I often wonder where Coco Chanel was when she said: "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." She must have been in Paris.
I sometimes imagine she was standing at the window of her Parisian headquarters, gazing out across the cityscape at the architecture, the sky, the skyline, the people on the street, the passing traffic, observing life and taking inspiration from her environment, as great designers do.
Or I imagine her walking the streets somewhere around Rue Cambon, from where she revolutionised female couture in the early part of the 20th century. Wherever she was, she was right. Fashion is in the sky and on the streets, and in ideas and how we live, but maybe you just need to be in Paris to see it.
I certainly saw it on a recent visit. Paris in the springtime is an experience that stays with you, no matter how many times you've been. It's years since my last visit, but every time I'm there one thing is apparent: you just cannot escape the chic.
Whether it's the sleek-silhouetted businessmen I saw carrying Hermès Birkin bags on Rue St-Honoré, or sophisticated Sonia Rykiel-clad businesswomen sitting silently on the metro north to La Courneuve, you can't quite put your finger on what it is, and then you realise it's exactly what Coco Chanel was talking about.
It's not in the dress, the Birkin bag, the Sonia Rykiel batwing cape or the Chloé midi-length skirt; it's in the way you carry them, the way you walk, what you say, what you don't say. The French are famously aloof and this adds to their mystique. They look good and say little.
Observing Parisian street style, I must say that I loved what I did not see: not an oversized collar or shirt sleeve in sight; not an abused jean leg to be seen either.
When Garance Doré does her rounds, she sees sleek, chic, groomed women in Proenza Schouler and Celine and tailored men in Marc Jacobs.
I'd been looking for the right varsity jacket for ages and found it by accident in a shop called Le Bazar, not far from the Hôtel de Ville metro stop. I also had a look in Commes des Garçons on Place Vendôme. Don't be fooled by the name: this is a Japanese label and it's popular among the Parisian cool kids.
Another thing I noticed is that the French don't really embrace colour. I saw lots of black, brown and navy. They really do classic like no one else; no trendsetters here. Everyone does the same thing all day every day, wears the same clothes and looks the same way.
I took the number 3 Metro line east towards Gallieni and got off at Père Lachaise. Last time I went to find Jim Morrison; this time I went to find a heroine of mine, at grave 71 in plot 97.
Anyone who has been to Père Lachaise will know all about its haphazard layout. It took me ages to find her and I very nearly gave up. I met a German woman with a map who was looking for her too. After a short discourse, we went our separate ways none the wiser.
I was about to head for home when I passed two French girls tending a grave. In my best French I asked one: "Excusez-moi Madame, savez-vous ou est la tombe d'Edith Piaf?" She smiled at me and pointed to the grave she was tending. And there it was, the grave of Edith Piaf. I always admired her huge talent, her irreverence, her determination and her independence.
Elle ne regrette rien.
Speaking of regrets, Paris Fashion Week had just left town as I arrived. The closest I got to a live show was watching a video of the Dries Van Noten spring/summer 2011 collection at their HQ. There were some interesting pieces, but not much in the way of everyday wear. The collection was notable for its baggy silhouettes and had a very mature feel, as usual. Shearling has found its way into its menswear.
Acne's autumn/winter collection also had a more grown-up feel, as the lifestyle label moves away a little from its casual roots towards a more tailored look.
Still, I like the fact that Jonny Johansson and his team have not abandoned what they do best -- they very cleverly and subtly dressed up the Acne boy, turning him into Acne man.
This collection is a halfway house, marrying the relaxed with the tailored. A nod to suiting smartens up the look, yet -- using relaxed fabrics, Eiffel Tower-print jumpers to charm the natives and polo-neck jumpers instead of shirts -- the collection is still true to the label's casual roots.
When I watch catwalk shows, I'm always amused by how little of the clothes are wearable on a daily basis.
Lanvin and Dior Homme were safe. P Diddy rocked up to the Dior Homme show. He was in Paris to promote his new album, 'Last Train to Paris'.
I really like what Riccardo Tisci is doing at Giv-enchy. His spring/summer 2011 collection is full of great pieces and I love the very sleek silhouettes of his suits.
Tisci is a very provocative designer with a subversive streak that people either love or hate. I love it. He's one of a few designers who is leading a fashion rebellion that I'm really liking at the minute. A reconstruction of fashion is happening right now and I find it very exciting.
Everything that shouldn't work does: be it colour clashing at YSL; masculine tailoring at Derek Lam, or men wearing sandals with suits at Givenchy, it seems as if someone, somewhere has thrown out the rulebook -- and I like it.
Sportswear is mixing with high fashion, while Michael Bastian has gone the whole hog and made a shirt collection from neophrene, the same material used to make scuba diving gear.
The Givenchy mens-wear show in Paris was very interesting on a number of levels -- in terms of the clothes, of course, and also the manner in which he incorporated female models. Along with that, he pushed fashion to its absolute limits when he put men in leopard-print shorts, shirts, jackets and shoes. Leopard-print bomber jackets anyone? I can really see that look catching fire in Dublin!
My favourite collection has to be Balmain autumn/winter 2011. While they're still pushing the military look and using heavy layering, some of the blazers and pea coats are right up my street, as well as the 10-hole boots with fur lining. There were more bomber jackets, but without the leopard print; instead, a display of natural environmental colours that are coming on strong in the next 12 months -- earthy browns, caramels, burnt oranges, creams and leaden sky greys. The Balmain man is the main man this year.
The Paris catwalks are a playground for designers to experiment and provoke in equal measure, giving plenty of food for thought and discussion. Now, about that leopard-print bomber jacket...