We land at the beautiful and romantic city of Paris at the crack of dawn. The charming men and the stylish women in the megapolis remind us of the reason for this trip to France, the country that is associated with art, beautiful people and all things that spell grandeur and joie de vivre. Checking in at the exclusive address at Avenue Montaigne – Hotel Plaza Athenee is the ultimate in luxury. They even have a pillow menu!
We are then whisked off to Le Meurice hotel on the famous Rue de Rivoli where we meet Elisabeth Ponsolles des Portes, President of Comite Colbert and the brain behind the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC LUXE), who introduces us to the Presidents and CEOs of 40 of the most luxurious French labels. A glass of chilled champagne, a delightful chat with Monsieur Remi Krug, President of Krug and all of a sudden, a sense of excitement fills the room. The tables are artistically laid out and each table is named after a French castle. My table is named Versailles and as I sample the delectable fare, I feel like a princess. Well almost!
Post lunch, we proceed to the Cour Carre at the Louvre, past the towering and impressive Pyramide, where the International Contemporary Art Fair is being held. The unique exhibition recognises the talents, hard work and achievements of budding artistes by presenting the Young Designers’ Award to a select few.
As Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes reminds us, “There is a natural affinity between contemporary art and luxury because we speak the same language – that of the creative process. It is important to demonstrate this connection and show that luxury is not merely the repository of heritage craftsmanship.”
Each of the projects by the young designers is contained within a bubble that floats almost magically. The multiplicity of bubbles brings to mind the abundance of new ideas. This exhibition shows how creativity is permanently at work in the heart of French luxury houses and this is where their international success originates.
The next day, we get an entry into the world of designer fashion workshops and salons. Mr. Philippe le Moult – Director des Relations Institionelles takes us around the heritage mansion where the first Christian Dior collection for Spring/Summer was shown on February 12, 1947.
The vivacious Catherine Riviere – Director of Activities Mode et Prestige, demonstrates how Dior has a fundamental design and cut of their own. All their different creations emerge from this basic form with embellishments added on. They have two haute couture workshops, Flou, where the light hand is needed and Tailleur for the heavier hand. Dior has a dummy for each client and all clothes are handstitched and fabric, handpainted.
During this visit, we also stumble upon an interesting bit of trivia. France’s First Lady, Madame Chirac had ordered a special handbag as a gift for Lady Diana with which she travelled across the globe. The Lady Dior bag, as it is popularly known, is the largest selling bag in the world today. A particular Louis XVIth chair features prominently in all showrooms of the brand and the handle of the Lady Dior bag has the same shape as the back of the chair!
Later, we meet the President and CEO of Dior, Sidney Toledano who enlightens us about the future plans of the international giant. Toledano informs us that a second store has been recently opened in Moscow and they are now keen on setting up another one in India.
Then, we have a special meeting with Dominique Montcourtois, Director of Make-up Creation, of Chanel, in a futuristic atrium where he has a laboratory dedicated to creating innovative products. He takes us on a journey through the evolution of the many shapes of the brand’s lipsticks and the logo of Chanel No 5, which were created by Coco Chanel. They plan to introduce a rouge where the container communicates with the customers. They are also creating some products where the colour of the nails will turn from beige to pink and red in daylight, depending on the intensity of the light.
Then, onto a delightful lunch at Coco Chanel’s residence. Since her death in 1971, this is the second time that a meal has been served here. We are taken on a tour of the beautiful mansion and I notice that the shapes of the ornate mirrors are similar to the cap of the Chanel No. 5 bottle. As Coco was a Leo, most of her memorabilia have pictures of lions. Many cushions in the room are quilted like the Chanel bags. The international brand had a well-known advertisement depicting a bird in an enclosure, which I learn, was inspired by the miniature bird in a cage which features in her living room.
The evening sees us lounging in a luxurious and contemporary setting, a boutique hotel designed by Christophe Pillet, along the banks of the Seine. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, leading exporters of champagne, presented an exhibition of creative objects specially conceived for this Champagne house. The most striking and innovative artefact is an orange spout from which you can sip champagne; truly a novel way to drink.
Then we visit the Baccarat Museum, a majestic place adorned with shimmering crystals. The subdued lighting enhances the beauty of these precious stones and I am not surprised that their major customers were the Maharajas of India.
Finally, a visit to Maison Guerlain where we are enchanted by the fragrances of perfumes – the pièce de résistance of French products – and lastly, fleeting moments at Ercuis & Raymond, Saint Louis, Bernardaud, Lalique and Christofle.
After this whirlwind tour of Paris, I am left speechless. For now I know what it takes for these global brands to add that wonderful element of luxury to everyone’s lives.