Any trip to Europe has interesting fashion insights. My recent trip to France and Spain was no exception.
This travelogue column is the third about my trip with my husband, Sam Paredes, to visit my son Creed and his wife Naomi in southern France, where Creed is the only American serving at a French Air Force base near Bordeaux. As a U.S. Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot, he is stationed there as part of an international military exchange.
I’ve written about the gorgeous scenery, French wineries, a luxurious French spa and the French food – oh, the food! – but this column is about fashion. It ends with a look back to one of the most important places to visit in all of Europe: the beaches of Normandy.
The French and their scarves
The French people are famous for their beautiful scarves, a key ingredient in their recipe for style. In the U.S. we are sustaining a long period of scarf popularity that has had its up and down cycles. In France there is never a down cycle.
When we toured Chateau Bailly in Bordeaux, the oh-so French and adorable vineyard guide had that splash of panache, easy style and, of course “une jolie escharpe.”
When we walked the chilly, breezy boardwalk on Arcachon Bay, I realized even toddlers wear scarves in France. What an adorable delight, and something I’ve never seen elsewhere.
My last surprise was learning that my own son had joined the male French tradition of fending off the chill with a scarf. In the U.S. men wear scarves only if it’s truly freezing outdoors. But, when in France….
Spain’s shoe of the season
Our side trip to Bilbao and San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain provided another fashion insight for me. Espadrilles are a classic shoe that are having a new fashion moment this spring and summer. You know these warm-weather shoes made of canvas or cotton or some other kind of fabric: they traditionally have natural colored braided jute soles, sometime wedges.
What I didn’t know is that these casual shoes originated in Basque country. Espadrilles have been made in the Pyrenees since at least the 14th century. Shops have entire sections of inexpensive espadrilles, which were once peasant footwear.
While you can buy basic espadrilles in solid colors, stripes and all kinds of patterns at bargain prices, modern, finely constructed espadrilles have gone high style.
Popular current designers like Tory Burch, Vince and Soludos have taken this classic shoe to a whole new level.
Model turned artist
Have you heard of Niki de Saint Phalle? She is a French-American fashion model who left the runway to become one of Europe’s most influential artists. Raised in upper class New York society, she rebelled against expectations and has created works of art and sculptures like “Nanas,” which revolutionized the representation of women in art.
This spring, the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, is showcasing some of the self-taught artist’s work, which has included experimental films, set designs and costumes for ballet productions.
I was enthralled with the enormous and delightful range of her works in the exhibit.
Honoring our military
Last Monday, on Memorial Day, we remembered the members of our armed forces who gave their lives for our country. Sam and I ended our trip where every day is Memorial Day: the beaches of Normandy, where nearly 160,000 Allied soldiers crossed the English Channel in a single day to storm the Nazi-held beaches.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, was the largest seaborne invasion in history and casualties were extraordinarily high. Thousands of Americans died on Omaha Beach and Utah Beach as they disembarked and walked into the heavily fortified German defenses.
Like everyone who visits these famous World War II sites, I was awed and overwhelmed at seeing the beaches where so many died, the German bunkers, and hearing the stories of paratroopers, French resistance fighters and brave troops.
Reading books like “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, which is on a number of bestseller lists right now, “The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust” by Edith H. Beer, and “The Nightingale” by Kirsten Hannah, has helped me learn more about this tragic chapter in history.
At the huge American cemetery, where the graves and markers stretch far and wide, I was inspired and deeply moved. As Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said, “The soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace.”
As we mark the 71stt anniversary of D-Day this Saturday, June 6, let us especially stop to think of those who served our country so bravely that day.