Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix

1B781B1C-5A50-4EBE-818E-463058A5C61EMy lovely daughter turns 30 on December 3. She shares her birthday with an early French couturière whose name has all but been forgotten. Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix was born in 1863, and her Parisian salon operated from approximately 1889 to 1929, so this year marks the centenary of her business. By the first decade of the 20th century, her name could be found in many of the better fashion publications, and she had an extensive and loyal clientele. Her success is affirmed by the fact that her store interior on Boulevard Hausmann was designed by a leading arbiter of taste Louis Süe, of Süe and Mare, whose commissions did not come cheap.

09B8AC89-0689-4243-9748-9CB2C0CC6BD9Her style appears to have been a variation of the latest “line” executed in wearable colors and fabrics. In an article for The New York Times in 1912 entitled “Do Women Like Eccentric Clothing?”, Margaine-Lacroix set out the relationship between haute couture showpieces and what ladies actually purchased and wore, thus demonstrating her sound, realistic understanding of her market. She described how Paris presents extravagant and daring creations, but that these are primarily about ideas and that their role is to invite change; no woman of taste would choose to wear them. Instead, these outlandish garments are stripped of their bewildering embellishments and modified to form the new fashion. These comments may go a long way to explaining why she was forgotten because fashion historians have often preferred to focus on the spectacular exception instead of the more mundane rule.

710CA958-209E-4F88-85F3-184ADCFD102DDespite her realistic design ethos, Margaine-Lacroix’s career was not without innovation – quite the opposite. Her most important contributions to fashion were her sheath dress, the Sylphide corset, and the sinuously curved Sylphide dress. Like their creator’s name, these garments have gone mostly unrecorded in fashion histories. However, while visual and material evidence of her legacy are scarce, descriptions of these garments provide proof that it was Margaine-Lacroix, and not Paul Poiret, as is commonly believed, who gained widespread acceptance for the Empire line at the end of the first decade of the 20th century. In 1908, three models wearing her tight Empire-style gowns caused an uproar when they attended the Longchamp racecourse (see photo, below). Their dresses were considered too shocking for the time, not least because they were split at the side as far as the knee. (Horrors!)

53BE7BC8-18F4-4B96-9866-2729CBD6F6E6Margaine-Lacroix’s commercial success and perfect mediation between design innovation and understanding of the commerce of fashion – in addition to her being a female pioneer in the field of haute couture – should have been sufficient to ensure her legacy. Instead, her absence from mainstream histories of fashion speaks volumes about the uneasy relationship between commercial success and credibility. Happy birthday to two originals, my daughter and Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix.



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FD79C7A4-A06D-411F-AC1C-4BA7345635A1I have another creepy French thriller to recommend to you – Glacé, or The Frozen Dead in English. The six-part Netflix series premiered on French TV a couple of years ago. It’s based on a book by best-selling author Bernard Minier. It reminded me a little of Silence of the Lambs because the plot revolves around an inmate in a prison for the criminally insane who is manipulating everyone around him, including his young female psychiatrist. The setting is the French Pyrénées over the Christmas holidays – such an auspicious time for mayhem.

DFC062FB-581C-4429-8819-F4C4D298F654The initial victim, a horse, gets lots of high profile attention due to his influential owner, but the subsequent victims are definitely not equine. Everything turns out to be related to a settling of scores for fifteen-year-old crimes. The investigators are given a terrible choice by the wily ex-cop inmate – break the law themselves or allow someone to die. In typical French fashion, the characters are less perfect and air-brushed than their American counterparts on crime shows. There are subtitles in several languages, including English. Saying “I hope you enjoy it” seems inappropriate, but you know what I mean!


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Criminal: France

43E3BAAB-0260-4265-88C9-E13528714696Sometimes I wonder how closely Big Brother is watching. Is my Netflix queue, so full of crime shows, the true reason why it’s taking so long for my Green Card to be renewed this time? Has my viewing history made me a “person of interest”? (I’ve been blaming the Trump administration, but maybe he is actually innocent of this offense.) But, I really do like mysteries, police procedurals, and a good psychological thriller just can’t be topped. And if the mystery is in French? C’est magnifique.

AC5EEC18-142B-435A-AFC7-2EE74662EBADNetflix came through again with Criminal: France. The French series is very brief, just three episodes of about forty minutes each. Each one happens almost exclusively in a police interrogation room. As skilled as the interrogators are, there has clearly been a lot of water under the bridge that has led to friction and distrust among the police officers, although the details are really just hinted at, with typical Gallic reserve. As the stories unfold, they aren’t usually what the officers were expecting to hear, in the best tradition of a good mystery.

6E7985DE-8914-48CE-B581-B92C541C2992I recognized a few of the actors from other shows or movies, but the only big name among them was Nathalie Baye, accused of causing the death of a labor agitator on a construction site.  I realized afterward that it’s no surprise that I liked the series, as the director, Frédéric Mermoud, is also responsible for some of my other favorite French shows, such as Engrenages (Spiral) and part of Les Revenants (The Returned). I watched it in French with French subtitles, but English and many other languages are available, both for audio and subtitles. The scenarios for each episode are intriguing, well-written, and presented with intelligence. If you like a crime show as much as I do, I highly recommend this one. I hope that there will be a second season. I have seen that there is a version for the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany, but I haven’t checked them out. Do any of you have some insights to share about them?



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Des castors, des hirondelles et des grisettes

E00617E7-0F15-4BB6-A0DE-12858A95B813I have long loved the covered passages of Paris, those boutique-lined, glass-roofed vestiges of another era of shopping. Years ago, I saw a photo exhibit about them at Les Antiquaires du Louvre (now such a sad, abandoned shell) and bought the accompanying book. I slipped it on my bookshelf, and there it sat for a decade. I’ve been reading all that back stock before allowing myself new books and finally turned to this one. I’m kind of sorry that I did.

2AB4B5A1-CDB5-45A8-A8AB-E3C0708599C6I knew that the Palais Royale, opposite the Louvre, had been a precursor to the covered passages, and I also knew that it had been a “pleasure garden” at night, but I hadn’t known much about the women who worked there and in the passages around  it. The book revealed that the “romance” of these shopping arcades often had a lot to do with taking advantage of poor women.

There was a whole hierarchy of prostitutes. Les castors, (beavers) were at the pinnacle of this sorry group. They were further subdivided into demi-castors, castors, and castors-fini. Their relative status decided whether they had to work the garden and alleys, the arched galleries, or the terrace of a café in the Palais Royale. Balzac wrote about the whole sorry business in Illusions perdues, but took the point of view that the prostitutes were the hunters of hapless male prey. Five or six hundred women worked the Palais Royale each night in the mid-1800s.

F65777CA-BA08-4F2D-B7F2-24A07172A1D9Less “fortunate” women worked in the covered passages nearby. They were known as hirondelles (swallowsor rossignols (nightingales). Then there were the grisettes (warblers) and lorettes, shop-girls, who augmented their meager salaries by becoming prostitutes after hours. Often, those who owned the shops made the arrangements with this other sort of client, for a cut of the fee. There was the account of the arrest record of a widow who had met clients in the public toilets of one of the passages for forty years. I felt ill reading that.

E4C44A65-2EE8-4087-8538-1C89BAA4821AAnd if that isn’t sad enough, then there were the wives and daughters of factory workers who, after their own day in the factory, were expected to work “l’heure du travail supplémentaire,” or overtime, as prostitutes in one of the passages. Karl Marx wrote all about this when he lived in France from 1843-45.

7DDDED94-6341-4D15-8F69-508FF68D7ADDI felt so sad for all of those women who had no options, and so grateful to live in a time when I have an education and a very different kind of job. I’ll certainly look at the covered passages through different eyes from now on.



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Le Chalet

C5551665-2525-440D-9BFA-C4B0A4293EEDI love a good mystery and I’m always looking for good resources to keep my French up to snuff, so I happily added Le Chalet , which originally aired on French TV, to my Netflix queue. It did not disappoint.

The gist of this suspenseful six-episode show is that a group of long-separated friends have gathered in a remote Alpine town to celebrate the marriage of one of the old gang. Along for the ride are an assortment of boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, and even a small child. But all is not well. First, a series of “accidents” cut them off from the rest of the world. Then, one by one, friends keep getting killed to settle a twenty year-old grudge.5D34CFAE-ACD0-4591-B1A4-1E67AD223438It’s a classic Agatha Christie-type scenario, but I jumped out of my skin half-a-dozen times, so it certainly kept me guessing. My least favorite episode was the final one, however, as I found the wrap-up to be a bit weak. Still, I’ve recommended it my students, using the child singing the creepy opening song to lure them in, just as each victim was lured to his or her demise.

I watched it with French audio and subtitles, but English subtitles are available, too. I’m certainly not the only fan; viewers are clamoring for a second season. Hope you enjoy it!

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Que faire à Martha’s Vineyard

54C62CF4-BCB5-475F-8EFA-3522ED7D87CE.jpegI’ve wanted to check out Martha’s Vineyard since we moved to Massachusetts five years ago, but it just didn’t happen. During the school year, I often have to work on Saturdays and in the summer, I’m in France. In addition, I had no idea of the best way to get there, where to stay, or what we would do once we were there. Finally, everything aligned over Columbus Day weekend. We had such a lovely time, that I wanted to share my discoveries with you in case you, too, have been planning a visit.

436FF3DA-E5A2-40A9-B458-EBFB07D0ACF1Comment y aller? (How to get there?)

The only two commercial options are to fly or take a ferry. Since we’re in driving distance, we opted for the ferry from Wood’s Hole to Oak Bluffs, but there are many companies offering a variety of destinations, both from the mainland and on the island, at a variety of prices. It’s very expensive to take a car – about ten times the passenger rate each way – so we parked our car at one of their lots and took the shuttle bus to the dock. Parking was $13 a day when we went, but the rates vary depending on whether or not it is high season. Shuttles are free and frequent. The tickets for the ferry were $8.50 each person, each way. The trip lasted 45 minutes and was smooth. We were really lucky; just a few days earlier, the ferry had been shut down for two and a half days due to a Nor’easter.

2BA85AE0-57B7-48E1-B54F-BF87D354211BOù rester? (Where to stay?)

There are two larger towns on the island – Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. Since we were arriving at Oak Bluffs, I looked for a hotel there. I chose Summercamp because it was well-rated by other travelers, and I liked the Victorian exterior and the retro, camp-themed fully-renovated interior. It’s just a short walk from the ferry dock. We really liked it. The bed was comfortable and the room was quiet, even though it’s right in the center of Oak Bluffs.

8A29645A-925C-4502-8219-9607CBDED300Que faire? (What to do?)

We aren’t beach people, and it was mid-October, but we love to wander and look and look at architecture. In Oak Bluffs, the most interesting part of town was right next to our hotel. In the mid-1800s, the Methodists established camp meetings, first in simple tents, then in wooden cottages with high pitched roofs and double doors, reminiscent of tent flaps. Then they began to adorn them with wooden gingerbread trim and cheerful colors. Most have porches to extend their tiny footprints. Today, there are about 300 of these storybook cottages; most of them are summer homes, but a few have been winterized as year-round tiny houses. Exploring them made me ridiculously happy.

There is a decent public bus system on the island. We took the bus to Edgartown for $2.50 each (have small bills on hand to feed into the machine on the bus). Even through a misty rain was falling for most of the morning, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets among the beautiful homes of former ship captains. The gardens were lush and brilliant with flowers. In the afternoon, we did a walking tour with a guide from the Vineyard Trust. It was the last one of the season! The tour started from The Carnegie building, the former library and home of the Historical Society. The most interesting stop was the Old Whaling Church, a real marvel of engineering decorated with beautiful trompe l’œil painting.

4D2FBA90-B85F-471F-A073-F93052161BB7Où manger? (Where to eat?)

A number of the restaurants had closed for the season, but we did just fine. The restaurants where we ate were all very casual – no tiara required. I had a scallop sandwich at Coop de Ville (Oak Bluffs), a lobster roll at Lookout Tavern (Oak Bluffs), and salmon at The News From America (Edgartown). Our breakfasts were both in Oak Bluffs at Biscuits (Cod Cake Benedict ) and Linda Jean’s (apple cinnamon pancakes).

If you get the chance to go to Martha’s Vineyard, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a magical escape.

E67D6388-BB7A-4BA2-AC93-DD67FA3BCED7101 Things To Do on Martha’s Vineyard (affiliate link)

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Ma Maison de campagne française

13D3AE5D-769C-4AF9-A9B3-F9CA93046125For years, I had a subscription to an app that allowed me acces to hundreds of magazines. I had about half a dozen favorites that I could download and read offline, which was great for car trips. Then the app went the way of rotary phones. I really missed it and didn’t think much of the alternative that Big Brother suggested. So, I started looking for alternatives. 

I’ve followed Sharon Santoni’s blog and Instagram account (@sharonsantoni) about her life as an ex-pat in Normandy for quite some time. She’s extremely entrepreneurial; you can also join her on small group antiquing or lifestyle tours of France or sign up for one of her themed subscription boxes. When she came out with a print and on-line magazine, My French Country Home, I dropped a hint to my hubby. He was probably so busy serving me breakfast in bed at the time that he missed my delicate hint. (He really does serve me breakfast in bed every day, though, so I’ll keep him.) When I got back from France, I decided it was time to check it out.

FC8DA242-6D5A-462A-8F5A-CD5ABE6C225EThe  bi-monthly magazine comes in both print and online versions. The print version costs US$59.99, which is pretty steep for a magazine, but it also comes with online access, plus two additional digital subscriptions to give to others. That could be a lovely way to share France with like-minded friends or family members. I went for the digital only subscription at US$36.99. 

I really like the content. The photography is beautiful and the articles are either about places I know and love or ones that I’m adding to my to-visit list. It’s also pretty substantial at over 120 pages. I’m glad to support Sharon’s new venture. I don’t, however, love the platform she uses for the magazine, Getting my account set up was a bit of a mare’s nest and I have to be online to read it. (If there’s a fully downloadable way to read it, I’d love to know, but it’s certainly not a user-friendly system.) I’m no computer scientist, but I can usually figure things out, and this process was a bit frustrating. I’m hoping that either Sharon switches to a new platform or that Joomag gets a lot more user-friendly. But tech grumblings aside, if you’re a francophile, I think you’ll enjoy leafing through the pages of this magazine, either literally or virtually, and armchair traveling to France.

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