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.
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.
We are selling yardage of some of our lovely prints. This organic cotton voile was block printed in India from organic cotton, is light as a feather and is color fast - we've tested it in our own home, and unlike many Indian cottons, the colors do not run.
This fabric is 43-44 inches wide and is just lovely quality. It's so soft, it almost feels like silk. Since our dear daughter is moving to France for a year, I have made pillow cases and a pieced sheet from one pattern, as the cotton is so smooth and soft. We've made the sheet extra long and added closures to the pillow cases. As she has to furnish her French apartment from the USA and IKEA France, with very modest funds, she's bought a bed, a simple futon, and a table and chairs. The sheet can serve as just that - or, as a throw for the futon, with the pillows/cushions. Folded, it can be a pretty tablecloth. If she gets tired of that, she can make a beautiful, easy swag - but we have to give credit to the Swedish for this, not the French:
Hem the short ends, put up two nails or hooks (or whatever your landlady will permit), gather a rosette with an elastic, hook it up on the nail and do the other end. When the elastic breaks, it's time to wash the fabric, or so say the Swedes. This system has worked really well in my house, and you don't even need to hem the short ends if you don't want to. Trim with pinking shears and leave it!
So let's see - one piece of fabric - sheet, couch cover, swag, bed cover, tablecloth. That's a lot of uses, and however it's used, that pop of color will be cheerful and pretty. What's not to love?
Don't be afraid to find your own great fabric (it needn't be ours), and have fun with it. Your house doesn't have to look like a designer did it! A little whimsy can be the ultimate style. If you have a piece of fabric you adore, drape it over the sofa for some color. Wrap some of your old cushions in it and secure in the back with safety pins, if a sewing machine isn't available to you. Make a no sew swag in an unexpected place like your powder room or laundry room. Fold it and place it on a side table for seasonal color. Use it as a tablecloth, adding a coordinating color underneath if it's not quite large enough. Fold it and place it at the end of your bed. Don't fuss that it's not "really" a tablecloth, or cover, or cushion - it's what you make it to be!
Whatever you do, have fun with this gorgeous material or any other that you love. That's what we do at Parlez-Vous Provence!
Close your eyes and picture the light purple flowers and cool grey leaves. Breathe in the soothing scent. Do you feel relaxed? Lavender is commonly known for its calming capabilities, but did you know it’s also naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal? Having a bouquet of lavender handy can help dispel unwanted pests, purify the air you breathe and keep your laundry fresh. Here are four reasons you should love having lavender in your home:
1) Laundry – To add the scent of lavender to your laundry, all you need are a few paper tea bags and a handful of lavender. Fill the paper tea bags with lavender and close them tightly. Place the bags in the dryer with your laundry, and it will smell lovely when it’s dry.
2) Furniture Polish – If you have small children or curious pets in your home, opt for this DIY eco-friendly furniture polish instead of an over-the-counter alternative. Mix two tablespoons lemon juice with a half-teaspoon of olive oil and one drop of lavender essential oil. Mix well, and then use a soft cloth to rub the concoction into your wooden furniture.
3) Deter Moths – Moths are repelled by the natural aroma in lavender. So, if you’re having a moth problem, cut some fresh lavender and place it around your home. Lavender essential oil works, too!
4) Linen Spray – If you’re having trouble sleeping, sprinkle the scent of lavender on your bed. All you need is a little vodka, some lavender essential oil and water. Mix two teaspoons of vodka with about 40 drops of essential oil and four ounces of water in a spray bottle. Shake well, and spray lightly over your linens for a soothing night’s sleep.