8 Days at Paris Fashion Week

by Catherine Bigelow

Paris Fashion Week ain’t for the faint of heart. Yet to only observe haute couture Instagram images emanating from this défilés de mode inspires a distinct case of #FOMO. Thankfully, stylish San Francisco swans reveal how to prep, pack and persevere­—with exquisite style, naturellement. Amid eight action-packed days, friends Sonya Molodetskaya, Farah Makras, Sobia Shaikh and Mary Beth Shimmon traversed the City of Light (through rain, sleet and snow) attending 15 shows, seven of which transpired on a single day.

The runway shows for this frenzied week commence with Dior and culminate at Chanel,so devotees gird themselves for the gamut. Sonya and Farah are veterans of this annual jaunt and for the last few years have, twice yearly, attended the Spring and Fall collections in Paris. By now, they’re well-versed in executing this drill in advance. Six months prior, Sonya reserves Hotel Costes, the haute hangout for models and celebs. Farah and the other ladies bunked nearby at fashionistas’ other fave: the Mandarin Oriental.

“The fashion houses personally deliver handwritten invites to our hotels along with lavishly wrapped gifts,” enthuses Farah. “And the flowers they send! Our rooms were overwhelmed with gorgeous bouquets.”

Table reservations at each hotel are highly competitive. But as guests they cover their bets, easily securing hard-to-score seats. In addition to shows, this Fab Four enjoyed exclusive invites to private dinners and lunches hosted by the fashion houses. Most nights ended in the early morning hours, per the Parisian habit of 8 p.m.-ish dining.

“We also visited showrooms, including Givenchy and Herrera, which are more difficult invites to land than the shows,” explains Mary Beth, who also raved about Maison Valentino.

Best Runway Shows

Sonya: Chanel; Valentino; Dior.

Farah: The Chanel presentation was incredible­—not just the clothes but the overall detail. The Grand Palais was transformed into a forest swathed in silk-screened tree-adorned drapes framing a “runway” of real moss and leaves.

Sobia: Stella McCartney; Givenchy; Paco Rabanne. Other than Chanel, Paco Rabanne was the most star-studded. Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington and Hamish Bowles; Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquière, all in the front row. Everyone is fascinated at how designer Julien Dossena is reviving the Rabanne label.

Mary Beth: Balenciaga was my favorite avant-garde show. And Chanel, my favorite classic French fashion house.

Best Runway Trend

Sonya: Lots of plaid, lots of color. And lots of logos, head to toe. Wearing fashion logos used to be considered bad taste. Now it’s the “in” look.

Farah: Trench coats. And white boots are here to stay! Another trend I noticed: designer bags attached with a different designer’s shoulder strap. Those were everywhere in Paris.

Sobia: I loved the Givenchy “eco” fur. It looks real, but is less warm and less expensive than actual fur. And top-knots! All the models’ hair was casually pulled in a bun atop their heads. I sent a picture to my daughter because that’s how I wear my hair when I’m cooking dinner. Who knew that’s a look?!

Mary Beth: Outerwear and coats with voluminous, oversized silhouettes. High-tech, engineered fabrics like the eco-fur. A lot of designers are moving to a “zero” fur policy.

Farah: Eco-fur is perfect for San Francisco since Supervisor Katy Tang has introduced a law (approved by the board last month) for a citywide ban on fur sales.

Best Fashion Bistro

The ladies all agree, the best fashion-celeb sightings unspool daily at L’Avenue and Monsieur Bleu; late-night at the red-velveted Le Piaf piano bar or Le Castiglione (Farah and Mary Beth dined there three times in 24 hours). They also enjoyed The Ritz hotel for tea and $50 Hemingway Bar cocktails. But for Sonya it’s Hotel Costes, all day long.

“It’s very dark, sexy, gold and Parisian. The scent of beautiful candles permeates the interior,” she says. “The scene is amazing: You can sit in the lounge all day observing every fashion celebrity passing by.”

Best Shopping

The scene is amazing: You can sit in the lounge all day observing every fashion celebrity passing by. Sonya Molodetskaya


Sonya: The shoes! And hats: Hats are huge now in Paris. I brought home felt creations in the style of train conductor and newsboy caps.

Farah: Dior Mason for housewares like linen, glassware and frames. It’s not available online and the only showrooms are in Paris and London.

Sobia: Farah and I went to Ladurée for delicious macarons to bring home to our children. And there’s a certain mint I love at Bon Marché grocery store.

Mary Beth: I shop at home out of loyalty to my SF retailers. I had an incredible facial at Orlane Paris Institute. And I adore the green-and-white Parisian pharmacies, there’s a wide variety of fun, only-in-France cosmetics and makeup.

When an invitation arrived for a private tour in the storied 31 Rue Cambon apartment of storied designer Coco Chanel, the ladies extended their flight home by one day.

“While I’ve attended numerous fashion shows, this was my first Paris Fashion week. And there is nothing like it,” enthuses Sobia. “Paris is always a dream. But to be there with such dear friends made this trip even more magical.”

Getting Around

Skip Uber and hire a driver! It’s difficult to move around the city during Fashion Week, especially if you’re attending five shows in a day.

“We bring all our outfits (clothes, shoes, purses) in the car for each show. After a show, we’ll change into our next ensemble in the back of the car en route to the next show,” explains Farah. “If there’s a lot of shows in one day, we’ll hire a larger car.”

The first day Mary Beth arrived, she was surprised by her friend’s transportation method.

“The next day,” says Sonya, with a laugh, “Mary Beth hired her own car. You learn fast.”

Best Fashion Celeb Sighting

Sonya: I didn’t get a photo this time but I saw my “fashion crush,” journalist Anna Dello Russo.
But I did get a photo with Nicolas Ghesquière.

Farah: I don’t really have a fashion icon but I spotted Anna Wintour and asked for a photo with her. Sonya tried to stop me. I had no idea Anna won’t pose with anyone. She turned, whispering, “Not right now.” At least she spoke to me.

Sobia: French Vogue editor Emmanuelle Alt. And Off-White designer Virgil Abloh. I’m a huge groupie. I took a picture with him at the Givenchy after-party. Leaving in a cab, I saw him again on the sidewalk. I rolled down the window and waved my camera at him, “Virgil, darling, pose for me.” I think we’re friends now.

Mary Beth: Former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld. She’s my fashion idol, it’s always lovely to see her.

How to Pack

Sonya and Farah assist each other in a highly organized strategy. Sonya photographs Farah’s potential fashion elements (jewelry, shoes, dress, purse). Then Farah carefully packs finalists between layers of tissue to cut down wrinkles, and tucks things like stockings inside her boots.

“I thought that’s only a Russian thing,” jokes Sonya. “I work at home with three clothing racks. I mix and match each outfit. The final cut hangs on an empty rack for packing.”

Having once lost a bag in Dubai, Sobia carefully divides up her ensembles in the hope that at least one suitcase of fully formed fashion options lands with her. Chiming in, Mary Beth adds: “I wrote out a list in advance of each show and outfit I’d wear every day. There was only one outfit I didn’t wear. But we’d tease with each other about photos, warning not to post something we’d already worn.” That’s an Instagram no-no.


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