In this wing-clipped year of being grounded at home in the United States due to the novel Coronavirus, American lovers of Paris can still gaze eager eyes and open their hearts to the City of Light via Paris Chic, an elegantly hefty book published this month by stylish Assouline. With more than 200 photographs by Oliver Pilcher and text by Alexandra Senes, this heady tome abundantly delivers images and words artfully woven with sophistication and seduction: unfolding broad cityscapes and intimate corners, well-known hot spots and mysterious hideaways, lively action and lovely stillness, intriguing perspectives and personalities.
With Paris Chic, you can rejoice in the role of armchair traveler, taking flight while staying in place for now. Appreciate the thick feel-good paper as your fingertips turn 280 pages. Go slowly, as though you are strolling next to the River Seine, noticing every detail. Throughout Paris Chic, understand the appeal of the city’s tantalizing temptations as well as its poetic comfort, its centuries-old splendor and its of-the-moment energy. Revel in enchanting voyeurism, looking at behind-the-scenes gatherings in homes, offices and restaurants.
Imagine yourself (oui, fantasize!) slipping inside the images of Paris Chic as well: Peering over the edge of a hotel balcony; striding Avenue des Champs-Élysées; meandering public gardens; exploring galleries and workshops and bookstores; nosing around boutiques (a perfumerie!); indulging in treats (macarons!); relishing bistro meals that leisurely linger; meeting fab fresh amis. This is not a guidebook, although it certainly points in inviting directions. Like the best of travel-themed coffee table books, Paris Chic offers a sumptuous portal that woos and nurtures wanderlust.
“Paris is a dream… Paris is on the move. Paris is inexhaustible. Paris is exhilarating and stunning,” writes author Alexandra Senes in the introduction. She reveals favorite diversions and dalliances: “Only at the Ritz do you dab your face with a peach-colored towel, reputed to flatter your complexion” and “What more could you ask for than relaxing at the café de La Marine along the quai de Valmy, while watching, a glass of white wine in your hand, the hipsters pass in search of something new?” and “Let’s meet for lunch between the apiary and orangery, listen to Chopin between the forest and the orchard, and flirt…on the twenty-five hectares of…Jardin du Luxembourg.”
Senes weaves insider tips: “When a Parisian offers you roses, it’s because it’s serious. Especially a bouquet of Piaget. Elegant flowers with silhouettes of serrated peonies, pink-silver, and lilac, which exhale a divine perfume as in a garden or the compact of our grandmothers” and “One can easily become lost in the many alcoves of the Louvre, but is that really so bad?” She embroiders the book with quotes from long-ago and modern-day notables, as well as creatives she interviewed, families and friends, who embrace all kinds of passion. Chefs, fashionistas, journalists, artists and entrepreneurs unveil beloved preferences.
“Paris is a place where I always want to kiss,” Senes continues. Here, from Paris Chic, is a selection of thoughts and images to whet your thirst for more. Cheers!
“The inspiring Parisienne is a strong woman, almost brazen, who doesn’t hide her fragile side.” — Rabih Kayrouz, designer
“That’s Paris for you…. A city where monumental gestures are possible. I love Paris because I’m convinced that culture, museums and libraries are the only thing that can save the world. It’s one of the few big capitals that hasn’t been defaced by skyscrapers — you see huge skies. You can breathe.” — Julien Lombrail, co-founder of Carpenters Workshop Gallery
“You learn the behaviors, this kind of art of living — the smallest details of life: a glass of wine, a florist, an opera, everything is viewed as equally important in French culture.” — Gigi Ettedgui, who works at Maison Hermès
“A friend says, ‘Let’s go for dinner’: You find yourself next to Pharrell Williams, trying on African shirts. The jazzmen were bang on the button. Stevie Wonder said of his last concert, that it was the first city he felt free in.” — Marco Prince, singer, group F.F.F. [Fédération Française de Funk]
“When I watch How to Steal a Million, starring Audrey Hepburn, I hunt down scenes in Paris, and Givenchy’s amazing costumes. Hepburn is woken in the middle of the night and has to escort the main character who lives at the Ritz. She slips on black, patent-leather boots and a fabulously well-cut fuchsia coat — utterly perfect — over her nightdress! It’s so…chic! Seductive, brutally inspiring.” — Djaba Diassamidze, designer
“While maintaining my fondness for the beautiful products of the Parisian terroir, I then revisited the universe of sauces through new techniques, such as fermentation or cold extraction, which reveals the aromas of each product in a very pure and concentrated manner. For me, sauce is the verb of French cuisine that speaks of the future, the present or the past.” — Yannick Alléno, chef
“We have a filter in Paris that we don’t have in Ibiza or Greece. At the foot of…Montmartre on which is perched the Sacré-Coeur, this light from the north inspires me like that of the paintings of Rembrandt or Velázquez that I love so much.” — Ruben Alterio
“[The café] was the center of the world, within everyone’s reach. Add to that the fact that there’s a certain neutral, discreet and distinguished air in Paris — even in the most famous and fashionable cafés — they gradually became a refuge for individuals and loners, lovers and artists, societies and families… Cafés became one of the ingredients of the Parisian legend.” — Léon-Paul Fargue, poet
“No city is more intimately linked to books than Paris… Paris is the great reading room of a library through which the Seine flows.” — Walter Benjamin
“After a trip to Istanbul or to the bazaar at Drouot, I retire to my island as if I had come home to the countryside. We are on the Île Saint-Louis. Within these walls lived two Nobel Prize winners: René Cassin and Marie Curie.” — Serdar Gülgün, interior designer
Near the end of Paris Chic, author Alexandra Senes explains the essence of luxury and the spirit of this global city: “Luxury is about living luxuriously — not in the sense of owning luxurious things, but relating to things luxuriously, and defending a kind of accepted order, a rule of desire. Silverware and crystal glasses that don’t match, monogrammed cotton napkins from a second-hand market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Mum’s inherited chipped chinaware for a Yassa chicken cooked by Fatou — a Senegalese friend’s mother.”
For more illuminating travel books: Assouline Publishing, founded by Prosper and Martine Assouline, whose company — featuring exquisite gift items, library accessories and furniture — celebrates culture.