Celebrating Fashion That Can Be Seen But Not Bought

“Hermès à Tire d’Aile: Les Mondes de Leïla Menchari” opened this week at the Grand Palais in Paris. Credit Guillaume de Laubier

“Hermès à Tire d’Aile: Les Mondes de Leïla Menchari” opened this week at the Grand Palais in Paris. Credit Guillaume de Laubier

PARIS — Hermès has turned window shopping for handbags and saddles and suitcases into high art.

On Nov. 8, the luxury design house opened a free exhibition at the Grand Palais museum to celebrate the pastime of looking at — but not buying — goods in store windows.

The exhibition consists of eight fantasy shop window displays created by Leïla Menchari, the Tunisian-born queen of design who reigned over the picture windows at the Hermès flagship on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré from 1978 to 2013.

“Hermès wouldn’t be Hermès without Leïla,” Axel Dumas, the C.E.O. of the luxury house, said at the opening.

“Hermès à Tire d’Aile: Les Mondes de Leïla Menchari” (Hermès Takes Flight: The Worlds of Leïla Menchari) was sponsored by the brand, and it comes at the same time as the unveiling of the annual Christmas window displays at the grand department stores: Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, Printemps. It also echoes a similar exhibition of Ms. Menchari’s window displays at L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in 2010.

But Mr. Dumas brushed off suggestions that this exhibition was a commercial promotion. “Her windows were accessible and free for anyone who passed by,” he said. “The exhibition is free.”

Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès, said, “More than anything else, we wanted to pay homage to Leïla and her work for Hermès. We could not leave out our brand, because we cannot separate Leïla and her career from our house.”

A sculpture of Pegasus inside a geode. Credit Benoît Teiller

A sculpture of Pegasus inside a geode. Credit Benoît Teiller

The Hermès pieces in the exhibit are one-of-a-kind works of art and not for sale. (The same was true when Ms. Menchari was creating her windows: Most of the pieces that Hermès artisans were assigned to make for them were never available for purchase.)

Each display in the exhibition is constructed like an intimate, open stage, on a larger scale than an actual Hermès window, but without a barrier of glass that would have created distance from the viewer.

One display, based on a window in 2011, features a horse sculpture of stainless steel and tawny brown leather pieces by the French sculptor Christian Renonciat; it is flanked by matching silver and brown leather-trimmed suitcases.

A sculpture of Pegasus inside a geode. Credit Benoît Teiller

“Her windows were accessible and free for anyone who passed by,” Axel Dumas, the C.E.O. of Hermès, said of Leïla Menchari, who oversaw the creation of the luxury house’s picture windows at its flagship location until 2013. Credit Benoît Teiller

Another display in shades of white and pale cream evokes India, with an elaborate antique carved wooden screen and a marble fountain from Rajasthan, two marble panels from Jaipur showing Indian women holding lotus flowers and seven Hermès handbags of different sizes. It is inspired by a window from 2008.

A third display includes several intricately hand-carved animal heads from Indonesia against a woven Tunisian backdrop. Exotic dried pods and leaves spill onto the floor. A saddle was embroidered with silk threads and pearls to look as if it had been made with leopard skin; other pieces were made to resemble wild animal skins.

The exhibition coincides with the release of “Leïla Menchari, Queen of Enchantment,” a book published in French and English by Actes Sud and Hermès. Illustrated with 137 window displays, it traces Ms. Menchari’s life and work, from her birth approximately 90 years ago into a family of wealthy landowners to her fine arts studies in Tunis and Paris, her arrival as a window display assistant at Hermès in 1961 and the extraordinary career that followed. (Hermès declined to disclose her exact age.)

“When I came to Hermès, I didn’t know I would come into the most beautiful trap of my life,” Ms. Menchari said at the exhibit, comparing each of her windows to a tiny theater set in which the role of every object must perform beautifully. “You have to seduce, absolutely. Things that are made well never leave you indifferent.”

Elaine Sciolino is the author of “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs.” Bérengère Sim contributed reporting.

“Hermès à Tire d’Aile: Les Mondes de Leïla Menchari” (Hermès Takes Flight: The Worlds of Leïla Menchari) runs through Dec. 3 at the Grand Palais.

Something for the Kitchen to Remind You of Paris

La Bovida, a classic kitchen equipment store in Paris, sells macaron-making kits as well as silicone molds to make traditional pastries. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

La Bovida, a classic kitchen equipment store in Paris, sells macaron-making kits as well as silicone molds to make traditional pastries. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times.

PARIS — When friends come to Paris and ask what they should buy as gifts to take home, I start with a two-word answer: dish towels.

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In Paris, Passion Battles the Decline of Stamp Collecting

Raphaël Stern, owner of Action Philatélie, works on stamps at his shop in Paris. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Raphaël Stern, owner of Action Philatélie, works on stamps at his shop in Paris. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

PARIS — There is a rundown shop in my neighborhood near the Rue des Martyrs that never seems to close. When I peer through the window late at night, I usually see a small group of older men bent over a long table, picking up and moving around thousands of tiny bits of colored paper with their tiny tweezers.

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Performance Center Rises from the Seine

La Seine Musicale was built on an island on the Seine. Solar panels on the sail of the building absorb its heat and glare during the day and generate electricity to light up part of the structure. Credit Laurent Blossier

La Seine Musicale was built on an island on the Seine. Solar panels on the sail of the building absorb its heat and glare during the day and generate electricity to light up part of the structure. Credit Laurent Blossier

BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, France — The shiny wood and glass structure rises from the river like a sailboat in the shape of an egg. Its sail is powered not by water or wind, but by the sun. It is La Seine Musicale, a striking performance center that opened in April on the Île Seguin, an island on the Seine just west of Paris.

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At a Family Workshop Near Paris, the ‘Drowned Mona Lisa’ Lives On

A mask and a mold of “L’Inconnue de la Seine” — the Unknown Woman of the Seine — at L’Atelier Lorenzi, near Paris. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

A mask and a mold of “L’Inconnue de la Seine” — the Unknown Woman of the Seine — at L’Atelier Lorenzi, near Paris. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

ARCEUIL – The most famous person to have died in the Seine River has no identity at all. She is “L’Inconnue de la Seine” — the Unknown Woman of the Seine.

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At These Paris Hotspots, Latin Flavor Is King

Tango, tacos, arepas, olé! The City of Light has a new flavor—and it speaks with a Spanish accent.

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Bordeaux Is Changing—for the Better

Left: The Harmony Room at La Grande Maison. Right: The 17th-century Château de Cérons. Martin Morrell

Left: The Harmony Room at La Grande Maison. Right: The 17th-century Château de Cérons.
Martin Morrell

France’s premier wine-making region produces some of the greatest vintages of all time, but it has historically not taken kindly to visitors—until now. From the city to the grand old châteaux beyond, Bordeaux is showing a fresh face to the world.

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At the Quai Branly, ‘Each Exhibition We Do Is a Book Telling a Story’

 

Oceanic statues in the main hall of the Musée du Quai Branly, whose multilevel open floor plan crosses eras and oceans. Credit Julien Mignot for The New York Times

Oceanic statues in the main hall of the Musée du Quai Branly, whose multilevel open floor plan crosses eras and oceans. Credit Julien Mignot for The New York Times

PARIS — When the Musée du Quai Branly opened here in 2006, there were outraged predictions that this $295 million project was doomed to fail.

Its mismatched structures, plunked down in a neighborhood of grand 19th-century apartment buildings on the Seine, a block from the Eiffel Tower, disturbed traditionalists who felt that the ideal of Parisian architectural elegance had been violated. It scooped up African, Oceanic, American and Asian works of art from the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée des Arts Africains et Oceaniens, drawing criticism from anthropologists for gutting two beloved institutions.

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A journalist’s dark perspective on the nuclear deal with Iran

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Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in September. Jay Solomon warns, “The next U.S. administration must be prepared to confront an Iranian regime just as hostile to the West as past ones.” ( Iranian Supreme Leader’s official website / via European Pressphoto Agency )

Elaine Sciolino is author of “Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran.” Her most recent book, “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the rue des Martyrs,” will be published in paperback and in a French edition in November.

Anyone who hates the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran will love this book.

In “The Iran Wars,” Wall Street Journal chief foreign affairs correspondent Jay Solomon tells the story of Iran’s nuclear program and its projection of power in the region, and the American struggle to contain the country.

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Dior and TV: A ‘New Look’ All Around

“The Collection,” a new Amazon Prime series airing in Britain, tells the story of a Parisian fashion house in postwar France. Credit Nick Briggs/Lookout Point 2016

“The Collection,” a new Amazon Prime series airing in Britain, tells the story of a Parisian fashion house in postwar France. Credit Nick Briggs/Lookout Point 2016

PARIS — For Dior, it is a revolution: a woman leading its creative side for the first time in the house’s 69-year history. On Friday, Maria Grazia Chiuri will unveil her first collection for the house to an audience (and clients) on the edge of their seats with anticipation. So it is fortuitous that this turning point coincides with the release of a glossy, eight-part television drama calculated to remind us how it all began.

“The Collection,” Amazon Prime’s first original British series, which debuted in Britain this month and will be aired in France starting in November, tells the story of two brothers — one a businessman, the other a designer — and their mission to build a great couture house that would reinstate Paris as the center of the fashion world after the end of the Nazi occupation.

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