Check out my latest article on My French Life® - you'll learn a lot AND be amused:
You may have seen the new dresses and baby wear we've added to Parlez-Vous Provence. They are made in Draguinan in the south of France. Arlette Forstier, the owner of l'Ensoleillade ("sunbeam" or "lighting up"), very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me, as well as share an article from Nice Matin. We'd like to tell you a little bit about her background and the design sense that is so apparent in her beautiful creations. Pardon in advance for any clumsy translation.
In Draguignan, Arlette Forestier creates household linens and apparel, 100% "made in France," sold in boutiques in Provence as well as abroad. She is a little bit of woman, who never stops, not even for catastrophes. Since she created l'Ensoleillade in 1997, she has survived a fire in April 2006 and floods in June 2010. Each time, she lost everything, and each time, she rebounded.
Specializing in the manufacture of table and kitchen accessories (napkins, towels, runners, fabric baskets) and in apparel (dresses and skirts for little girls, skirts for women), she uses fabric printed in the eastern region of France, to her specifications, or fabrics like jacquard. She favors the motifs of Provence, from the classic to the modern, and has exclusive rights to certain designs, like those in her Estérel range.
In the beginning, says Arlette, apparel represented about 90% of her production, and table accessories about 10%. Now, it's the inverse - 90% table accessories, 10% apparel. Her company invests about 300,000 euros each year in fabrics. They are all cut and sewn by her "very good team" in her atelier in Draguinan, where foreign clients come to verify everything is, indeed, "made in France." About 30% of her sales are for export, and the rest are sold domestically, some in her own boutiques in Nice.
When we asked Arlette, and her daughter Estelle, whether they themselves designed the beautiful, classic clothes, they told us: "Yes. For our exclusive dress prints, we look for motifs and colors with the help of a design agency (n.b. - these are the powers-that-be behind fashion trends) or a designer works in collaboration with us in creating the motif. Because of this, our dresses and designs are exclusive to l'Ensoleillade." So these beautiful little dresses won't be found just anywhere - not even on 5th Avenue! But we have them - for the time being.
Here it is, almost Easter, and Passover has come and gone. Best wishes to all our friends, whatever holidays they celebrate – the more the merrier. We need more faith, love and joy in the world, whatever the source.
We’ve been trying to decide lately what direction to take our company. Our goal is to provide high quality and unique home decor and accessories, at fair prices. We want everyone to have beautiful things. Beauty is not an element for the elite; it’s for everyone.
Sometimes, it seems as though these simple aspirations are out of touch with consumers. While we sell our tablecloths at prices equal to or lower than many other companies, and have pledged 5% of our profits to Women for Women International, consumers don’t seem to recognize that high quality costs money – but is less wasteful in the long run. Others have referred to our wares as “fake,” because they’re not made by Souleiado, even though our manufacturers have been around since the 1930s, and the tablecloths are sewn in the South of France. Sometimes it’s downright discouraging, when we have a big table full of delicious things at a corporate vendor day, and no one stops by to look or even chat.
But then, out of the blue, you get a week like this one. Ma Vie Française® accepted my ideas for a series of articles. Someone called out of thin air just to tell us how unique and beautiful our web site was; another bought a copy of Henri à Paris. A third person called to let us know she loved our scarves, and could we send one to a friend for her birthday? We could indeed, including a pretty card, iris colored tissue paper and a lavender ribbon. A fourth person, having just received her April Newsletter, promptly read it and called looking for our new nail polish, the infinity scarf the Easter Bunny modeled for us (take a look at the Newsletter), and an Eiffel Tower tea towel – she was a repeat customer, so we were doubly happy. A new friend in Sweden ordered a yellow and lavender treated tablecloth.
In all modesty, here are a few comments:
I can’t thank you enough for all of your help! It means so much to me….Now I am going to go shopping for myself…and explore all your beautiful treasures. The kimono…❤ With Gratitude, L.
What a beautiful book (7 Secrets of French Design). You write wonderfully….The reader goes on a “French Journey”….I told [my sister-in-law] all about you and your website. She’s an instant fan…J.
Thank you for the cologne. I did try it and it’s lovely, light and breezy. Reminded me of a summer’s day in the French countryside….
So sometimes, just when you’re beating yourself up, the seeds you’ve sewn, of inspiration and hard work, may germinate and start growing. It’s a really good lesson, as we coddle our little business, and as I begin practicing law again and studying for yet another Bar Exam. Patience, patience and more patience. Faith, faith and more faith. As wise professor Penny Gill told my graduating class at Mount Holyoke College, don’t scare your seeds, or they won’t come up. Don’t yell at them, or neglect them; love them and watch with patience and faith.
À la prochaine,
Hello, lovely lovely spring. We are ready for you.
Even though it is still threatening to snow here in the New York City area, and we had single digit readings this morning, it is undeniably spring. The warm weather has come to Paris and the Ile de France. Here, the pollen count is up, although we can barely fathom that, with the cold and tremendous winds we’ve had – the trees are braver than we. And finally, we have seen the first sprouting of the daffodil bulbs in the garden, although it appears the winter has done in our little hellebore transplants so lovingly dug in last year. We’ll try again.
Not So Secret Paris
Are there any secrets left in Paris anymore? With the advent of the Internet, I venture to guess there are far fewer than there used to be. Still, we’d like to share some of our favorite places that most tourists might miss, places of color, quiet, intimacy or sensory delight.
Royal Gardens behind Comedie Francaise
Photo by MoonSoleil, 2007. originally posted to Flickr at http://flickr.com/photos/8027316@N02/803733466 under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo edited for clarity.
Have you been to the Palais Royal Gardens? Our daughter tells us that these gardens have recently been inaccessible due to work, but are now open. Compared to the Tuileries, Bois de Boulogne and the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Palais Royal Gardens are intimate, discreet, and even more classically beautiful. The Duchesse of Orléans, sister in law of Louis XIV, had them installed. There is an alley of trees, large rose plantings, and children’s playground, and one may have a little picnic in this “tucked away” corner, across from the Comédie Franćaise. Sit and imagine the royal children playing among the flowers, followed by anxious nannies, and Louis XIV entering the courtyard to visit his sister in law and nieces.
Sunrise on Sacre Coeur
Il y a belle lurette, or a long time ago, one of my French friends, Bénédicte, told me about going to see the sun rise over Paris from Montmartre - Sacré Coeur to be exact. She and her brother ascended the hill in the not so wee hours (the sun rises quite late in Paris in the winter), and watched as the light began to spread over the city. There had been a little bit of snow, and the effect was magical. It was quiet, and still, and there were few people up and around. Afterward, she and her brother found a little café - quite easy in that neighborhood- and warmed up with hot chocolate. It remained one of her favorite memories.
I too can attest to the magic of the stillness as the yellow-pink rays of light advance over the city, lighting it up quartier by quartier. I remember getting up (relatively) early, and climbing up the steps, to see the “rosy fingered dawn.” There’s never been a better description than Homer’s so we’ll leave it at that. It’s as though Paris belongs to you, and only you, when you can take in the sight with solitude. As the sun completed its ascent, we turned to go, and saw a beautiful young woman, in her bathrobe and slippers, hurry across the street to fetch her bread. It’s good to know that Montmartre is still its own little neighborhood, where families live and work, oblivious to the tourists crawling over Sacré Coeur. Fortunately for them and us, certain times of the day remain private and still, if we make the effort to find them.
Swedish House, or Le Café Suédoise
And no, we don’t mean the band! The Swedish Institute in Paris was established in 1971 as a unique cultural center for Swedes abroad. It hosts expositions, concerts, films, theatre and of course, courses in Swedish. Situated in the Marais, its café is a congenial place to meet friends, and offers delicious Swedish tea treats and meals in its folkloric tea room. At Christmas-time, the courtyard is decorated with a huge version of the traditional straw Swedish horse, found on Christmas trees and holiday decor.
You can find the Café in the Hôtel de Marle, at 11 Rue Payenne, in the Marais. Look for the stone courtyard and the blue door. Alternatively, follow the aroma of the fresh Swedish pastries and brioche made by the staff. The café is open Tuesday through Sunday, from noon to six pm.
The Great Mosque of Paris
The Mosque isn’t quite as well kept a secret as it used to be, but it’s an out of the way respite where you will be warmly and graciously welcomed, in an exotic and mysterious atmosphere. Perfect on that rainy Paris afternoon when the streets are gritty and your feet are tired!
The Mosque was founded in 1926, as a token of gratitude, after World War I, to the Muslim tirailleurs from France’s colonial empire, of whom 100,00 died fighting against Germany. And, let’s remember that during World War II (in which France was occupied by Nazi Germany) and The Holocaust, under its rector Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the mosque served as a secret refuge for Jews, being persecuted by the Axis powers, providing them shelter, safe passage, and fake Muslim birth certificates.
Many aspects of the Mosque are open to the public. There is a fabulous restaurant, where you can experience tagines, couscous and pastries. If you want a break, treat yourself to the Salon de Thé, and imagine yourself in a moorish cafe, surrounded by beautiful, intricate tile tables and walls. The waiter will bring you mint tea or coffee, and you can indulge in sweet, flaky North African pastries. The Salon de Thé is open 7 days a week, from 9:00 am to 11:30 pm.
For the more adventurous, the Mosque offers baths for men and women (strictly segregated) and a souk, or bazaar. You can get a full virtual visit at www.la-mosquee.com.
Share your favorite secret spots in France...
À la prochaine,
All photos unless otherwise noted ©Parlez-Vous Provence.
What do Parlez-Vous Provence, Mme. Louise, Mlle. Adriana, a trip to Quimper and Mount Holyoke College have to do with Pippa Middleton's bridesmaid dress?
Well, in my mind, where admittedly, connections are made leap by leap at times, there's a definite live stream of consciousness/life link.
Let me explain. I mean, really, can you stop me? Trust me, even if you were here in person with me, you wouldn't be able to.
If you've been following this blog or Parlez-Vous Provence, you know I've just come back from a month long trip to visit our daughter Adriana, who is teaching and living in Limours France for a year. (For more about her current adventures, check out http://lettersfromlimours.wordpress.com)
Because my time is more my own, now that I'm not actively practicing law, I rented a car and took the opportunity to venture out a bit with Adriana. We spent a lovely week in Bretagne, so enchanted with the region that we extended our stay for several days. The lovely host and hostess of the Hôtel La Québéçoise recommended we see Quimper, so we added it as a stop on our way from Dinan to Carnac.
Quimper is an "ancien" small city on the banks of the Odet River. In the center city, elegant half timbered buildings abound, and we drifted around as if under a spell. We made the obligatory stop to shop for Faïence, which was delightful, and then wandered at will.
I am a fabricaholic. I can sniff out a good fabric source a mile away. A small shop window, without signage, quietly beckoned. Let's go in, I said, let's not be shy, even though the door was closed and there was no indication of hours or even whether it was open.
In we walked, a little timidly, as we weren't sure we'd be welcome. But of course, one fabric lover instantly recognizes another! We explained to the madame and monsieur, who were wife and husband, that we had seen the colorful tweeds in the window and were intrigued. (Speaking French is so helpful to make introductions.) They informed us the tweeds in the window were Chanel - unbelievably beautiful. While they explained they couldn't allow us to take pictures of the interior, as they tried to keep their business affairs discreet, they told us they bought bolt ends of very exclusive fabrics. Their customer base was worldwide, as they sell well under current retail prices.
As we quietly gushed over the colors and textures, out came a bolt of pale pale cream silk - the fabric used for Pippa's bridesmaid dress! Could we touch it, we timidly asked? Bah, bien sûr, of course! It was fine and delicate, yet had a lovely substance and drape. And I could feel this even though (timing is everything) I'd gotten super glue by accident on some of my fingers, and hadn't gotten it all quite off! Not to worry, I did not cause any runs in the fine silk.
A remnant hanging by the door of black lace underlined with nude silk netting was the same used for Charlize Theron's famous dress, worn at the White House in 2012 and designed by Pucci. More bolts of Chanel tweed lined the wall to the right of the door. Out came remnants of heavy silk linings by Yves St. Laurent and Dior.
Madame had worked for Chanel for many years and was elegance herself. Monsieur wore a bespoke suit and a gray small ponytail that very few men could have pulled off. They were simply charming and only too happy to enjoy a few moments with fellow fabric lovers and "amateurs" of fine quality.
Now, let's connect the links, shall we? Starting our new business gave me the time and the impetus to visit Adriana for more than a week or ten days. As mother and daughter, we took this little vacation to Bretagne to have some good old fashioned fun, and luxury of luxuries, neither one of us, for once, had ANY obligations urgently whispering in our ears the entire week. No worries about the office, business disputes, theses due, exams, regulatory investigations - none of that. We had time for a real, true vacation, probably the first in decades.
Now we must go back in time a bit, and bring that link forward into the present. My beloved alma mater is Mount Holyoke College, one of the most beautiful and amazing institutions in the world. I say that without exaggeration. Those of you lucky enough to have experienced the support and power of that school are lucky in a way only a few can know.
Mount Holyoke has just embraced a new identity: Never Fear/Change. I kept this in mind during my last visit to France, as Adriana and I talked about courage and timidity. Getting past timidity, and embracing courage - even in the simple act of going into a store and talking to strangers - can enhance our lives immeasurably. With courage we can connect to the world, learn well outside our previous internal and external boundaries and limits. Adriana remarked that it seemed much easier for me to start conversations, walk into strange places and generally make myself known. I was not always like that, but the first steps I took to embrace that courage were in South Hadley, Massachusetts, on the Mount Holyoke Campus. And keeping Never Fear/Change in mind was a mental support to continue exploring, being open and being brave.
And that's how we got to feel Pippa's bridesmaid dress fabric! The link is actually fairly direct.
Parlez-Vous Provence is an also an example of Never Fear/Change in action. A switch from practicing law to running an import business requires courage, faith and a mental "180." But ditching the fear, or perhaps better put, planning for the worst and hoping for the best, erases lots of self-imposed limits.
À la prochaine,