Paris: Seeking Light and Fashion on the Boulevards

Dispatch from the K-Collection show: I spotted gift bags filled with K-beauty facial masks, crystal manicures, blue tresses, and irresistible bejeweled felt caps at the Palais Brongniart, historical home of the Paris stock exchange. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Dispatch from the K-Collection show: I spotted gift bags filled with K-beauty facial masks, crystal manicures, blue tresses, and irresistible bejeweled felt caps at the Palais Brongniart, historical home of the Paris stock exchange.

By Theadora Brack

One recent blue-skied day during Paris Fashion Week, I got to sit on the front row at the K-Collection show at the Palais Brongniart, historical home of the Paris stock exchange. Here, behind the massive columns surrounding the entrance, three Korean fashion houses presented their Spring-Summer 2020 collections: J. Chung by Jaesun Chung, Wnderkammer by Hyeyoung Shin, and Bmuet(the) by Byungmun Seo and Jina Um.

Mesmerized by the meshing of old and new: edgy mod and frilly prairie, I spied wild kinetic fringe, ruffled multi-tiered skirts and tops, and cheese-patterned frocks. Baguettes in bags, too.

Now, on the K-Collection catwalk, I saw asymmetrical hems, frilly mock turtlenecks, long flowing, souped-up sleeves, ruffled multi-tiered skirts and tops, and cheese-patterned frocks. Baguettes in bags, too! (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Now, on the K-Collection catwalk, I saw asymmetrical hems, frilly mock turtlenecks, long flowing, souped-up sleeves, ruffled multi-tiered skirts and tops, and cheese-patterned frocks. Baguettes in bags, too! (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Feeling the boho inspo

Seeing the loaf of bread peeking out of the bag made me hungry, so after the show I took wing to the nearby passages. I’m always on the hunt for traces of the past in the City of Light, and the old glass-ceilinged “couverts” never fail to lift my spirits. There’s something incredibly moving about gazing at freshly baked cookies, portraits of cats, and diamond-collared doggies in the soft light of the old arcades and passageways that makes the lil’ treasures all the more glorious. So if you’re in the mood for some old-timey, two-stepping shop-hopping, just follow after me.

More inspiration for your OOTD mood board because, frankly, fringe with silver beaded detailing is always a great idea, post-show at the Palais Brongniart with the legendary Brasserie Vaudeville in view. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

More inspiration for your OOTD mood board because, frankly, fringe with silver beaded detailing is always a great idea, post-show at the Palais Brongniart with the legendary Brasserie Vaudeville in view. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

A smidge of history

Ever since biggie wig King Louis XIV cried, “Let there be light,” tourists have been flocking to Paris. Under his reign, Paris became the first city in the world to illuminate its streets after dark, which helped turn it into the world’s premier tourist destination practically over (a well-lit) night. And what did they most want to do when they got there? Well, go shopping, of course. But where?

Cheesy confession: Seeing the baguettes peeking out of the handbag made me ravenous, so after the show I immediately hoofed it on over to the nearby arcades. Here, Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Cheesy confession: Seeing the baguettes peeking out of the handbag made me ravenous, so after the show I immediately hoofed it on over to the nearby arcades. Here, Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Commercial galleries, that’s where

The launch of the first covered passages in 1800 provided the answer to their desires. Offering luxury goods and cafés in settings that were sheltered from rain—and the mud it creates—gas lit and (to some degree) heated with radiant warmth, these cozy urban spaces are where the shopping mall was born. Cutting through blocks to link streets and boulevards, the glittering, boutique-lined passages offered new shortcuts, flâneur-flavored promenades, and weatherproof shopping that were the delight of the early 19th century.

The early passages tempted shoppers with lux goodies and cafés in settings that were sheltered from rain, lighted with gas and (to some degree) heated. Passage Jouffroy in 1900. (Postcard, Theadora Brack's archives)

The early passages tempted shoppers with lux goodies and cafés in settings that were sheltered from rain, lighted with gas and (to some degree) heated. Passage Jouffroy in 1900. (Postcard, Theadora Brack’s archives)

Gone in a twinkling

Sadly, only about twenty of the nearly 150 original arcades survived Baron Haussmann’s sweeping urban renewal makeover in the 1850s and ‘60s. To be fair, though, he did bring about improvements in transportation that hastened the arrival of the world’s first department stores, like Aristide Boucicau’s revamped Bon Marché (1852) and Alfred Chauchard’s Grands Magasins du Louvre (1855).

By 1920, the heyday of the passages was long over. As one reporter wrote, “The passage is a souvenir from the past, of which many people would surely forget the existence were they not forcibly reminded it of whenever showers oblige them to seek refuge in that haunt once so fashionable.”

Keep on the sunny side: About twenty of the nearly 150 original arcades survived Baron Haussmann’s urban redo in the 1850s and ‘60s. Passage Jouffroy is still a peep-pleasing promenade in 2019. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Keep on the sunny side: About twenty of the nearly 150 original arcades survived Baron Haussmann’s urban redo in the 1850s and ‘60s. Passage Jouffroy is still a peep-pleasing promenade in 2019. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

On the bright side

Happily, the old passages, like cowboy boots and rhinestone-encrusted western ranch shirts, have finally come back into fashion and are having one heck of a moment once more. Crummy and decrepit no longer, those that remain have become shopping meccas that are as hip as they are quaint, and very much worth a look-see.

Flooded with natural light, the narrow tiled halls are dressed in glazed roofing, cast iron, mosaics, and marble pillar columns that lend marvelous vintage ambience to hives of commercial activity. Here you’ll find art galleries, bookshops, shoe cobblers, boutiques, pâtisseries, cafés, and bars adorned with sculptures and frescoes that embed the experience in old-fashioned Parisian glamour.

Lending a marvelous retro vibe to your browsing experience, the narrow, tiled halls are dressed in glazed roofing, cast iron, mosaics, and marble columns. Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Lending a marvelous retro vibe to your browsing experience, the narrow, tiled halls are dressed in glazed roofing, cast iron, mosaics, and marble columns. Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Back in their first heyday

Émile Zola described the effect on one of the characters in his novel, “Nana,” which captures just how I feel today. “She adored the Passage des Panoramas. The tinsel, the false jewelry, gilded zinc, the cardboard made to look like leather, had been the passion of her early youth. It remained, and when she passed the shops she could not tear herself away from them.”

I know the feeling.

My favorite purple-clad mannequin, looking like timeless and confident. Note to self: Invest in some evergreens for my next social media profile portrait. Le Bonheur des Dames needlepoint shop, Passage Verdeau. (Photo by T. Brack)

My favorite purple-clad mannequin, looking like timeless and confident. Note to self: Invest in some evergreens for my next social media profile portrait. Le Bonheur des Dames needlepoint shop, Passage Verdeau. (Photo by T. Brack)

Here’s my current favorite route. First, meet me at the Bourse, of course. Then:

1. Passage des Panoramas (1800)
11-13 Boulevard Montmartre – 151 rue Montmartre
Métro: Bourse

2. Passage Jouffroy (1847)
9 rue de la Grange Batelière – 29 Passage Jouffroy
Métro: Grands Boulevards

4. Passage Verdeau (1847)
6 rue de la Grange Batelière – 31 Bis rue du Faubourg-Montmartre
Métro: Le Peletier

4. Galeries Lafayette Coupole (1912)
40 Boulevard Haussmann
Métro: Saint-Lazare

Tip: I highly recommend rounding out your time-travel experience at the nearby Galeries Lafayette department store. After spending hours window-shopping in the narrow passages, it’s quite a trippy feeling to then hit the wide bustling boulevards, specifically created for power-promenading. Also, G.L.’s café has a view of both the Opéra and the Eiffel Tower, along with cheese plates and affordable mini bottles of wine. #Justdoit

(If you are an Instagram fan or fanatic, please leave a link below. Here’s where to find more of my Paris pics: @theadorabrack)

Where to start your stroll? Meet me at the Passage des Panoramas. Built by American entrepreneur James W. Thayer in 1800, here is where the City of Light tested its first public gas lighting installation, in 1816. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Where to start your stroll? Meet me at the Passage des Panoramas. Built by American entrepreneur James W. Thayer in 1800, here is where the City of Light tested its first public gas lighting installation, in 1816. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

If only the old stones and walls at the ole Panoramas could talk. Originally, the arcade linked two rotundas that rocked massive wall paintings offering panoramic views of Paris, Rome, Naples and Amsterdam. Though popular as the “Imax” of their day, they were demolished during the 1830s to make room for hotels and additional galleries. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

If only the old stones and walls at the ole Panoramas could talk. Originally, the arcade linked two rotundas that rocked massive wall paintings offering panoramic views of Paris, Rome, Naples and Amsterdam. Though popular as the “Imax” of their day, they were demolished during the 1830s to make room for hotels and additional galleries. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

What did the fox say? More rhinestones please, I’m certain. Designed by Philippe Starck, the jewelry box-like Café Stern now woos with ease in the former Stern engraving shop. Keep eyes open for the old signs. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

What did the fox say? More rhinestones please, I’m certain. Designed by Philippe Starck, the jewelry box-like Café Stern now woos with ease in the former Stern engraving shop. Keep eyes open for the old signs. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Another splash from the past at the Panoramas: Back in the day, I’m sure the Waterman shop was hopping after its “Three Fissure Feed” pen had won the gold medal for excellence at the 1900 Paris Exposition. (Photo by T. Brack)

Another splash from the past at the Panoramas: Back in the day, I’m sure the Waterman shop was hopping after its “Three Fissure Feed” pen had won the gold medal for excellence at the 1900 Paris Exposition. (Photo by T. Brack)

Next to the Passage des Panoramas, you’ll find the Passage Jouffroy. Built in 1845 by architects François Destailleur and Romain de Bourges, it was the first arcade to install a heating system concealed under its tiled floor. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Next to the Passage des Panoramas, you’ll find the Passage Jouffroy. Built in 1845 by architects François Destailleur and Romain de Bourges, it was the first arcade to install a heating system concealed under its tiled floor. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Where’s Tintin? Why, he’s still trapped in the vitrine at the bustling Toy Box boutique, looking cute as a button. Someone please purchase this world-famous globe trotting fella. #FreeTintin (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Where’s Tintin? Why, he’s still trapped in the vitrine at the bustling Toy Box boutique, looking cute as a button. Someone please purchase this world-famous globe trotting fella. #FreeTintin (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Open since 1882, the Grévin Wax Museum boasts a Doppelganger A-list like no other: Josephine Baker, Marilyn Monroe, Madame Pompadour, George Clooney, Katy Perry, Victor Hugo, Pablo Picasso, and Barbie. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Open since 1882, the Grévin Wax Museum boasts a Doppelganger A-list like no other: Josephine Baker, Marilyn Monroe, Madame Pompadour, George Clooney, Katy Perry, Victor Hugo, Pablo Picasso, and Barbie. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

At the arcades you’ll find art galleries, bookshops, shoe cobblers, boutiques, pâtisseries, cafés, and bars. Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

At the arcades you’ll find art galleries, bookshops, shoe cobblers, boutiques, pâtisseries, cafés, and bars. Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Chopin at the helm of the Hôtel Chopin—open since 1847. A friend stayed here once, and heard piano playing in the middle of the night. Piped-in music? Or perhaps the spirited dandy had returned for an encore? (Photo by T. Brack)

Chopin at the helm of the Hôtel Chopin—open since 1847. A friend stayed here once, and heard piano playing in the middle of the night. Piped-in music? Or perhaps the spirited dandy had returned for an encore? (Photo by T. Brack)

Tunnel vision: Because one shot of the Passage Jouffroy’s glass ceiling is never, ever enough, here's one more. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Tunnel vision: Because one shot of the Passage Jouffroy’s glass ceiling is never, ever enough, here’s one more. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

How much is that photo-bombing clown in the window? For the love of bright red lipstick and polka dots, meet my new BFF, ready for the Big Top at the Toy Box boutique in the Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

How much is that photo-bombing clown in the window? For the love of bright red lipstick and polka dots, meet my new BFF, ready for the Big Top at the Toy Box boutique in the Passage Jouffroy. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Passage Jouffroy with Passage Verdeau in view. More convenient shop-hopping? Yes. After all, moderation is always key when it comes to Paris. Says absolutely no one. And that goes double for the arcades. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Passage Jouffroy with Passage Verdeau in view. More convenient shop-hopping? Yes. After all, moderation is always key when it comes to Paris. Says absolutely no one. And that goes double for the arcades. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Last stop: Passage Verdeau, built by architect Jacques Deschamps in 1846. I’m always on the hunt for traces of the past in the Paris, and this old “couvert” never fails to lift my spirits with its neo-classical lines. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Last stop: Passage Verdeau, built by architect Jacques Deschamps in 1846.
I’m always on the hunt for traces of the past in the Paris, and this old “couvert” never fails to lift my spirits with its neo-classical lines. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Vision of beauty and practicality: The Passage Verdeau’s spiny, fishbone-like clerestory roof was designed to allow for maximum light and airflow, while keeping out unpleasant elements like rain and snow. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Vision of beauty and practicality: The Passage Verdeau’s spiny, fishbone-like clerestory roof was designed to allow for maximum light and airflow, while keeping out unpleasant elements like rain and snow. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

I’ve said it before. There’s something incredibly moving about flipping through used art books, vintage prints and antique magazines in the soft light of the old passageways that makes the treasures all the more glorious. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

I’ve said it before. There’s something incredibly moving about flipping through used art books, vintage prints and antique magazines in the soft light of the old passageways that makes the treasures all the more glorious.

Love cats, Passage Jouffroy (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Love cats, Passage Jouffroy (Photo by Theadora Brack)

 

33 thoughts on “Paris: Seeking Light and Fashion on the Boulevards

    • Ah, thank you, Tish. For your future trip to Paris (fingers are crossed), here’s another favorite route:

      1. Galeries du Palais Royal
      Place Colette
      Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre

      2. Galerie Véro-Dodat (1826)
      19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau – 2 rue du Bouloi
      Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre

      3. Galerie Colbert (1826)
      6 rue des Petits-Champs – 6 rue Vivienne
      Métro: Bourse

      4. Galerie Vivienne (1823)
      4 rue des Petits-Champs, 5 rue de la Banque, 6 rue Vivienne
      Métro: Bourse

      5. Passage des Panoramas (1800)
      11-13 boulevard Montmartre – 151 rue Montmartre
      Métro: Grands Boulevards or Bourse

      6. Passage Jouffroy (1847)
      9 rue de la Grange Batelière – 29 Passage Jouffroy
      Métro: Grands Boulevards or Bourse

      7. Passage Verdeau (1847)
      6 rue de la Grange Batelière – 31 bis rue du Faubourg-Montmartre
      Métro: Le Peletier

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Always enjoy your respites from the on-going stresses of daily life, especially in the US of A these days under Trumptraitor and his enablers. While shopping may not solve our problems it certainly cuts down on the stress of fighting the good fight for climate sanity, homelessness, and inequities worldwide. I especially enjoy your historical take on the city of lights and delights. Romaine found Paris too stressful for her sensibilities as she aged and her health deteriorated-although she never admitted to being vulnerable in that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’ve been enjoying your Paris photography. Fantastical with interesting details, always. Do you have a favourite passage? If so, do spill.

      Cheers to you,
      Theadora

      Like

      • All Paris is eternal well the popular tourist areas. I have been on the other side too and it’s like fort apache!

        Like

    • Merci! I’ve got one more quote for you. Here’s Eduard Devrient’s 1840 description, as recorded in Walter Benjamin’s “The Arcades Project” (1927-1940). I especially love the last line.

      “Rain showers annoy me, so I gave one the slip in an arcade. There are a great many of these glass-covered walkways, which often cross through the blocks of buildings and make several branchings, thus affording welcome shortcuts. Here and there they are constructed with great elegance, and in bad weather or after dark, when they are lit up bright as day, they offer promenades—and very popular they are—past rows of glittering shops.”

      Like

    • Thank you, Jo Nell! (By the way, your recent post about de-cluttering inspired me. Over the weekend, I re-organized my dresser and kitchen shelves. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. In fact, it was difficult to stop the de-cluttering, and start writing.

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

      Like

  2. It’s interesting to see what’s happened with the old passages. I first read about them as one – the Passage de l’Opera (long gone) features in Louis Aragon’s book “Le Paysan de Paris” which I read a long time ago. Never visited any myself during my trips to Paris in the past. Must seek them out the next time (hopefully next year) now I’ve read your post.
    We have our own old Arcade here in Wigan – Makinson Arcade – which looks rather like the Parisian Passages in your picture. The shops are much more down market though!
    http://www.wiganworld.co.uk/album/showalbum.php?opt=5&offset=0&gallery=MAKINSON+ARCADE

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your Makinson Arcade is beautiful. Yes, I completely agree. Built in 1913, it looks very similar to the Paris passageways. Thanks for sharing the link. I love the old black & white photographs. Gorgeous and haunting, too. (By the way, there’s now a Mark’s & Spencer in the Passage Jouffroy.)

      Enjoy the week. And yes, do visit the arcades during your next trip to Paris!
      Theadora

      Like

      • Thanks 😊
        Sadly over here M&S are shutting their high street stores and moving to retail parks. Just shut the one in our town centre.

        Like

  3. Just when I was thinking you were no longer posting, here you are. 🙂 You have such a great eye with the camera. Thanks for sharing! Love the looks from the 1800s. Still waiting for my first visit to Paris. With so much to offer, I wouldn’t know where to start. Hope all is well with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Frank! Yes, I’m still around. I’ve been in research mode. Working on a book, too.

      I’ve been enjoying your “Cruising the River Danube” series. Lovely photographs. And you got to experience a live concert in Vienna—the City of Music. Green with jealousy, I’ll say it again!

      Theadora

      Like

  4. Sweet, sweet memories, dear Miss T. My daughter and I spent delicious hours wandering the old arcades and passages, and then on to Galeries Lafayette. We finished at their cafe. In the last afternoon the patrons were generally mother-daughter couples. There would be nods of acknowledgements. Recognizing it wasn’t simply shopping, but demonstrating to daughters how to dress like a Parisian, XXXOOO Virginia

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thanks for sharing your memories, Virginia. I think Galeries Lafayette is still my favorite department stores. Whenever my sister visits, I take her to G.L.’s café, located on the 6th floor. It’s always the first or second stop. We always look for a table by window, and then snap photo after photo of the Opéra and the Eiffel Tower, too. As we nibble on mini-cheese platters and sip our wine, we talk and catch-up on life. Dressing like a Parisian . . . the department store still offers its Friday fashion show . . . Thinking of your daughter today.

      Sending big hugs your way,
      Theadora

      (I’m ready for another installment of your dollhouse adventures!)

      Like

    • Hi Alexander, Thanks for such kind, kind words. I’ve been in research-mode, but I am back now. And as you know, I feel exactly the same way about your photographs. Good. Golly. The recent batch of Lake Ontario in the wee hours of the morning made me weepy. So pretty.

      Say, do you plan to photograph the Toronto holiday vitrines? Fingers are crossed…

      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  5. T. this is a splendid article. It is full of interesting insights. Several years ago, i search out some passageways and found a few… and they were delightful. Hope all is well. I am off to the bakery for fresh bread!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, hello Thom, And speaking of holiday windows, I’m already looking forward to your New York City Fifth Avenue dispatches. Have I missed any of your holiday posts? Any updates on the Lord & Taylor department store?

      Where did you score your freshly baked bread? Do spill.
      Theadora

      Like

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