unmatched elegance and cheeky eccentricity -- all wrapped up and
artistically presented in a prestigious address most people have overlooked.
If you admire style and high design in glossy magazines like
Architectural Digest or Elle Décor,
your fashion-forward head will erupt with joy when you discover this wing*
of the Louvre, home to a myriad of personal effects belonging to
those living the high life during various periods of French history.
From Emperor Napoleon's golden throne to Courtier Jeanne Lanvin's gold
and blue boudoir circa 1925, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is
an opulent showcase for the evolution of style and taste in France.
Prevailing tastes differ, of course, according to time and place.
What sets this treasure trove apart from the traditional Louvre* is
we get to see the bits and pieces -- dishes, chairs, wallpaper, virtually
thousands of juicy morsels -- that decorated the homes of the Paris elite.
We've long been trained to admire paintings and sculpture
in museums and galleries like the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay.
So in this lavish space, you may need to push the re-set button
as you absorb these material reminders of yesteryear --
over-the-top escapism at its golden best.
*Note: the Musée des Arts Decoratifs is set completely apart from the traditional Louvre, including its entrance.
Look for the decorative door flanked by bright red banners at 107 rue de Rivoli near the Tuileries.
This part of the Louvre complex is called the Pavillon de Marsan, a relatively
new portion of the palace that dates back to the period of Napoleon III.
Imagine wedding celebrations and baby christenings in any other century.
You wouldn't go to Babies "R" Us or sign up at Macy's wedding
registry to fulfill your gift requirement for the local baron or prince...
The Museum of Decorative Arts is a showcase of people's desires,
undoubtedly the best warehouse of furnishings and household items
you've ever seen -- miles of gorgeous "stuff" housed inside a palace.
You'll never be able to look at Amazon the same way again.
From a gold baptismal carriage to rooms filled with Aubusson tapestry,
those living the good life had material assets far beyond the
greediest impulses of today's power players on Wallstreet.
The Midas Touch is on display in every room.
This golden gallery is a collector's dream and a hoarder's poison.
identity though our toys and other personal effects.
Cars and gadgets seem to be the thing these days but consider our past.
It was barely a decade ago when a Blackberry was THE THING you couldn't live without -- then wham bam, the iPhone changed that status.
What was THE THING that drove kings, queens and the
rolling-in-riches class wild in the days gone by?
At some level, we know we're not the car we drive -- yet there's that
little voice that screams social status -- self-esteem -- power.....
And before you can say "I'll take it",
we let our fluid assets morph into our brand.
So sometimes we have to work on it and concentrate on a quality
of life determined by life experiences and loving relationships
rather than running out to acquire the latest gadget.
And yet, well, I do enjoy my nicer crap.....
Surely this bad behavior is not new.
Each century had its own excess.
Our forefathers wanted to impress someone
and achieve that momentary feeling of superiority.
The reason why?
Who knows, but history has proven time and again that most folks hope to
better their social position, seduce a new lover or show who's boss.
That's why this museum is so fascinating.
Art and beautiful things are a basic requirement
of human intelligence and sentiment.
So though our dreams and passions don't change a lot though the years,
we can still watch as historical periods advance the evolution of taste.
It's a fascinating walk down a highway of fine design
into the Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.
silver tureens -- to the inspirational design period known as
Art Nouveau -- ie. artglass by Gallé -- hundreds of years separating
the eras yet feeling like a blip in the cosmos.
Great design, innovative for its time will forever remain a standard of beauty.
Beam me up, Scotty!
the very definition of decorative arts.
Room after room imparts memorable design and all-out finesse.
From tableware to stained glass, every definable period of French design
is brought under one roof and artfully presented in a logical manner.
It's both inspiring and overwhelming, an experience that's sure to make you think.
As I passed a dozen or so of art students toiling over painstaking drawings,
I realized the importance of this golden display and the heat it generates.
In trying to capture the meaning of these objects, hopefully, the next new design star may emerge, ready to set France and the world on fire again with brilliant design. Who knows, perhaps the next style star was among them...
Whether you're drawn to art nouveau, art deco or even religious design
dating from the Middle Ages, there's something here for you.
If you're fascinated with a particular style such as Italian Renaissance or Chinoiserie, you're guaranteed to find something that dazzles your aesthetic.
Even you modern day Philippe Starck fans who prefer democratic
design and function over form, well, think of the party you'll have
contrasting his spare design to those of Napoleonic France.
And if you've never been able to figure out your own style icon,
perhaps you'll find it here, a golden opportunity for self-improvement.
"We should celebrate variety rather than conformity
and allow people to express themselves."
Frank Gehry, master architect
The color du jour, violet verbena or whatever these so-called experts predict,
may fizzle out by tomorrow and those "must haves" -- granite countertops,
rustic-chic salvage and mid-century modern will be yesterday's news in no time.
But the classic French styles you'll find in the
Musée des Arts Décoratifs feel forever golden.
Sensual and emotional, these personal effects are a reminder of days gone by.
Though you can't judge someone's character by the pattern of china they buy,
this is a fantastic opportunity to witness the tastemakers
of so many periods in French history -- the art of living at its finest.
"The culture of France is unique because it's a culture that has a high priority
on the arts, more than any other place in the world in our time since Greece.
So as a practicing artist, if you will, this is home ground.
They love us, so music, literature, art continues to be the center."
Frank Gehry, master architect
Viva la difference!!
My favorite is the left bank apartment of Jeanne Lanvin,
master of French haute couture.
Unquestionably, Lanvin's flair for fashion translated
seamlessly into a gift for home design.
She and her home designer, Armand-Albert Rateau, created a space
that is absolutely stunning, singularly worth the price of the museum ticket.
The marble bathroom left me weak with envy.
Sumptuous fabrics and a crackerjack color palette will
give anyone who gives a damn about good design impure thoughts.
In her design studio, Lanvin was legendary for her use of bold colors.
A specific shade of blue was ascribed to her own name --
Lanvin Blue -- a color you'll not soon forget.
Really worthwhile, don't miss it!
"Good design doesn't date. Bad design does."
Paul Rand, American graphic designer
at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
PS: Don't make the same mistake I made.
The Gallerie des Bijou -- gasp, JEWELRY! -- is on a separate floor
which completely escaped my notice.
I'm still sick over it --- but oh well, it's a chance to return soon....
Special Note: This museum is part of the complex hosting two other fabulous finds -
Musée de la Mode et du Textile and the Musée de la Publicité.
If you have the time, take in all three at a reduced price.