Designers are funny creatures: they strive to be praised out loud in the open, and want pictures of their work being shared instantly all across the world, they tend to sneak into the most hidden places when it comes to actually unveiling their collections.
Here’s to every one who ever needs to go into hiding in Paris. Or urgently needs a toilet. Or is looking for the secretly best view over the Eiffel tower. The city is filled with (often unlocked!) doors right in the open, that will lead you to secret, marvelous places only fashion designers seem to notice:
LE COMPTOIR GENERAL – Manish Arora
Manish Arora once hosted a My Little Pony themed fashion show at this shabby chic heaven. Settled in a former barn and greenhouse, this 600 square meter cabinet of curiosities has been decorated by movie set designers and aims to transport you to a midsummer night’s dream –so the website claims. Old world maps, voodoo attire, rare birds, indoor plants and impressive chandeliers: entering the place indeed feels like exploring a once grand, now abandoned embassy somewhere in Cuba, Africa or whatever other exotic region was crashed by colonials.
Now, apart from fashion shows, what’s the use of this particular establishment? Le Comptoir General famously brings you brunches in the weekend, acts as a cocktail bar in the evening, serves as a coworking place (speaking about my dream office!) and regularly hosts movie screenings and interesting talks. The jack-of-all-trades of venues, I’d say.
Bonus point: getting there requires a walk along the scenic and pleasant Canal Saint Martin, don’t forget to bring your camera!
AMERICAN CATHEDRAL– Christian Wijnants
Looking for a bit of silence in Paris? Head over to the American Cathedral on Avenue George V, right off the Champs Elysées, and sneak into its enchanting Dean’s Garden. Talking by a place of contemplation! The courtyard of this 1880s structure looks like it’s plucked straight out of a Narnia movie and the wise-looking little-kid-with-pigeon statue in the corner is strangely fascinating.
Seat yourself next to it and reflect on whether you really needed to go all crazy on the Champs Elysées stores – and if so, use the peace and quiet to draft a list of all the other musthaves you shall shop… Don’t forget to pay the Nave, the majestic church at the end of the hall, a visit once you’re done and let your imagination run wild.
Although this is still an active place of worship, it is often rented out as a location for films, parties and even fashion shows. Belgian designer Christian Wijnants staged one here and it was magical to see his colorful designs come to life in the cold, stone-vaulted crypt.
FAUST – Manish Arora
From a house of worship to a dance temple: things tend to get festive under the bridges of Paris and that is certainly the case for Faust, a nightclub and cocktail bar discreetly tucked away underneath Pont Alexandre III. This former naval warehouse converted its tunnel-like storage space into a breathtaking, hypnotizing –those lights!- dance floor that hosts local talents and big shot international DJ’s alike.
In summer, its terrace opens out into the sunlight and it is said to be one of the best spots in town to enjoy the sunset. The afterworks at Faust have become somewhat notorious, but watch out: this place doesn’t take friendly to sloppiness, so dress the part.
Manish Arora hosted a show here once. Imagine over 3000 LED lamps lighting both ceiling and walls in the tunnel, combined with the hysterical glitterfest the Indian designer is known for: BAM!
GARAGE LUBECK – Veronique Branquinho, Christian Wijnants
Bright, airy and zen: I’m always happy when a show invite indicates Garage Lubeck as venue du jour, as this pretty space feels like a welcome breath of fresh air in the midst of a worked up fashion week. There’s nothing really special to say about it, apart from the fact its glass roof structure always shines a beautiful light on the models, and the usually stressed-out backstage teams tend to be just that little more serene when working in this place.
You access it through a pretty little courtyard and the surrounding streets are worth to be explored, as they harbor many quirky little boutiques and roofed galleries. One to wander and relax!
PALAIS de CHAILLOT – Ann Demeulemeester
Another favorite: early morning backstage sessions are the best at the Palais de Chaillot, as you get to witness a beautiful sunrise from the basement windows, overlooking the Jardin du Trocadero and the Eiffel tower. A view unblocked by tourists, as those will still be in bed recovering from the overdose of French wine they indulged the night before.
What else? This neo-classic palace was built for the 1937 World Exhibition and played an important political role in the 20th century history. The nazis overtook its beautiful art deco hallways and theatre during the Occupation to host “benefits” for French workforces at the front… and after the war the NATO established its headquarters here. It’s also the place where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, so yes, a lot of drama still haunts these corridors.
RUE DE L’ECOLE DE MEDECINE – AF Vandevorst, Ann Demeulemeester,
This entire street is fascinating and has been the decor of many fashion shows. The street is home to the Université Paris Descartes, housed in different historical 17th-century hospices, convents and medical schools. Over the years, many a skull has been cracked open, bodies dissected, prosthetic legs created and teeth collected here. All for educational purposes of course. Almost as notoriously, AF Vandevorst had its models ride in the Faculté de Médecine’s courtyard (number 12) on thundering motorbikes in 2016.
Little did the models know a fascinatingly gruesome museum, the Musée de l’Histoire de la Médecine, was and still is located in the attic some floors above their heads. No one ever comes there, so you pretty much have the place all to yourself and your imagination whenever you visit.
There’s also an amazing library…
… wìth Forbidden Section in true Harry Potter style!!
Other noteworthy ànd designer-approved venues are the numbers 5 (the Académie Royale de la Chirurgie, where notorious French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt was born in 1844), 15 (today’s Faculté de Médecine’s headquarters) and 6 (which acts as an arthouse cinema nowadays).
LES DOCKS – LA CITE DE LA MODE ET DU DESIGN – Cédric Charlier
If broken skulls and ancient prosthesis don’t tickle your fancy, and you’re more into modern design, head over to Les Docks – La Cité de la Mode et du Design. This is where the fashion school Institut Francais de la Mode is housed, in ancient warehouses along the water on the Quai d’Austerlitz. It boasts an awesome skatepark, complete with highly imaginative murals.
MUSEE RODIN – Dior
This may not be a hidden gem, but it’s a gem nevertheless. Dior has the habit of staging its shows at Musée Rodin’s, the former house of the famed French sculptor. The monumental entrance hall of the 18th-century building has served as the backdrop of many shoots, and so did the enchanting sculpture garden. Said garden is what it’s all about during fashion week by the way. I like to take a stroll in it to escape all the fuss and chaos a show can bring along, and I’m clearly not the only one –seeing how many models escape behind the bushes to have a nice and quiet cigarette before the show. I saw Kate Moss emerging from behind one once, so apparently this green little paradise also counts as a sneak-in and –out route for celebrities.
MAIRIE DE PARIS – Dries Van Noten
Helloooooooo pretty ceiling! As ceilings go, there is no more dramatic version to be found in the entire city. The Mairie palace is where Dries Van Noten likes to host shows. Imagine his crazy couture amidst statuesque columns, actual marble statues, chandeliers, cherubs and gods: yep, it is as beautiful as witnessing a Pokemon evolve!