My Life in Paris: Going Down in Style

My Life in Paris: Going Down in Style

After a close call, Theadora Brack goes the shelter-chic route and plumps for trendy bolsters

I’m at Fran’s place, watching her cat while she’s away, and have just settled in for the evening when the bedroom window flies open with a boom, and I hear a more ominous noise, rumbling like thunder from below. Quick as the dickens, I spring from the bed to see what’s happening, racing to the foyer to try the door. But it’s stuck. And there’s plaster from the ceiling scattered underfoot. Minutes later, I hear a voice outside the door.

Mademoiselle, are you okay? We’ll get you out!”

Merci!” I holler.

There’s a groaning, ripping sound, and the door finally yields. I’m staring at two hefty pompiers, pry bars in hand, already at work on the next door over. Later I learn that the building has settled, and the doors will need to be re-cut before they’ll close again. I let that sink in.

See, there are huge abandoned underground quarries in Paris, where they used to mine gypsum for plaster. And days of non-stop rain can soften their supports. Last year, a building nearby suddenly collapsed into a sinkhole. But I’d really like to finish my book before something like that happens, so it’s time for this petit poulet to hatch a new plan.

D. Porthault, aka the “Dior of linens”, has catered to the bedding needs of such icons as Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly

Whenever my indomitable grandmother felt a need for some bolstering, she’d head to Vanity Fair where she’d buy plein de pillows and stack them as high as the eye of Napoleon’s plaster elephant. It worked like a charm. In my own pursuit of peace, I head to Maison D. Porthault, the “Dior of linens” some say, where they claim it takes longer to make a bedsheet than an automobile.

Since 1925, D. Porthault has embellished beds belonging to the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and even Rod Stewart. Whenever Barbara Hutton stayed in hotels on the Champs-Élysées, her sheets accompanied her.

“She receives friends [while] dripping in diamonds and sitting on $5,000 D. Porthault lace sheets. Her bedroom appointments are a thing of necessary beauty because they are her total environment,” reported the papers. #Goals.

“You do you,” I say to my reflection in the window at the D. Porthault boutique. It takes no time for the coveting to start.

The tiny dumbbell-shaped pillow swathed in four leaf clover-patterned cotton is just calling my name. Perfect for keeping the falling sky at bay, I tell myself. So adorable – especially when paired with a matching shower cap. Then I see the price. I may have tripped, but €200 is enough to stop the fall. After all, I’m just a travel writer, for heaven’s sake.

So instead I fly the coop, managing to keep a tight reign on the plastic in my Longchamp. How I accomplished this feat of restraint, I’ll never know.

Suddenly feeling a deep need to atone for my near-mortal sin, I hoof it to Place de la Concorde to take the Métro to the Bon Marché.

I’m not here to shop, however, but to see Saint Vincent de Paul, whose Chapel of the Lazarists is tucked around behind the grand magasin. Back in the 1600s Saint Vincent not only championed the wealthy and not-so wealthy, but also encouraged them to work together for charity. Pioneering crowdsourcing on the streets, the saint fundraised with public subscriptions for his missions to prisons, orphanages, and hospitals. Nobody got left behind.

Eyes adjusting to the dark chapel, I tiptoe up the stairs behind the altar for a closer look at the reposed patron saint of horses. That’s when I spy his pillows: creamy silk rolls trimmed with thick silver and gold threads. Come on, I think. Is there no safe place left for this décor inspo devotee?

On the other hand, he does look quite chill. So as I make my way back to Fran’s at for my final cat-sitting night, I nip into Monoprix and splurge on a coverlet with a Napoleon-inspired bee pattern, 15 extra-firm pillows, some fancy feast, and Champagne – after investing in a new bicycle helmet at Décathlon, in case the walls come tumbling down tonight.

At least I’ll be going down in style.

From France Today magazine

Read more of Theadora Brack’s popular columns here:

Totes, Crests and… Balls!
Montmartre, Movies and Machine Guns
Pet Peeves Laid to Rest
Of Spies and Cheese
A Passion for Fashion
Flying Frenchman
Dancing with Zelda

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After 10 years at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Theadora moved to Montmartre in 2003 to write for the travel website She founded her own blog, "People, Places and Bling: Theadora's Field Guide to Shopping in Paris."

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