A Couple of Nanas Go to Paris

A Girlfriend Trip to the City of Light

In late January, the New York Times published an article about fashion designer Iris Van Herpen’s one-woman retrospective show at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. I’d never heard of her, but the photos of her designs were mind-blowing, and I sent them to my friend Margi. “Gorgeous!” she replied. “We should pop up to see the exhibit!” And thus was born a grand plan for a “voyage entre nanas”–a girlfriends’ trip.

Iris Van Herpen atelier, reproduced for the show

We found a date in February and started planning. First up was a place to stay. Since we’d be taking the train into the Gare de Lyon, Margi found us a wonderful hotel nearby, the Hotel Reisner. A dance afficionado, Margi also found a performance at the beautiful Opera Garnier, so we bought tickets. And of course dining in Paris was high on our list, so we booked a dinner at one of David Lebovitz’s favorites.

Plans confirmed, we set out. I have to tell you, this was one of those unusual trips where EVERYTHING went perfectly! The train was on time, comfortable, and not too crowded. We arrived and headed to the hotel, where we were too early to check in but were greeted so warmly we felt at home. Bags stowed, we walked a couple of blocks to a charming little restaurant, the kind where regulars are greeted like family.

The food was excellent–a stir fry for Margi, couscous for me–and we splurged on café gourmand, an espresso served with several tiny desserts. I love ordering café gourmand, which lets me avoid tough decisions and sample several desserts. And get a small hit of caffeine after lunch. Yum.

Ile flotante, one of several sample-sized desserts served in a café gourmand

Full and happy, we strolled back to the hotel, where our hosts had arranged side-by-side rooms. This little hotel is a gem, featuring beautiful décor, kind staff, and a great location

My hotel room: tiny but beautiful

Can you guess what we did next? Of course! Nanas need to shop! We strolled for hours, peeking into windows (not one but TWO bespoke shoe ateliers!), trying on shoes, where we took a pass on 450-euro beauties that squeaked or hurt, and enjoying the cool, cloudy day. In Paris. Margi lived in Paris as a university student and has visited many times over the years, so she was a fabulous guide. And yes, of course we had to stop for an afternoon glass of wine.

We headed back for a quick rest before our first big treat: dinner at à la biche au bois (roughly translated as “the doe in the woods”), a restaurant that is on David Lebovitz’s list of favorites.

à la biche au bois

We were welcomed like regulars and ushered to our table. I use that term rather loosely, because all the tables are crowded together so that one can chat up one’s neighbors or simply eavesdrop on their conversations. We ordered from our very charming and funny waiter and settled in to enjoy the repast. My entrée was les oefs durs mayonnaise; sounds fancy, right? It’s simply hard-boiled eggs topped with mayonnaise, but it was sublime.

Les Oefs durs Mayonnaise

I’ve forgotten Margi’s entrée, but for our plat we both enjoyed coq au vin, which was served family-style with a vat of perfect mashed potatoes (As we ate, we stared at two men at a nearby table who devoured steaks with a MOUNTAIN of fries. That platter of fries would have been enough for eight people, but these two guys ate every morsel!). Next up was the cheese course, featuring the best Cantal I’ve ever tasted. This was followed by a delicious op. After dessert we were served a complimentary glass of eau-de-vie. That meal was unforgettable. You’re probably wondering how expensive it was, right? All in, with a delicious bottle of wine, we each paid $71.

The next morning we met up at a bakery down the street for coffee and pastries before heading out. We walked la Promenade Plantée (the elevated walk that inspired New York’s High Line), shopped (this time I bought shoes and Margi bought earrings), and strolled through a huge, wonderful indoor and outdoor market featuring gorgeous produce, meats, clothes, antiques, and much more. After lunch at Le Verre à Vin, where we ate the best mille feuille I’ve ever had, we headed to the main event, the Iris Van Herpen retrospective.

Iris Van Herpen design

Did I mention that it poured rain all day? It’s Paris in February, after all. Undaunted, we stomped through the puddles and checked our coats and umbrellas before climbing the stairs to the exhibit. 

These dresses were spectacular!

The exhibit was much, much more crowded than we’d anticipated. With wall-to-wall people, it was hard to see everything, and we skipped a couple of videos due to the crowds. But the gowns….


We were surprised to read that many of the gowns had been worn by famous people–Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, and Natalie Portman, among others.


It was a lot to take in! I ordered the catalogue, which will be a treasured souvenir. This exhibit was spectacular, and if you have an opportunity to see it (it’s going to other countries and possibly to the U.S.), I hope you’ll go!

I think this might be my favorite!

While at the Musée des Art Decoratifs, we visited the other major exhibition, Mode et Sport, d’un Podium a l’Autre, which features sports fashions from the 1800s to the present. I was astonished at how women played tennis, climbed mountains, and participated in other sports wearing corsets, high heels, and bulky layers of fabric.

Fascinating exhibit featuring sports outfits

At this point we’d been on our feet for hours and had walked over five miles, so of course we needed to stop for an apéro before the ballet. We chose the historic Belle Epoc Cafe de la Paix, next to the Opera Garnier, where we were refreshed with a couple of glasses of wine, accompanied (bien sur!) by frites and croquettes de jambon.

Inside the Cafe de la Paix

And then it was time for the ballet. I had not been to the Opera Garnier since my first trip to Paris, with Phil in 1993, and I’d forgotten how gorgeous it is. We took our seats (middle balcony, the best view for the ballet) and soaked it all in. I could imagine ladies in their finery, gentlement in evening wear, and all the glamour of 19th century Paris. I had also forgotten the Marc Chagall ceiling paintings, which depict some of the most beloved operas and composers.

Marc Chagall masterpiece ceiling

The ballet itself, Sadeh21 by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, was fascinating, confusing, and sometimes disturbing. Naharin (a former Martha Graham dancer) founded the Gaga movement language, which he developed while experiencing a back injury. I read about Gaga but cannot explain or truly understand it; the movements are beautiful, and you’d just have to see it. Margi was familiar with Naharin’s work, and I can see why she loves it; we both were deeply moved by this performance.

The stage, as seen from our perfect seats

The next morning, after coffee and pastries at our new-favorite bakery (la Pariesienne), we packed up and headed to the train. I forgot to get a selfie with the two of us, but you can imagine two nanas, very happy, full of great food and culture, looking forward to their next adventure.

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