My Life in Paris: Flying Frenchman

My Life in Paris: Flying Frenchman

Barbie sent me, is what I tell the sales associate in accessories at Galeries Lafayette. Searching for the perfect headpiece for a fundraiser gala, I consider each confection by Alexandre de Paris – the late, great hairstylist to stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, and yes, Barbie.

In 1993, Monsieur Alexandre dressed the doll’s tresses for her televised debut at the Musée Grévin, and her do is still bringing it. According to the wax museum, Barbie recently had a little work done but there was “no problem with the hair!”

Bewildered by the wild, wide range of bejewelled bits and bobs, I make a swift exit – and head on up to the rooftop café for a sip or three of champagne. There, I find myself examining my lifelong ménage à trois with fads and classics. Perhaps it is time to send my party peacock plumes a-packing?


After a second glass of bubbly, I bust a move on over to the La Madeleine side of the rooftop for a tête-à-tête with the shrine to WWI pilot, Jules Védrines. Cinderella had a fairy godmother. I have a daredevil.

The year was 1919. On January 19, aviator Jules Védrines landed his Caudron G.3 biplane on this very rooftop. Through fog, the aircraft hit its slender mark, thanks to some strategically-placed sandbags and a handful of friends hired to grab its wings before it could drop to the streets below.

“French Airman Lands on Roof!” trumpeted the wires. “Jules Védrines won a prize of 25,000 francs as the first airman to land on the roof of a building – intentionally, at least!” After a makeover in 1912, Galeries Lafayette had offered the prize to the first flight to alight on its rooftop. One suspects that they may have hoped no-one would ever take them up on it.

The department store’s rooftop. Photo: Theadora Brack


But Védrines stepped up to the plate, er, plane. After consulting with the store manager to confirm that the prize was legit, he began making practice landings in a field marked off to a space of only 20 square yards.

Finally, it was time to fly. Tipping his lucky cap with a cocky attitude, he took flight.

“When the fog showed no signs of lifting, I jumped at the chance,” he said. “Three minutes later I was safe and sound on the Lafayette roof. There was one nervous moment when I ran into a fog bank over the Eiffel Tower and felt sure I should never find the way to propel by. But luckily I ran out of it over the river and landed without a scratch or a shadow of difficulty!”

A flashy stunt, but one with a message. The date Védrines had picked was the second day of the Paris Peace Conference. Publicity savvy, he’d used wit and the spectacle to create a buzz about his not-so-loopy dream: the establishment of commercial passenger lines between cities worldwide.

“It’s feasible!” Védrines told reporters, adding, “Did you see my cap with its little missing button? The force of the wind!”


Inflamed by his goodwill peacocking, I swoop back down through Accessoires to meet my own match made in Paris: a towering headpiece with eight black pearls and 31 tiny crystals, handmade by the house of Alexandre de Paris. How could I not?

After all, besides working his magic on Barbie, the “Sphinx de la Coiffure” also transformed Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961. With a diamond-studded wiglet, Monsieur A. not only paid homage to the Duchess of Fontanges, a Louis XIV favourite, but also pumped up Jackie’s popularity on the world stage. Copycats abounded, especially after she broke tradition by donning a gown by Hubert de Givenchy at Versailles to thank France for its hospitality.

We all need a hair-raising showstopper. Not to get the fates all jelly, as I glide along with my bouffant-ready ‘Profile Bas’ halo in pocket, I tell ’em: “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got. I’m still Teddy from the block.” After all, it was on sale.

From France Today magazine

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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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  • Lauren Golden
    2017-12-28 01:01:30
    Lauren Golden
    No photos of les Coiffures?