I’ve already written about flânerie, or aimless wandering in Paris, in this post. And I’ve done lots of wandering around Paris, but I’d never been to an exhibit dedicated entirely to this very Parisian pastime. At the end of September, an Hermès exhibit, Dans l’oeil du flâneur, or “In the eye of the wanderer,” was set up in a temporary space along the Seine River.
Gorgeous scarves and saddles
The exhibit featured room after room of Hermès objects, like walking sticks and canes, bags, and even a collection of lorgnettes, or spyglasses, from Emile Hermès’ own collection. Everything was displayed in a playful way – a little like Alice in Wonderland meets haute couture. Dishes under an elephant’s watchful eye and even a leather-covered gas can were all on view to the curious wanderer.
But when I think of Hermès, I think not of gorgeous scarves and saddles, but of my friend Yohan. Now at Chloé, he worked for many years at Hermès as a pattern-maker and cutter, and has
toiled had the honor of designing in many other illustrious Parisian fashion houses.
Yohan is intarissable on the subject : he can’t keep quiet about his workplace. He loves to talk about the flamboyant personality of this or that designer, or the overtime he puts in during different seasons’ runways shows, working alongside all the other petites mains, or little hands, in the industry.
One evening over drinks here in the 20th, Yohan told me he’d been working for Chloé for a year or so now. He explained that Chloé isn’t a haute couture maison, or design house, but rather prêt à porter de luxe, or luxury ready-to-wear. Then he proceeded to enumerate the differences between the two.
Who knew, for example, that haute couture uses special cotton or even silk thread ? (The price ? About 6€ a spool – prêt à porter uses polyester thread.) And the finish isn’t the same : in haute couture, they use a technique which is called a bourdon or traditional satin stitch, because it’s more flexible, and according to Yohan, results in more beautiful curves. And couldn’t we all use more beautiful curves ?
But only a few houses still produce haute couture, or custom-made pieces. The production costs alone are between 15 and 20,000€ for a dress that will be sold for about 45,000€. If that seems excessive, there are about 2 months’ work, or 300 hours, involved in fabricating the piece : to say it’s heavily labor-intensive isn’t exaggerating !
Heaven on earth
When Yohan isn’t talking about his life’s work and passion, he talks about his other favorite subject : food. Last time we met, we somehow got on the topic of travel first – he’d just come back from a vacation on Belle-Ile-en-Mer, an island off the south coast of Brittany.
I’d traveled to Belle-Ile a couple of years ago for a friend’s birthday, and Yohan and I agreed that Belle Ile is pretty much heaven on earth. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Nantucket island, where my family went in summers when I was a girl – at least until it became, according to some, “where the millionaires serve the billionaires.”
And then like most French conversations, we got back onto the subject of food. Yohan told me about a magical dessert he’d had on Belle-Ile as a child. With a faraway look in his eyes, he described a hybrid dessert called the Palenten, somewhere between a clafoutis and a deliciously caramelized Tarte Tatin.
You’ll find my answer – in the form of a recipe – to his search below. This dessert is dense and fruity, drizzled with salted caramel, and perfect after a long day of aimless wandering, or flânerie, wherever you happen to be.
From the Hermès exhibit :
“Flâner is a little like gathering : images and signs are the precious winnings of lost time. Hermès’ stores are designed to encourage this oh-so-Parisian practice which seems made not to lose time but to find it ! The flâneur picks, gleans, and gathers ; she discovers the unusual in the banal, the unseen in the already seen, the far in the near, and the visible within the invisible.”