on tour: london/paris/canal du midi
It's a bit of an Australian right of passage to descend on Europe, getting over excited about the availability of beer in supermarkets, H&M and trains that run on time. I was a bit late to the party as only made it over earlier this month - but with the wisdom of age came nice hotels (we stayed at the Saint James Paris which was an eclectic design dream) and carefully selecting regional wine rather than backpacking and dodgy nightclubs, so no complaints here. Bf & I enjoyed a few days both in London and Paris before heading down to the South of France for a week on a barge in the Canal du Midi (I do actually get off dry land occasionally!). Barging seems to be pegged as an old persons sport, but we had the most delightful time cruising down the plain tree lined canal, exploring little towns and becoming deft hands at manoeuvring locks. The retirees we met along the way were amused at us 'young Aussies' who jumped off our barge at dawn to go running!
This trip was about sharing an adventure, not about fashion, so I don't have much in the way of blog relevant photos - but truth be told I don't really like trawling endless stores. There were, of course, a few must sees: Liberty was amazing, a department store bringing together heritage & new design perfectly. The building was something else! Their windows (photo above) of rug designs made from party decorations, done in collaboration with We Make Carpets, were creative, detailed and eyecatching - exemplary VM. I was a little surprised not to find more local designers (& let's be honest, when your 'local' is London you've got rich pickings) among their womenswear, but I suppose it's difficult to avoid fashion homogeny and maintain successful commerce in a world where I can get a Peter Pilotto dress delivered to my door (or, indeed, buy one from a bricks&mortar store! Elle is on the ball with international brands) in little old Perth. Liberty particularly appeals to me because the brand works twofold - both as a store and a fabric house. Liberty print is iconic, and the people at the helm have obviously worked hard to make sure it has a place in both the historical and contemporary aspects of Liberty-the-brand, collaborating with labels that share their values to create short-run products, as well as the more traditional homewares and shirts. Very clever, well refined. AND, the building is made from ships, so, clearly, target market, right here.
Harrods was mental (a whole department full of watches that cost the equivalent of an apartment...whaaaaat?), Brick Lane was basically Brunswick and full of hipsters, I got fabulous service at Agent Provocateur in Notting Hill and no service at all at Colette in Paris (I obviously didn't ooze enough cool, but it was still an über cool store). It was fun to see stand-alone stores for brands we rarely see in Australia - Issey Miyake & Y-3 for Adidas - and I appreciated the scale of VM & retail design of high end stores, but on the other end of the spectrum it was beyond depressing to see a Primark on every corner spruiking jeans for £8 (& moreso that people were buying them by the dozen, everyone walking out had a Primark bag. Very scary).
Got our art/history on at the V&A (excellent), the Tate Modern (underwhelming), British Museum, Natural History Museum (luckily well timed to see an incredible temporary photographic exhibition by Sebastião Salgado, striking black&white images of remote corners of the world were a sharp contrast to the bustle of major cities), Musée Rodin (worth it for the gardens alone), Musee d'Orsay (the most breathtaking collection of art I've ever seen) and saw a beautiful haute couture exhibition, filled with Worth & Grès & Lanvin & Balenciaga, which was an absolute privilege.
All in all, an enlightening experience, and while Australia can't compete in the historical stakes it made me realise we're certainly not as isolated fashion wise as we used to be, so there's no excuse not to up our game.
PS. I'm not the world's more fruitful travel photographer (figure if I can see it on a postcard I probably don't want to take a photo of it), but should you wish to see more mainly-barging holiday snaps there's an album here.