One of my favourite films is a frothy flight of fantasy. It’s called “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.” The movie is based on a 1958 novel of the same name by author Paul Gallico. It’s about a British charwoman who crosses the Channel on a quest.
The American Mr. Gallico wrote a series of Mrs. Harris road stories in the day. The best was his French sojourn: Mrs. Harris goes to Paris to buy a dress. Not just any dress. She wants a custom-tailored Christian Dior gown. I get it. We’ve just come back from the Dior museum in Paris. Now I want a Dior, too.
Officially, the museum is called La Galerie Dior. It’s an elegant, four-story tribute, once Dior’s global glamour headquarters. La Galerie isn’t a fashion show, though there are lots of dresses. Instead, it’s a breath-taking exhibition of bejewelled art.
Strong words from one who believes formal wear means no writing on the T-shirt. But I understand Dior’s appeal. There’s a 2-story diorama in the lobby. It features stunning miniature replicas of fabulous Dior creations. Barbie should go there on vacation.
The rest of the exhibition intermingles famous Dior gowns with a career narrative. An example: Did you know Dior’s father Maurice cornered the French fertilizer market? There’s a saying in the U.S., “He fell into a bucket of merde and came out smelling like a rose.” That’s pretty much the story of Christian Dior.
And France is the only place that could produce a Dior.
People in France seem to have an innate sense of fashion. The men wear tightly fitted suits with trimline, open-collar shirts. No wrinkles, on the clothes or the guy. And they wear scarves. Even in summer. I tried it once. Kept dangling the ends of it into the urinal at the public restroom. Switched to turtlenecks the next day.
French women look like they’re not trying and somehow make fashion look effortless. They wear scarves too.
Mind you, I tend to think everything from opera to butter seems better in France. I’d eat paper clips if they had French butter on them.
I thought about this as we walked out of Dior’s palace on the Right Bank into bright sunshine. My wife said she wanted one of his gowns. I’d seen price tags. I told her not to be taken in by the allure of France. I reminded her of natural beauty. It went downhill from there.
Her: “Don’t be so cheap.”
Me“: I’m sorry. I’m not Dior. I’m not made of fertilizer.”
Her: “I’m beginning to think maybe you are.”
Sometimes you smell exactly like the bucket you fell into.
Mike Zampa is a communications consultant and retired newspaper editor and columnist splitting time, along with his wife, between Southwest France and the San Francisco Bay Area