La Mode aime le Jardin du Palais Royal

20151003_145227I want Paris to vibrate to the rhythm of fashion week

These were the words with which Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo launched the “La Mode aime Paris” campaign, a €60m campaign to highlight Paris Fashion Week but also to deliver longer term support to design schools and the renovation of the Palais Galliera, Paris’s preeminent Fashion museum.

On a gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon during PFW, it certainly did feel as if the city’s fashion heartbeat was pounding with a new intensity. Paris fashion has been accused of a certain fustiness – a little aloof, a little conservative, a little formal or stuck in the past. If that were ever justified, things seem to be changing.

The Jardin du Palais Royal, opposite the Louvre Museum, is a beautiful courtyard colonnaded on four sides by rows of picturesque shop fronts. It is undergoing renovations and an aura of dust gives the place a soft focus look, helping to obscure some of the construction machinery and gutted interiors. I had come on a pilgrimage to the legendary Parisian vintage boutique, Didier Ludot. 20151003_143405It is an extraordinary place – tiny interiors absolutely crammed full of fashion treasure – a patchwork YSL cape, jewel-encrusted 1960s gowns, pastel Courreges modernist suits (ancestors of Prada’s beautiful Autumn-Winter collection), Hermes handbags, Chanel camellias, Dior jewellery. The place has a slight Grimm Brothers feel – a fairy godmother might appear at any moment, bearing a Dior New Look original.

Emerging from this heady atmosphere, I continued walking around the edges of the courtyard and found it populated with a series of pop-up shops. From trendy coffee bars, to Scandinavian embroidered tunic dresses, to Japanese fashion, to footwear and other accessories, the courtyard was filled with small, independent shops and businesses. It was a diverse, vibrant and inspiring scene. 20151003_145603Entering one of the boutiques, P.A.R.O.S.H., drawn in by a gorgeous silk tartan dress in the window, I overheard them telling another customer that they had only been open for a week, but were clearly already attracting lots of interest and attention.

If I lived in Paris, this is a place I would be drawn back to repeatedly: a historic courtyard garden; a welcoming public space for people to sit or walk and chat; intriguing and diverse shops and cafes. It may be that the location has been offered as a pop-up venue just for the duration of its renovation but I hope not. Initiatives like this bring benefits on all sides – small businesses gain exposure and feedback, customers are drawn in to find the new and unusual, retailers network and learn from each other and exchange visitor feedback.

If this is the immediate effect of “La Mode aime Paris” then bravo Madame Hidalgo! Take courage from this inspiring insight into one of the many ways that supporting innovation and new entrants can breathe new life into Paris’s historic heart and traditions.

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