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Debuting this week, our new series Buyer's Guide gives a behind-the-scenes look at the travels and tribulations of fashion buyers.
Photo: Grace Willis
As owners and buyers of space519, the "refined general store" at the 900 shops, Lance Lawson and Jim Wetzel jet all over the world to find goods for their expertly curated inventory. But Paris is their number-one most frequently visited—and most beloved—city.
The duo makes it to the French city at least two times a year to check out the women's market—and honestly? We want to go with them. So, we did the next best thing: we asked Lawson to give us detailed, behind-the-scenes scoop on their chouette travels.
Read on to find out how the buyers kill time at O'Hare, where to meet the coolest bookseller in the City of Lights, and how to avoid getting on Parisians' nerves. And, if you want to read more about Lance's travels from the man himself, check out his blog The Richmond.
What do you look for when you're in Paris, and where do you find it?
For us it is all about "the hunt" and sourcing out new things our clients haven't seen before, and new things they won't see next season at Barneys or the other European designer specialty stores around town. For this reason we forgo fashion shows where so much time is spent in line to see what will be carried everywhere, and instead head to smaller accessory shows and temporary showrooms set up in hotels and gallery spaces.
What's your most recent "find" for space519 from Paris?
We just go in this amazing women's dress line called Antoni & Alison. They make these amazingly creative photo-print dresses. We first saw the brand during a stop in London before market last spring—we were there to scout new brands for the store right before Paris. We did some quick internet research and found out the designers were showing at a small Paris trade show, and made an appointment for the next day. Now six months later we have the dresses in shop, and we are one of a handful of stores outside of Europe carrying the collection.
Who is the most memorable Parisian you've met in your travels?
There is this adorable older woman who owns this amazing stationery store in the Marais called Bookbinders. We have been making a pilgrimage there each trip for a decade or so to buy the things in her shop. At this point she remembers us, which is so neat considering we are halfway across the world. I am always impressed by the easy chic way she has about her, and inspired by her spending days in this remarkable little shop. And she always has the best lunch hidden behind the counter, causing me to prompt her for local bakery and sandwich shop insights.
When you're not working in Paris, where do you shop, eat, and play?
We like to go to old-school neighborhood restaurants which serve classic French fare. Our favorite new find in that vein is Au Moulin a Vent in the Latin Quarter. But Allard in Saint Germain and Chez Georges behind the Palais Royal are also favorite haunts.
We also like to find newer places. Lately it has been all about the wine bars—Verjus Bar-a-vin and Frenchie Bar-a-vin are both tops. Both serve well-priced wines with terrific small plates, and they are easier to get into and more affordable than their sister spots.
For shopping we love Merci in the Marais and of course Collette for display and brand inspirations to bring back with us. And no trip would be complete without a Hot Dog in Baguette from our favorite stall near the Place Concorde.
What's the Parisian dish you crave most often when you're in Chicago?
The Chateaubriand with Pepper Brandy Sauce and Fried Cubed Potatoes at Au Moulin a Vent.
Where do you love to stay?
We always stay at the Hotel Marquis Faubourg St Honoré. By Paris standards, it's reasonably priced and it has just the right mix of old-world charm and modern amenities. It is also perfectly located—it's tucked just between the shopping on St Honoré and the American Embassy. Plus, the bar there is a great place to begin or end your evening.
What is the Parisian cultural custom, attitude, or vibe that took you the longest to get used to?
I find the French to be super friendly and accommodating as long as you meet them halfway. You don't have to speak French, but you should learn a few keys phases to show an appreciation for their culture. They love their city and they want to show it off. Also, learn their pet peeves: don't show up early or at a restaurant without a reservation, dress up for dinner or even for walking around town, and relax into their pace when it comes to service.
When you're traveling, do you have any rituals at O'Hare?
We love starting our trip off at Bubbles Wine Bar at Terminal 3. It is so cheesy and fun at the same time. They have great champagnes by the glass and a piano player. It motivates us to get to the airport early and start the trip off in style.
Are there any places in Chicago that give you a little fix of Paris when you're home?
The macaroons at Pierrot Gourmet at The Peninsula are a pretty solid Laudrée stand-in and, I do love the steak frites at Bistro Campagne.
· space519 [Official Site]
· The Richmond [Official Site]