanky. I won’t tell.
2. Opéra Garnier
Color scheme: Gold, beige, black and copper green
Attire recommendations: Gold, purple and ruby red, too
After touring the grand magasins on Boulevard Haussmann, jeté across the street to the Opéra. I usually photograph outside the Métro Opéra main entrance. Shining like a superstar, blue skies are this edifice’s friend, though it’s also ideal to arrive just before an evening performance in order to see the red carpet-worthy glittering garb dart across the busy rues.
Pointer: Tours of the building are offered. Prefer to dance solo? It’s not a problem here. For just a few euros, I was able to explore practically the entire building on my own, from the lobby to the reception halls, salons, and foyers, decked out in mosaics, mirrors and sculpture. I even spotted a few ghosts. Heavens, I was in heaven.
And yes, I did re-enact Audrey Hepburn’s dramatic entrance in the “Funny Face” movie without slipping down the slick marble steps on my back. I was also able to take a brief peek at Chagall’s famous ceiling mural and a live rehearsal.
With glee, I then toured the costume exhibitions and gift shop with a view, stocked with books, dvds, and cds, along with ballet slippers, tutus, tiaras, opera glasses, and evening gloves. With Debussy softly playing, I could have danced and shopped all day, and well, yes, I did.
3. Place Vendôme
Color scheme: Beige, black and pale green
Attire recommendations: Gold, royal blue and shocking pink
After snapping a few pix at the Opéra, take Rue de la Paix to Place Vendôme. Look for Napoléon’s column. In 1935 designer Elsa Schiaparelli opened one of the first prêt-à-porter boutiques under its shadow at 21 Place Vendôme. A tale I enjoy telling often, “Schiap” would unveil her collections with squads of circus performances in the middle of the square, complete with elephants and tightrope walkers!
As I reported earlier this year, Diego Della Valle (of Tods) recently bought the “Schiaparelli” name and now plans to revive the Place Vendôme salon. They’re still shopping around for a designer. I’ll keep you in the loop.
More inspiration? Here’s where Robert Capa photographed the iconic images of poodle-toting models for Dior in 1948! Calling all cinematic fans, Billy Wilder’s “Love in the Afternoon” with Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier was shot here at the Hôtel Ritz.
By the way, like the nearby Repetto ballet shop, the Ritz is also getting a supreme makeover. Currently a gigantic mural, scaffolding, and temporary little apartment-like buildings cover the entire front facade. I’m already looking forward to the dramatic unveiling. It’ll be a knock-out, I’m certain.
4. Arc-de-Triomphe du Carrousel
Color scheme: Black, beige, gold, and pink marble
Attire recommendations: Black, red and at least one piece of bling or medal
After your Place Vendôme photo session directly below “le petit caporal’s” watch, strut on over to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, located by the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries. The petite size of this “Mini-Me” of the big Arc de Triomphe at the far end of the Champs Elysées makes for an easy, breezy shoot. Also, this is where the infectious balloon scene in “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire was filmed.
5. Petit Palais
Color scheme: Black, beige and specks of gold
Black with a splash of red and cobalt blue
Gather ’round, my fellow art-loving flâneurs, I’ve got a new favorite museum in Paris up my sleeve. Designed by Charles Girault for the Universal Exhibition in 1900, I plan to pen a full-bodied post on the Petit Palais and its world-class permanent collection, so I will not spill the entire plot today.
But suffice it to say, I fell madly for the space, art works, and library, along with its affordable café with outdoor seating in the (soon to be lush) courtyard garden. Plus, the admission is free. I left feeling inspired and invigorated, walking on sunshine and air, I tell you. Do stay tuned!
Clipping from Colette, “Live in the moment! Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”