Designer Alexandra Golovanoff’s guide to Paris
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
I was born in Paris, but my family lived between there and Moscow in my early childhood. I remember the buildings and avenues in Moscow seemed very large, so I always preferred the size of Paris. We eventually settled in the 16th arrondissement on the Right Bank. It’s very chic, very green. We used to play in the Ranelagh Gardens, where there is a merry-go-round with wooden horses and lots of trees to climb. There are small gardens everywhere in Paris but my favourite is the Jardin Catherine-Labouré, behind the Bon Marché in the 7th arrondissement.
I have spent my adult life so far living on the Left Bank, in the 6th and 7th arrondissements. I’ve been all around Place Saint-Sulpice in St-Germain-des-Prés – Rue Bonaparte, Rue du Four, Rue Madame – so I have a thorough knowledge of a micro-neighbourhood. Because it’s packed with stores, restaurants, bookshops and galleries there are lots of tourists but, contrary to what people think, it is a village full of locals where people know each other and say hello. If friends are visiting, I recommend they stay in Hôtel Duc de Saint-Simon, a small and charming hotel in this area with a lovely courtyard and garden.
Today I live on the quais de la Seine, in the antique dealers’ district – there are blocks of galleries along Rue de la Seine and Rue des Saints-Pères. My parents were antique dealers, and I came here a lot when I was younger. I have loved shopping for antiques all my life and am always on the lookout for something. There is also the famous Paul Bert Serpette market in Saint-Ouen to the north of the city – recently, I found a Willy Rizzo love lamp there, a match to another I found 10 years ago, and I had just been waiting to find a second one. But there are flea markets all over Paris on the weekends, and I like to take the opportunity to go for a walk in different neighbourhoods.
Most days, I work from home and go out for my appointments or to do shoots for my fashion label. I usually take my bike. If I have a meeting, I like to go to a café called Noir on Rue de Luynes in the 7th arrondissement, where they roast their coffee themselves.
There are so many new places to eat, but I am faithful to my habits. I regularly have soba noodles – hot in winter and cold in summer – at Yen, a Japanese restaurant on Rue Saint-Benoît. I am a regular at Café de Flore, and although it is touristy, it is still very Parisian – though we locals like to sit inside, not on the terrace. They have had the same staff for 25 years and they all greet me by name. I like Le Voltaire too for that reason. Thierry, one of the waiters, always calls out, “Bonsoir, chérie!” The food is simple and French. I never eat fries, except at Voltaire! And I love the ambience at Café Basile on Rue St-Guillaume, which has original midcentury decor. It’s next to the Sciences Po university so there are lots of young people there. On the weekends, we will have dinner and lunch with friends, very often at my place or theirs – I go shopping for food at the markets in Alma-Marceau on Saturday morning.
For clothes shopping, designer Julie de Libran’s boutique, which is by appointment, is feminine without the fuss. I love her jackets, coats and the double cashmere knits. For shoes, Pierre Hardy’s boutique is worth a visit. I choose at least two pairs every season as they give my outfits such personality, and while I don’t usually wear many sneakers, I like his white leather ones. Then for something else entirely, there is Doursoux in the 15th, a military surplus store I have been going to since I was a teenager. I love it for its khakis, trousers and overalls – I like collecting the styles from different eras and countries.
In my own cashmere designs, I’m inspired by the colours of the city – the stone, the zinc roofs, the skies, all these shades in half-tone. Then there is the sunset when the Louvre turns pink – it’s magical. You can see it from the terrace of restaurant Loulou in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which is the best view of Paris, I think. Every time I leave and come back, I am struck by the beauty of this city; it changes and evolves but does not age.