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From Paris With Love

One of Austin's most beloved designers navigates a turbulent year with grace, makes it to the Marais, and tells why French style still inspires her.

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There is an expression in French that means “my fix”: ma dose. Like an addict needs his drugs, an alcoholic needs his drink, and my husband needs the time to play his vintage guitars, I too need ma dose. And the lovely drug that I need most is Paris.

My story with the City of Light goes back more than 40 years, and I don’t call it a “love story.” It is more a story of home: comfortable, accepting, productive, and yet cranky, admonishing, and gray. I want to cocoon in the arms of my home and feel the warmth, comfort, and understanding of a parent. And so, I do that. I go home to Paris every summer and stay for two months.

This year was harder, as my family was in turmoil: my mother died in January after a long battle with breast cancer—the same cancer I had battled myself, at the same time five years ago. And then in late March our daughter, Zelda, began a three-month stay in the hospital, following a seizure and subsequent botched surgery, and 10 more operations followed. Each day that we watched and waited for her wounds to heal and her infections to clear, the planned summer sojourn in Paris seemed less likely and yet more necessary.

But my son, Creed, and I did get on the plane the day after Zelda, his twin sister, was discharged from the hospital and two days after the interment of my mom’s ashes to be with my dad’s up at the Veterans Cemetery in Killeen. I went to Paris to refresh my eyes for design and to return to the Sorbonne (now as a teacher instead of as a student). I teach fashion and design to international high school students who are in Paris to learn and absorb and become intoxicated as much as I did so many years ago. I came here to get my master’s degree in the 1980s and then stayed on to study design, and then stayed on years longer (after my visa had expired) to live and work as a créatrice de mode. I disappeared into the heart of the “City of Light”. As a designer, I was born here, and to return to Paris is, for me, to be reborn and to be home again.

Now, of course, I have a career and a family in Texas, and so the arrangement for getting my “fix” has become more complicated: as with any addiction, the drug can be expensive and difficult to procure. I usually take both of our children to Paris with me for the duration of my summer teaching assignment, always finding an apartment in the Marais to accommodate us, and joined later by my husband, Evan, who stays in Texas to work and maintain our various projects.

I am at home in France. I am not a good tourist. I draw my inspiration from the streets, the light, the trash, the window displays, the Marché aux Puces, the cool gray air, and the anonymity.

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The things I see and feel here swirl inside me, and hopefully emerge later as designs for clothing that I will make back home. I live a day-to-day existence here: our days begin with waking in the morning, preparing lesson plans while Creed takes his breakfast of a tartine and juice. We take the Métro up to Barbès to check on any fabrics that have been dropped at our favorite shops. By lunchtime, we are back at our apartment, where Creed waits for our nounou, a lovely nanny who is French but speaks four languages. I run off to work. Today should I tell my students of the history of Paris fashion? Take them to the Dries exhibit at the Louvre? Or teach them to hand-sew 30 perfect stitches a minute like the tailors in the 19th century before the invention of the sewing machine? For dinner, friends stop by for an apéro or we sit at the table and talk for hours. Creed and I miss Evan and Zelda every day.

Design in Paris has been honed over centuries into two sometimes competing dialectical pursuits: to be daring and yet to be perfectly composed. I relate to both of these, thanks to my upbringing and the freedom given to me by my parents to be edgy and yet also timeless, to be raw but also highly finished. They supported me every step of the way. Parisians never look as if they don’t care—they look as if they don’t have to try to care.

All of this is me. It’s what I do, it’s what I love. That, and sharing it with my children. This summer, Evan will bring Zelda to Paris after six weeks of recovery at home. Her strength and resilience can only accentuate how we choose to live our lives, as creatives—my husband as an artist and I as a clothing designer—and as an intrepid family inspired by what we see, what we feel, and the risks that we take.

Credits

  • Photography by Gail Chovan
  • Illustrations by Kelti Smith

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