The young French store clerk shifted with mild amusement, cocking her head slightly to one side. She listened to me, her eyebrow raised as she held the scarf I had chosen. The glass counter behind her was filled with an assortment of scarves, a mosaic of color and style in the finest of silks.
She held “Jaipur,” the latest design with parades of elephants in elegant robes, elephants adorned from head to toe with floral motifs, marching up and down against a rusty background, a pageant encircling a lush garden of sheltering trees. Drivers wearing turbans of saffron or red sit astride the elephants, a grand procession of trunks and tusks — tasseled, plumed, and blanketed — scenes from a royal past.”
I watched her from the center of this small shop where collections of silk scarves and ties, bracelets, stoles and shawls were displayed. I edged closer. She clenched my new scarf.
“Can you show me how to tie my scarf?” I had asked.
“Madame, it all depends,” she replied, placing my scarf next to the others set aside on the glass countertop. “If you’re going to the theater you may wear it one way,” she said, changing her pose. “If you’re having lunch with women you may wear it another way,” she said, squared away and standing knowingly on both feet. “And, if you’re with a guy, well, you wear it quite differently,” she murmured in a low, hushed voice taking up a coquettish stance and shrugged, “Madame, it all depends!”
Not exactly what I expected to hear as she gestured without benefit of scarf in hand, around her neck or at her waist. I reached for a wool-silk shawl in shades of grey and pink and put it on. She quickly came to adjust it, shifting it on my shoulders and pulling up a little flounce toward the left of my chin. Lovely. Very chic, she added.
I was at André Claude Canova, one of the premium destinations for silk and leather goods in Lyon, France. Located in an old Carthusian residence, its entrance a handsome horseshoe-shaped Renaissance staircase, with silk walls, furbishing and pillows. There I stood among exquisite printed silks, leather goods, and the sensational Canova scarf-suspenders — favorites of supermodel Jerry Hall and Princess Caroline of Monaco. Lyon, where Dior, Lanvin, Chanel, Versace, and Vera Wang come focused on securing fine fabrics from the manufactures of Lyon, specialists in the secrets of silk-making.
When my friend Laurence and I arrived at AC Canova, the boutique was closed, but with a gentle rap on the window the shop woman invited us in. After an hour of trying on scarves and learning about the 15 to 20 different colors used by André Claude in his designs, Laurence and I left with our purchases and headed to her parents’ home in Lyon to join them for dinner.
Marie-Jo, Laurence’s mother, does not speak English, and my French is limited. But when Laurence insisted over an apéritif with her parents that I show Marie-Jo my new scarf the language barrier that kept us apart was no longer an obstacle, confirming the ubiquitous nature of women and scarves.
We watched as Marie-Jo put on my scarf, stopping now and again to coax it into a new look. When she draped it just so, teasing it slightly off-center in my favorite style, I was delighted, imagining I carried the same panache. She brought out several from her collection: soft lavenders and Mediterranean blues, crimsons and tawny-browns in every description from travel, history and nature. Each as light as air. I fell in love with the Fragonard silk commemorating the millennium for its whimsical floral motif in swirls of vivid pastels printed on a milky-white. We tried them on, one scarf after another, adopting a particular stance as the mood struck. Aloof. Flirty. Demure.
Not once did Marie-Jo show me how to tie a scarf. A drape of silk wrapped over itself at the neckline or hanging loosely from the shoulders seemed to fall naturally about her, fashioned to flatter her silhouette and capture the spirit of the moment. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She looked stunning, composed in her silks. We were no longer worlds apart.
My own mother and I talk endlessly about them. My daughters and I trade them circuitously. Girlfriends, whom I’ve known forever or have just met, refashion napkins over drinks or dinner to demonstrate a new approach. True confessions out those of us who, when it’s 3:00 a.m. and we can’t sleep, rush to our computers and browse the Hermès Paris website, returning late to our pillows to dream of exquisite silks and places to wear them.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris™ blog, Couture Collections: wear it, pack it, buy it, about a long black, bias cut silk chiffon scarf, light as air, with a single feather at each corner to add weight and swing, whimsy and elegance. A scarf created by couture designer Ron Pulju who worked as a draper for Marc Jacobs, Halston, Dior and Sophie Théallet. Ron described his gift. Paris Fashion Week was two weeks away and I had already entered the world of the couturièr.
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