Whenever I put on the jacket pictured, I am immediately transported to my only brief trip to Paris in early 2010. As detailed below, it was bought on a very wintery Sunday.
My mum and I arrived late on a Friday evening, puffing out spirals into the freezing night as we waited for a taxi. As the car then sped around the city, we played ‘spot the landmark’ – pointing to the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, lit up like golden velvet.
The next day I was up early for a modelling assignment for an Italian magazine known as D Mag. One of the strangest things about modelling is that you never know quite where you are going to end up – a blessing or a curse, depending on the outcome. That time I was more than lucky. The shoot took place in the top floor apartment of what looked like an otherwise deserted building. Our initial qualms were abandoned once we saw the interior. It was like stepping into a perfect replica of the seventies, from the sliding door revealing shelves and shelves of vinyl records to the cream sofa I was asked to recline on in a cheesecloth skirt. The owner, (a doctor if my memory is correct), had rented it out to the team for the day.
I count the hours spent there as being one of the highlights of my very short-lived modelling career. It was my first big, ‘proper’ job – I was a nervous fourteen year old surrounded by a number of people who were constantly adjusting my appearance and discussing it in a wonderful mixture of languages. I did have one reason to be worried though. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis some months previously, and the physical effects on my torso were already noticeable. When styled in a striped swimming costume and long, clingy skirt, my mum and I silently wondered whether the photographer saw my lopsided-barrel ribs. However, if the team did notice anything amiss, then they gracefully didn’t let on. I attempted to use my rudimentary school-learnt French (taught purely to pass exams) at lunch. I smiled gleefully as the Italian stylist chose each garment. Almost flirtatiously I would flutter my eyes at the Stella McCartney skirts and Chanel boots, like a girl waiting for a dance partner to choose her. It was my first glimpse of the way those clothes looked and felt in ‘real life’ – my previous perception was a purely visual one, influenced by the images from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I softened up as the day progressed, and left having thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – and hoping that I had done my job well.
Sunday offered the chance to explore the city – my mum and I taking in the sights at high speed. We walked to the Sacre Coeur, and later took a rattling metro train to the Notre Dame. The two grand churches were bookends, with ‘Les Marches Aux Puce’ (the flea markets) sandwiched between in the afternoon. We made our way through stalls selling CDs and the men touting fake Louis Vuitton bags to the ‘vintage quarter’. We knew we were near when the surrounding shops started displaying antique furniture, giving prominence to items that I didn’t know I desired until I saw them: crystal doorknobs, individual sparkling droplets from chandeliers, ornate keys covered in curlicues, feather fans.
We trod along alleyways and cut through passages, slowly losing ourselves in the catacomb of clothing. Places selling leather jackets sat alongside cave-like rooms that one had to stoop in to examine vintage satin hats and snakeskin shoes. Recognisable names (and less recognisable price tags) fluttered by – Madame Gres, Chanel, Alaia and a green fur Dior.
There was a lot of fur, most of it sported by the elegant, elderly French women. It was a freezing February day, the coldest in years (according to the conversations we overheard), and these women looked smug and warm. Some of the pelts were accessorised with the glowing red tip of a cigarette, or bright lipstick bleeding into the tributaries of their lips.
I found the cropped, blue jacket pictured in a stall located at the top of a set of stairs. The rails of Bell Boys’ jackets and delicious looking dresses were riffled through having just enjoyed a hand-warming crepe. I sprung at the snatch of blue boiled wool and military style buttons visible among the heaving coat hangers. It was one of several in varying sizes and styles, with some kind of insignia stamped on the brown, slightly faded lining. I would love to know whose uniform this was; what they did and where.
This piece of clothing now serves as a souvenir, not only from Paris, but also from modelling. It hangs in my room alongside a Charlotte Taylor top as a memory of a dizzy and fleeting immersion in an industry that was both tantalising and curious.
We later dashed to catch a glimpse of the Louvre in the melting sun, before leaving for the airport. It was too quick an introduction, but I’m sure I will be re-acquainted when the time is right.
The dress was from a favourite charity shop of mine, as was the hat and the chelsea boots. The turquoise necklace belonged to my mum (I put it on the circular torque) and the scarf in the first shot belonged to a family member.