Notions of Paris

Galeries Lafayette art deco envelope

Cold weekend mornings are pretty well nigh perfect for browsing Paris flea markets of the outdoor sort. Cities in autumn, winter and spring seem much more the thing to me than hot summer cities. Everything seems a bit cleaner and clearer. A bit more interesting. Everything is shown in a more flattering light.

I found this envelope on a cold Saturday in Paris a few years ago. There is a long winding flea market there called Port De Vanves that is always worth the trek. Even if you don’t buy anything it is a very nice place to browse. In between the organised traders you get suitcases on the floor full of rusty nonsense of the intriguing kind. Or paper nonsense of the ephemeral kind. Or cards of buttons. Old shop bits. That sort of thing.

I love this envelope. It is a pretty lovely piece of retail history from the home town of retail history. Galeries Lafayette is still a grande dame of a department store but in the 1920s it was even grander than that. As the Arts Decoratifs took over 1925 Paris, the store was pretty much the centre of fashionability. This envelope is from around that period, I think. Its lovely graphics are crammed with little references to the decorative architectural notions the store was covered in at that time. And all that script lettering is just happiness-making.

The envelope text references the laces and buttons department. And it was for putting laces and buttons inside, I should think, when madam had made her choice. The string (which seems to have once had a navy tinsel wound through it) would then be wrapped around to keep things securely inside. How nice it lived on squashed in a drawer somewhere, in the town from whence it came. Until I paid a few francs to liberate it.

Ahh. To be shopping in Paris in 1925. Grabbing a copy of Gazette du Bon Ton and a couple of new buttons for refurbishing the somewhat worn Poiret coat – on the way to meet a friend for a Café au lait.



The first time I went into the Galeries Lafayette was on a trip from art college when we were put up in Pigalle with exotic ladies on the streets who were wearing fur coats and no knickers, but I digress, the real point is that I was in desperate need of a tire bouchon to crack open the bottles of cheapo red wine back at the hotel. It was a bit like a comedy sketch, well actually very like Black Books in Paris with me playing Bernard. Happy days.


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