CRYSTALIZING HOPE

CRYSTALIZING HOPE

 Helping Hand Home Hosts Annual Crystal Ball Presentation And Gala

By Rose Betty Williams     Photography by Jetter Photography

THE SETTING: Before COVID-19, the Helping Hand Society celebrated the 77th annual Crystal Ball with a brunch and fashion show and the black tie Debutante Presentation Gala 2020 at the Palmer Events Center. Thirty-four debutantes, their escorts and junior escorts were presented along with 151 ninth grade Helping Hand Girls and Boys and 39 First Grade Princesses.

THE STYLE: Julian Gold and Webber Productions presented the fashion show at the luncheon. Emcee Jim Spencer introduced the Princesses, HH Girls and HH Debutantes. HHH Executive Director Ted Keyser and HH Society President Becky Roche welcomed and thanked the HHH supporters, event sponsors, underwriters, auction donors, the participants, their families and HH Society members for their talents, tireless efforts and generosity. The capacity crowd applauded loudly when nine former HH presidents made a surprise appearance, modeling the latest fashions on the runway. The gala featured the debutante presentation, a silent auction, a buffet dinner by Catering by Rosemary and dancing to the music of Blind Date.

This year’s Helping Hand Crystal Ball debutantes are: Catherine Amlar Adams, Kathryn Paige Anderson, Saylor Grace Barton, Larson Lane Beck, Lara Reyne Bell, Eloise Jane Breckbill, Emma Rose Breckwoldt, Caroline Merritt Pasfield Brigham, Jennifer Sara Chafizadeh, Caroline Alexander Daniel, Allison Spencer Durrett, Megann Simms Ehrlich, Hailey Elizabeth Gove, Ann Campbell Griffin, Julie Morgan Howden, Katherine MacLeod Huffstutler, Mary Claire Kemper, Avery Elaine McCall, Julia Barnes McIntyre, Louisa Michelle Nash, Mary Margaret Oden, Jillian Renee Perry, Isabella Grace Porter, Caroline Avery Ryan, Sallie Ann Seiders, Kathryn Alexis Shirley, Samantha Larke Smith, Avery Paige Smitheal, Rachel Elizabeth Stewart, Mary Caroline Taaffe, Zoë Michelle Taylor, Evelyn Clara Voelter, Anna Elinor Whitehead, and Rory Suzanne Williams.

THE PURPOSE: The 2020 Crystal Ball was co-chaired by Julie Baselice and Ginnie Wilcox, along with a gala committee comprised of more than 70 Helping Hand Society member volunteers. It is the largest fundraiser for the Helping Hand Home for Children, raising more than $1.4 million in support of the Helping Hand Home’s mission: to provide a nurturing and therapeutic home for children and to restore each child to a healthy family setting. The goal of the organization is to protect and restore the lives of victimized children so that those without hope may reclaim their futures.

NEW AND EXTRAORDINARY

NEW AND EXTRAORDINARY

The finest cultural experiences in Texas are back, according to our cultural adventurer Leanne Raesener, who shares our favorite recommendations from across the state.

AUSTIN

BLOSSOMING THIS FALL

In Courtney Egan’s exhibition, Superflora, the central work is a large-scale interactive video projection. As viewers move along the walls, the floral imagery blossoms, and fades, responding to their presence. On view September 17―January 10. At UmlaufSculpture.org.

IMAGE: Courtney Egan Sleepwalkers (Night Blooming Cereus) 2013 Looping video projection, HD (Ed. of 10)

WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL

The newly opened Wonderspaces Austin, a 24,000 square foot industrial space, partners with artists to present an evolving showcase of extraordinary art to new audiences. It currently features over a dozen artists with multiple interactive displays. Of particular note is a sculpture, The Immigrant comprised of 2,300 wooden balls, by Brooklyn-based artist Michael Murphy. On view currently. At  Austin.Wonderspaces.com.

 

IMAGE: October 01, 2019, by Arseny Vesnin in 2019, art. USA, Portfolios

JUST A DREAM

Artist Juan Mũnoz’s Last Conversation Piece appears theatrical in its arrangement. However, visitors at The Contemporary―Laguna Gloria may enter the conversation space, even as the sculpture’s stony faces pay them no mind. One may sense a subtle disconnect from reality as if confronting the figures in a dream. November 19―Ongoing. At  TheContemporaryAustin.org.

IMAGE: Juan Muñoz, Last Conversation Piece, 1994–1995. Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Museum Purchase, 1995. Artwork © Juan Muñoz. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons

DALLAS / FORT WORTH

TO ADMIRE…NOT TO BREAK

Commissioned for the reopening of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Puente Nuevo is an immersive experience of large-scale artwork made from materials used to construct piñatas. Contemporary artist Justin Favela draws on his own Mexican and Guatemalan heritage. September 14–November 15. At www.CarterMuseum.org.

IMAGE: A walk through a #papermache #garden #denver #colorado…awesome #installationart by Justin Favela
@denverartmuseum

SPANISH RENAISSANCE CAPTURED

Berruguete Through the Lens: Photographs from a Barcelona Archive parallels this past spring’s major exhibition, Alonso Berruguete: First Sculptor of Renaissance Spain. Featuring early-twentieth-century photographs of works by Alonso Berruguete (c. 1488–1561). Through January 10. At MeadowsMuseumDallas.org.

IMAGE: Copyright: © 2019 Institut Amatller d’ Art Hispànic-im. 05583046 (foto Mas C-80351/1934) Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata

MEET YOU AT THE FAIR

Over the past two decades, Mark Bradford has created monumental works of abstract painting and collage. Growing up in his mother’s hair salon and becoming a hairdresser himself, in End Papers, he incorporates in his art the thin, delicate papers used to protect hair from overheating during the permanent wave process. Through January 10. At www.TheModern.org.

IMAGE: On a clear day, I can usually see all the way to Watts, 2001. The Bluff Collection. © Mark Bradford

HOUSTON

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD

Hats Off: Halston Hats from the Masterson Collection explores the art of millinery in the mid-20th century through hats and hair accessories designed by renowned American fashion designer Halston. Of particular note is the now infamous pillbox hat designed by Halston for Jackie Kennedy that she wore at the 1961 presidential inauguration. Through January 21. At MFAH.org.

IMAGE: Halston, for Bergdorf Goodman, Hat, 1959–67, white mink fur, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Rienzi Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III

WHY BE ORDINARY?

Breaking Tradition: Contemporary Approaches to the Decorative Arts features three artists, Sophie Glenn, Steven Young Lee, and Beth Lipman, who challenge the dominant cultural narratives of the decorative arts through iconoclastic furniture, porcelain, photography, and cast-metal pieces. Through January 3. At CraftHouston.org.

IMAGE: Steven Young Lee Gourd Vase with Bats and Clouds, Contemporary, Ceramic, Sculpture, Cobalt, 2019

FOUR FOR THE SHOW

The Mercury Chamber Orchestra is performing the audience-favorite Vivaldi’s Four Seasons under the baton of Antoine Plante, artistic director, with soloist and concertmaster Jonathan Godfrey. Experience the elements of the four seasons with an energetic performance, complemented with dramatic lighting. Special performance on September 5. At www.MillerOutdoorTheatre.com.

 IMAGE: Courtesy of Miller Outdoor Theatre

SAN ANTONIO

CAPTURING THE RENAISSANCE

Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel: Sacred Sets for Stage & Scene captures the Renaissance in both theatre and cinema. Six hand-painted, sound-stage backdrops from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio will “guest star” in this exhibition, alongside exquisite artworks from The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts. September 10―April 4. At www.McNayArt.org.
IMAGE: Courtesy of McNay Art Museum

THE ANCIENTS' DNA INSPIRES TODAY

The new VISUAL VOICES: Contemporary Chickasaw Art exhibition contains nearly sixty artworks of fifteen present-day Chickasaw painters, potters, sculptors, metalsmiths, and weavers that convey a beautiful and compelling contemporary visual story. On view September 24―January 18. At www.BriscoeMuseum.org.

IMAGE: Copyright: All images property of Andrew Feiler

GO BEHIND THE SEAMS

The Witte’s exhibition, Fiesta Couture: Behind the Seams, takes a rare glimpse inside the workrooms where skilled artisans work together for months, hand-sewing embellishments on the iconic gowns and dazzling trains that together result in the most glamourous night of Fiesta. Through November 15.  At WitteMuseum.org

IMAGE: Fiesta Couture, courtesy Witte Museum

METALLIC MAGIC

METALLIC MAGIC

Star-Studded UNICEF Gala Dallas Dazzles To Set Fundraising Record Of $1.5 Million

By Jake Gaines     Photography by Rick Kern/Getty Images

THE SETTING: Pre-COVID-19, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Dallas hosted the annual UNICEF Gala Dallas, where 430 guests were on hand for an evening of fun and, more importantly, fundraising for a very worthy cause. The evening featured VIPs from around the world, including former UNICEF President & CEO Caryl Stern, who is now the executive director of the Walton Family Foundation 

The night’s honorees were former Dallas Maverick champ and UNICEF Germany Ambassador Dirk Nowitzki, along with his wife, Jessica Nowitzki, founders of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation. They have partnered with UNICEF to create and fund a new mental health training module to better evaluate and treat children in trauma cases, and have developed a monthly mentorship program for families, as well. Former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings presented the Spirit of Compassion Award to the Nowitzkis.

THE STYLE: UNICEF’s adage, For Every Child, was on full throttle during the evening. The festivities began with a cocktail hour where jet setters in for the event mixed with locals to engage in lively conversation before the action began in the ballroom with the main program. After guests dined on a multi-course meal and listened to moving speeches, and a performance by the Texas Boys Choir, followed by a live auction that was full of fantastical items, went underway. The event was capped off by a performance from the band, King Calloway, whose show brought the crowd to their feet. Then, DJ Lucy Wrubel spun for the party-focused crowd. 

THE PURPOSE: The event, co-chaired by Moll Anderson and Jan Miller Rich, with Nancy C. Rogers serving as the honorary co-chair, raised a record-breaking $1.5 million for UNICEF. Advocating for the rights of children around the world to ensure their basic needs are met as well as expanding opportunities so they can reach their full potential is UNICEF’s primary mission.

LARGER THAN LIFE

LARGER THAN LIFE

Tireless fundraiser and society style icon, Houstonian Becca Cason Thrash, is known for many things, with being a legendary hostess for a myriad of regional and international causes topping the list of her many talents.

Elegant, ebullient, and always successful, she ensures these events are illustrious for not only doing good for so many, but also as memorable adventures. Join OUR Lance AVery Morgan as we venture to Mexico City, by way of Paris, for the decade’s latest Thrash Bash.

Photography by Alejandro Celez and Iván de la Luz

THE FUN IN FUNDRAISING

It was destined to be. Becca Cason Thrash’s heart was deeply affected when she saw Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris burning in April of 2019. Within the flames of her own heart, as she viewed the tragedy, she reacted immediately and committed to helping fundraise for the re-building of one of the most significant architectural landmarks in the world. She had been approached before the tragedy to help raise much- needed funds for the restoration, and after the fire, that motion was fast-forwarded. Thrash, like the rest of the world, viewed it as a catastrophe that anyone who knows Paris can confirm: it rattled the soul of the City of Love. Never believing in borders, Thrash sprang into immediate action and did what she does best: she hosted an astonishing weekend of events for the fabled structure, outside of France, in Mexico City, to encourage high-level donations for the restoration of the Cathedral.

“To replicate those medieval materials, some of them almost 900-years old, and to re-create the manufacturing of such stones, metals, and patina would be cost-prohibitive after the fire,” confides Becca Cason Thrash. “So, the Notre-Dame team called and asked, ‘Please, we really need your help.’” She continues, “I said, ‘I’ll do it, but under one condition.’ I’m not bringing everybody back to France because I’ve hosted five fundraising events there for the Louvre, and I’ve always wanted to do something in Mexico City. So, if you’ll allow me to create a fundraiser, I’ll do it my own way, in my own style, and with my list. They said yes, and we were off to the races.”

Thrash is certainly no novice to fundraising and is absolutely not a stranger to hosting epic fundraising events on an international level. After all, she continues to raise millions and millions for the Musée de Louvre and Venetian Heritage organizations. Never one to rest on her own successful fundraising laurels, Harlingen native and Houston resident, Thrash, was inspired to create a multitude of new experiences for the latest Notre-Dame gala endeavor. The 12th-century Gothic structure would rise again, thanks in part to Thrash’s gala expertise.

It’s that point of view that earned Thrash the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 2011 for her philanthropic talents at home and abroad, her tireless fundraising for the Louvre, and her ongoing championing of Franco-American relations. Becca Cason Thrash has a natural affinity for international culture, including Latin culture. She was raised in South Texas and lived in Mexico City while working for Vogue En Español, as she started her career in marketing. These experiences prepared her for a very public life both in Houston and across the globe.

Perhaps Thrash’s most important secret to entertaining at a high-level is the energy of the room she encourages based on the invitation list. Highly curated, like Thrash’s couture wardrobe, her secret sauce is having a mix of guests. She always schedules time to focus on the laborious task of creating a seating chart for the coterie of international jetsetters, philanthropists, business leaders, contemporary art collectors, and social swells. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Thrash readily admits she’s hosted countless more events in Houston for a plethora of her passionate causes, ranging from Best Buddies, on which she serves as a board member, to the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, The Menil Collection, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Holocaust Museum Houston, and many, many more charitable and civic organizations of all kinds. Whether hosting at her home, or in monumental international venues, her events attract hundreds of guests who arrive to support five-star cultural institutions with an intention to also have fun. Her fundraising, by the Thrash’s estimation, is likely north of $100 million so far, and that might be a conservative assessment. “People support people. It’s that simple,” shares Thrash about her hard-won fundraising success. “Plus, to me, it’s so important to have a uniquely, hand-selected, and eclectic mix of guests. I know everyone who is walking in the door that evening. They must be fun, interesting, generous, and bring their own brands of enthusiasm to the party. It doesn’t matter if they are moguls or not. They know why they are there…to have a one-of-a-kind time…and to raise money. People support the charity, of course, but people really support people.”

 

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING

The planning, like all of Thrash’s previous social triumphs, begins early, with months and months of advance preparation…and doesn’t end until the last guest has successfully departed. Mexico, a favorite locale of Thrash’s, is known for its colorful celebrations, and these, with Thrash’s own colorful personality, are a perfect combination of elements. Only the best will do. “I made seven trips to Mexico City to prepare all the details and met with many people including the six hosts and dear friends who opened their homes and collections for the special weekend,” Thrash confides. As in galas past, fellow Houstonian Richard Flowers, and his event design team of five, were enlisted to bring Thrash’s vision to life. Locally in Mexico, Diego Del Río Zepeda and his team were on hand to collaborate for the events’ success. The best tableware, flatware, linens, and flowers, thousands upon thousands of flowers, would need to be implemented to create the regal setting for this triumphant to-do.

Before the Mexican soirées, the fundraising efforts actually began in Houston, with a preview dinner event hosted by Steak 48, the hot Houston eatery that could accommodate the 160-plus guest list. Thrash proudly donned her favorite Zara sequined dress, instead of couture, and added a million dollars of Van Cleef & Arpels jewels to complete her hosting ensemble. The grand total raised for the kick-off night was $100,000.

 

ONWARD TO MEXICO CITY

One hundred and fifteen guests, paying $6,000 per ticket, began arriving in Mexico City from Paris, Vienna, Milan, London, NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, and an equal number of glamorous, enthusiastic Texans from across the state, and especially from Thrash’s hometown turf of Houston.

Now, where to place each of the guests attending the soirée? No problem. Thrash arranges seating charts like an eminent chess expert at a championship match: play to win as if it was the most important thing to accomplish. Having attended and chronicled many Thrash Bashes, I can attest she will place a guest next to a fellow participant that the guest will invariably find interesting and remarkable in their life’s pursuits. This cadre of attendees at the Mexico affair would be no different.

The three-day series of events began with an intimate dinner hosted by the French Ambassador to Mexico, Anne Grillo, at her residence in Mexico. Her Excellency greeted the internationally-based guests upon their arrival. The Embassy of Mexico in France, based out of Paris, is the primary diplomatic mission from the United Mexican States to France. It also represents Mexico to the Principality of Monaco, as well as to the Council of Europe. The palace itself is resplendent with a abundance of both French and Latin culture.

The next day an alfresco afternoon luncheon was held in the exquisite home of megawatt art collectors Tato and Gaby Garza. Guests chatted and mingled, admiring the art everywhere they turned in the residence. Chapultepec castle, the Frida Kahlo home, Casa Azul, the Diego Rivera collection at Anahuacalli, and the home of famed artist Pedro Friedberg were just a few of the stops made by the well-heeled crowd. Additional visits, cocktail receptions, and other dinners were arranged in the homes of Mexican entrepreneur Sergio Berger, along with Rodman Primack, and Rudy Weissenberg.  Stopping by the Barragan stables, designed by renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragan, was also a delightful treat for the attendees.

 

VIVA BECCA

The last evening’s fête was widely anticipated. Hosted by Eugenio Lopez, the sole heir to the Jumex fruit-juice fortune, he is considered to be one of the world’s top 200 art collectors. In his extraordinary, art-filled mansion, cocktails and canapes were served as guests chatted and greeted each other. The attendees were dazzled by the white glove-served, five-course seated dinner, but most especially by the extraordinary design and architecture.

These ancillary events bookended the high point of the weekend, La Grande Nuit, as Thrash titled it. Held in the Casino Español–a 19th century building in the Districo Histórico, complete with a 60-foot Tiffany ceiling and a Grand Salon rivaled only by Versailles itself. The venue was decorated as a million-dollar raising gala should be: over the top. Guests descended a grand staircase upon their arrival, fitting for both the venue and the occasion. Following the lavish, multi-course dinner, Becca Cason Thrash took center stage, donned in a beaded Naeem Khan gown, topped with a fuchsia Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda full-length coat and plenty of her own, favorite jewels, and presided over the live auction like the pro she is.

For those who have never seen Thrash in action, as she passionately raises funds for events dear to her heart, it’s a tour de force to behold. A financial goal always in mind, Thrash knows how to read an audience. Part of that special skill is to understand what guests would be interested in buying at a live auction, from art to fashion, to experiences. Then, she goes about acquiring them with supporting brands she knows well, thus promoting these brands with this elevated exposure. Uber collector Eugenio Lopez prevailed on the final bid for a five-night cruise in Egypt on the private yacht owned and donated by Parisian designer Christian Louboutin. Houstonian Lynn Mathre bid the highest on a Naeem Khan bespoke gown and Buccellati necklace. British artist Chris Levine’s limited edition of a gold-dusted portrait of Queen Elizabeth, along with ten lots of art, trips, and jewelry, took in more than $700,000 in less than, yes, fifteen minutes. Talk about light speed for a live auction that can often exhaust audiences at other galas for an hour or more. To make the weekend even more special, Thrash was surprised with a mini birthday celebration amidst the revelry.

Among the decidedly stylish notables were the French Ambassador, Anne Grillo, the Former Minister of Culture, Sari Bermundez, along with Sergio Berger, Christine Holzer, Alejandra Redo, Rodman Primack, Rudy Weissenberg, Lucas Somoza, Ben Aguilar, Andres Carretero, and Guillermo Ordorica. Other bold-faced names in the crowd included Duran Duran’s John Taylor and his fashion icon wife, Gela Taylor, who jetted in from London, blue-chip art collector Tracey Amon from Paris, Christopher Forbes from New York,  collector Eva Dichand from Vienna, Kathleen von Alvenslebenn from Berlin, and philanthropist Joseph Blount from Palm Beach. Amin Jaffer, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on jewels in from Paris, to name a few. The world’s foremost expert on royal jewels was joined by notables hailing from Texas, including collectors Christen and Derek Wilson from Dallas. Sixty of the more than 115 guests supported the Thrashes from Houston, including Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Reggie and Leigh Smith, Leslie and Russ Robinson, Barbara and Michael Gamson, and many more, along with John Thrash, Becca’s beloved husband, and thirty Mexico City notables.

The action always seems to move to the dance floor to keep the party going. Songstress and ingénue Jane Fontaine, from Los Angeles, entertained guests at the after party that went into the wee hours of the next morning. Seen on the dance floor were Randy Powers and Greggory Burk, Rose and Dave Capobianco, Tony Bradfield, Marc and Duyen Nguyen, Fred Heredia and Cassidy York, Elizabeth and Will Galtney, Valerie Fuller and Andree Aboolian, while the Mexican artist Denise de las Rue was spotted in deep conversation with Ford Hubbard.

By the end of the action-packed weekend, more than $1.3 million had been raised for the restoration efforts of Notre-Dame de Paris, the venerable 850-year-old symbol of French culture. “If you create a once-in-a- lifetime experience for guests that they are happy to support, then its win for them and the charity,” confides Becca Cason Thrash. “So that is what I’ve always tried to do:  focus on the experience. Like my events that have had Tom Brady, George Clooney, Cindy Crawford, Prince Albert, Duran Duran, Marc Anthony, and many other similar honorary guests and celebrities, not to mention Willie Nelson playing in her great room to benefit Best Buddies one evening…people will show up. Let’s face it…people want the experience of being a part of something special, and so I try to give that to them.”

COASTAL VIBE

COASTAL VIBE

San Luis Salute Event Wows Crowd  

By Jennifer Roosth   Photography by Gary Fountain and Dave Rossman

THE SETTING: Before COVID-19, the 24th annual San Luis Salute, hosted by the Tilman Fertitta family of Houston, was once again lauded with praise as almost 2000 revelers from across the country gathered for this year’s Mardi Gras! Galveston celebration. From the VIP pre-party on the boardwalk by Fertitta’s yacht to the stilt walkers, silver Elan dancers, and dueling DJs, the guests experienced a jaw-dropping night they will never forget at the Galveston Island Convention Center.

THE STYLE:  Gala designer Richard Flowers of the Events Co. brought the effervescence of a Scandinavian-inspired Royal Ice Garden to life for  partygoers who while marveling at the icy cool décor (including an ice tunnel entrance and life-sized ice sculptures of Nordic Vikings), sipped cocktails from a lavish ice bar and enjoyed Nordic Grogg―alcohol-infused sorbets perfectly frozen at -321ºF. The highlight of the night was when the Grammy® Award-winning duo, The Chainsmokers, took the stage for a 75-minute performance. The global superstars performed a variety of their platinum and multi-platinum smash hits during the stellar show, packing the black and white checkered dance floor.

The San Luis Salute Duchess Royal Court included Maddy Barlow, Arabella Benevidas, Samantha Bennett, Bailey Black, Natalie Crowder, Ally Day, Allison Denman, Jenna Faulkner, Mackenzie Finklea, Bella Garofalo, Abby Grant, Kathryn Hamilton, Madelyn Hilyard, Mandy Hutchings, Kate Kemple, Laura Kobs, Holly Kurisky, Frannie Kusnerik, Olivia McGuire, Haley Patterson, Heather Patterson, Nicole Shanks, Hannah Sukkar, and Annie Titterington.

THE PURPOSE: The gala evening honored Professor and Director Dr. Jeff Temple, of the newly launched Center for Violence Prevention at The University of Texas Medical Branch, and benefitted the UTMB at Galveston.

PARIS, ALWAYS & FOREVER

PARIS, ALWAYS & FOREVER

Paris, the City of Lights, always represents love, laughter, and adventure. Join our quest-driven Lance Avery Morgan as we stroll the boulevards seeking one-of-a-kind très magnifique experiences that delight all the senses.

Photography courtesy of author’s own, archival

Paris, at its best, has a soignée approach to life that is, to this day, some of the most intriguing to be found in the world. At its worst, it’s still a tad imperious, although it might have every right to be since it is a city so steeped in the world’s history.

Once, on a flight to Geneva, a woman seated next to me said that it would be better to not visit Paris at all than to be there for only one day’s layover, as I was planning. No truer advice was ever given. So, realizing that only a day to enjoy the city would have left my heart yearning for more, I decided to stay around longer this time. In the famous song of the mid-twentieth century, Lush Life, it professed that a week in Paris could ease the bite of just about anything. And, I learned, it does. When things are back to normal with post COVID-19 travel and safe distancing rules, Paris can be an ideal initial destination to jump back into international travel.

BON JOUR

When I first arrived in the legendary capitol of France, the city’s elegance immediately infused me to my core. Anything and everything about the city…from the fresh chocolate and almond croissants, to the magnificent architecture, or the all-around high-chic Parisian style can beckon any visitor, whether it be the first–or fiftieth time there. On a recent trip, instead of flying into De Gaulle airport, I had the good fortune to take a super train from the Bordeaux region of France directly into Paris. I observed not only the countryside that envelops the city, but also the eye-catching country home set who were traveling back into the city on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon that, in my mind, would usher in a week of non-stop glamour and excitement in the other city that never sleeps. Lots of singletons, couples with children and those spanning many generations boarded from the country enclaves. To see them not traveling wearing the equivalent of pajamas, like so many domestic and international tourists do, was a refreshing change.

This quintessential sense of style permeates every facet of the French resident’s life. All its culture, the restaurants, the shopping, the art…it’s truly a unique experience that can only happen in Paris. The quality of everything from your breakfast in the morning, to a show you see in the evening, feels fresh and unique.

The street fashion seen on the boulevards in Paris is also truly captivating. Chic, a well known and oft-used French word, was surely created to define the city’s everyday style. Parisian women of all ages understand the importance of accessorizing to compliment even the most casual of weekend afternoon outfits… from good jewelry including brooches, to scarves, gloves, good bags…and even better shoes. For work and social outings, the extremes of slim shifts to flirty ruffles rule the current fashion scene. Bold colors, offset by more somber tones, add the duality that defines many a French woman’s own personality…both mischievous and charming. The classic Chanel No. 5 fragrance is still a beguiling scent that can be detected on a certain woman with a certain je ne sais quois flair…either while having drinks at Hotel Costas or merely standing in line at a neighborhood patisserie. Let’s face it: the French just have a way about them.

TRÈS CHIC

For men, Paris is a mix of all styles and designs, not as eccentric as London or New York, but still with a renewed innovation tinted with classicism. Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion is an emblematic representation of what is Parisian style: originality, rock-n-roll, yet respect for tradition and, most of all, quality. The best example of the Parisian style can be seen on the rue Saint Honoré, where the classicism and beauty of the Hermès boutique with its select clientele, meet the trendy selection of the Colette boutique. Parisians are also always looking for novelties and exclusivities, such as the new Lomo camera or the latest Longchamp it bag.

French men have understood their own style since the era of the Louis kings. On the streets these days, savvy professional men, younger, as well as older, have adopted the ubiquitous slim suit silhouette, yet make it their own with loosely knotted ties, whimsical cufflinks and monk strap shoes. All made by French designers, of course. It’s a sexiness of style that few cultures can boast. After all, it’s common knowledge that French men are known for their genetic predisposition toward amour…sometimes appropriate, if the target of his amorous attention reciprocates, and at other times, quite unwelcome.

This bent toward love seems a pervasive–and persuasive–part of life here. Paris is an aesthetic city. Why? Because of the potential for romance around every corner. There is also an intimacy in the richness of sounds, sights, scents, and tastes that Paris offers.

Everywhere I turn, I see people kissing and embracing–authentic, deep embraces­­–on corners, in parks, in public, and private, and on transportation. Paris has often been called the City of Love, and to witness all these very public displays of affection, the moniker is for good reason. The French tourist industry’s campaign, is Let’s Fall in Love Again.’  Walking around the city, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all and while sighing heavily at something, I was asked by someone nearby if I’d swooned. Perhaps I did. In fact, it happened many times over in each beautiful arrondissement section I encountered.

 

LE TOUR

“My favorite places to hang around are le Marais (in the historic center) and the Latin Quarter (in the 5th arrondissement, near the Jardin du Luxembourg)”, says insider Alain Constant, a journalist at the city’s Le Monde newspaper. “I recommend that visitors not limit their visit to only the classics like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Champs-Elysées. Come into the center, to the east of Paris, and walk in the small streets around the Hotel de Ville, Bastille, or perhaps, take a break in the big Bois de Vincennes.”

When asked to create the perfect Parisian day, Constant has his favorites. “I would start by having tea and a fresh croissant in a typical French café on Place des Vosges, while observing the tourists visiting the art galleries and the Parisian fashionistas shopping around. I would then walk through the historical and trendy 4th arrondissement, Le Marais, stopping by the boutique, Mariage Frères on rue Bourg Tibourg to buy the best teas of the world, and then venture to the Centre Beaubourg, the modern art museum.”

He goes on to share, “After wandering around those collections and exhibitions, I would spend as much time in their library, which has one of the best selections of art and design books. For a casual lunch, I would continue towards the 2nd arrondissement, rue Montorgueil, to eat some delicious Italian pasta at Little Italy, or share a table with complete strangers at Le Pain Quotidien―a wonderful way to meet new faces. Afterwards, I would walk down to Place de la Concorde to witness the frenetic Parisian traffic meeting the ancestral Egyptian Obelisque, step into the Crillon hotel and visit the Champs-Elysées. Le Jardin du Luxembourg would be my next stop to have a rest on the benches, watch the kids playing with the sailing boats on the lake and look at the statues paying tribute to famous artists such as Verlaine, Baudelaire or Delacroix.”

“Going out at night is just as glamorous an endeavor. To start the evening, why not pop in for an aperitif at the Experimental Cocktail Bar where they serve excellent drinks, go to the theater and finish with a late dinner in one of my favorite restaurants, perhaps at Hotel Costes? Then, stroll along the Seine river to look at the most beautiful city of the world: the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais, Alexander III bridge, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, and Notre-Dame. Other notable areas I discovered in Paris, through insider recommendations, include Le Marais, Saint-Sulpice, Avenues Montaigne and Saint-Honore, Sevres-Babylone, Place des Victoires, Les Halles and Saint-Michel–all sublime French experiences. Interesting to note, nobody really shops on the Champs-Elysees, unless they want to find the quintessence at the same boxy chain stores easily found at home.”

LE GUEST

While in the city, in between exploring to your heart’s desire, there are a myriad of hotels from which to choose. All dazzling. The usual five-star grand hotels, such as the Georges V, Plaza Athenee, or the Ritz are always top choices for any serious traveler.. I chose the Hôtel de Crillon, a unique and opulent hotel in the heart of the city―the most sought-after location in Paris. The Crillon is next door to the American Ambassador’s residence on the world-famous Place de la Concorde, at one end of the Champs Elysees boulevard that leads directly up to the Arc de Triumph, and near the Seine River.  The Hôtel de Crillon, which recently went through a years-long renovation, is within walking distance to the luxurious boutiques of the Faubourg St.-Honore and the Avenue Montaigne, as well as the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and many more of this famous city’s most acclaimed attractions.

Like everything in Paris, the hotel is steeped in history. Commissioned in 1758 by Louis XV; the Crillon family acquired the palace in 1788 where it remained in the family until 1907 when the Societe des Grands Magasins et des Hotels du Louvre transformed it into a palace hotel catering, in part, to the American industry tycoon families and their daughters visiting to find European titles to marry. Other prominent guests through the years read like a Who’s Who: Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Sir Winston Churchill, King George V, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and even, the Dalai Lama.

“My intention is to revive the magnificence and grandeur of this world-famous hotel: a true gem in the heart of Paris,” says acclaimed designer Thierry Despont, who is also a knight of the French Legion of Honor. My grand suite, one of the 44 grand apartments in the hotel, that also includes over one hundred guest rooms, was fit for a prince, or at least, a prince of good fortune.  

Decorated in tasteful shades of golds and plums, Cole Porter or Cary Grant could easily have enjoyed these rooms in another, elegant era. With a king size bed, couch, several posh occasional chairs, as well as large walk-in closet, the features of the suite also include marble bathrooms with telephone, flat screen televisions, a mini-bar and full valet service. On another design note, all suites are furnished and decorated with Aubusson carpets, Baccarat chandeliers and Wedgewood medallions. Should you want to tear yourself away from such luxury, the property’s on-site restaurants and lounges, Les Ambassadeurs, L’Obelisque, and the Winter Garden Tea Room, located just off the lobby, offer wonderful elegant meals and cocktails, or the jet set favorite, the Crillon Bar, decorated in shades of claret, reflects the namesake drink served there that is so popular.  

It is well known that the French love colorful Texans and any opportunity to collaborate is a welcome one.  How best to end several days in Paris? On your last evening, try Café Marley where, in the moonlight, the stars shine brightly, as the glistening horizon beckoned the last day in paradise on what was certainly a trip of a lifetime to the City of Romance. Until next time, anyway.  

WHERE TO GO AND HOW TO DO IT:

Come Se Va? Useful Phrases

Bonjour / Au revoir (Hello / Goodbye)

Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)

Desole, je n’ai pas compris (Sorry, I didn’t understand)

Pouvez-vous m’aider? (Can you help me?)

Ou se trouve le metro/le restaurant/la poste/les taxis? (Where is the metro/restaurant/post office/taxi rank?)

Quel est le prix? (How much does it cost?)

Merci / Non merci (Thank you / No thank you)

C’est top! (It’s the best!)

Je kiffe grave (I love it)

 

Les Hotspots: Let’s Go Out: 

Paris Plage (a man-made beach on the Right Bank of the Seine) 

Mini Palais (from chef Gilles Choukroun)

Hotel du Nord (“the restaurant is popular with the fashion crowd”)

Chez Julien (“a turn-of-the-century bistro”)

Le Baron (“grungy-chic nightclub”)

The major cafes of St. Germain – Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp

Le Meurice

Café Angelina

Buddha Bar

L’ Aquire:  Shop

Goyard (233 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore)

Hermes (24 Rue Faubourg Saint-Honore)

Dior (30 avenue Montaigne)

Lanvin (15 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore)

L’Eclaireur (separate men’s and women’s stores at 12 Rue Mahler and 3 Ter Rue des Rosiers)

Christian Louboutin (68 Rue du Faubourg Saint- Honoré)

Well-known stores: Galeries Lafayette, Le Printemps, Le Bon Marche, BHV