If you really want to define that indefinable je ne sais quoi of Frenchwomen, ask a Frenchwoman. Better still, ask a Frenchwoman whose ancestry includes a pretty impressive American lineage, just so the viewpoint can go the whole 360 degrees. So who better to quiz than Julie de Libran, artistic director of Sonia Rykiel, whose family line has crisscrossed the Atlantic for nearly two centuries (more of which later) and who is overseeing the opening of a new Rykiel boutique in New York, at 816 Madison Avenue, this week. To mark the moment, we asked De Libran to name the 10 things she loves most about New York City.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for both De Libran personally (her great-great-grandfather Zadock Pratt founded Prattsville, New York, while his son Colonel George Pratt became a New York state senator in 1858) and for the label, which shuttered its Manhattan outpost in 2011. Publisher/art director Thomas Lenthal worked with De Libran on the interior, echoing the look of the store on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. The walls will be lined with 8,000 volumes of French literature dating from the 1960s and 1970s, should you need to divert yourself from reading the credit-card slip after shopping, while the carpet is saucily illustrated with lips, cigarettes, and books, and was designed by Le Baron’s André Saraiva.
But back to our incessant interest in How French Girls Cross the Street, How French Girls Make Toast, How French Girls Declare the Hairbrush Dead, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, all of which De Libran views with indulgent good humor, and a certain amount of professional interest; after all, who did more to export the notion of the Gauloise-inhaling, sexually liberated, impeccably attired Left Bank chick than Sonia Rykiel herself?
De Libran attended high school in San Diego in the late 1980s, and while she was on the volleyball and basketball teams—“I just wanted to fit in, I didn’t want to be foreign!” she says, laughing—where she couldn’t hide her nationality was in matters of dress. “I definitely had a different style,” she says. “I would put things together in an unexpected way, things were not always matching. Basically,” she says, getting to the heart of the matter, “what I wore was never organized ahead of time. What we French do is we dress for our mood. We don’t put our clothes out on a chair the night before. You dress depending how you feel when you get up that morning, whether you had a fight with your boyfriend. . . . Sometimes, I feel elsewhere in the world, a look is so perfect and prepared there’s no charm; it’s by the book. The French don’t do it by the book. They read the book, but then they always change the ending.”
Julie de Libran’s NYC 10
“He has always represented the cool kid of New York. He’s Parsons, the city’s nightlife, the Perry Ellis grunge collection. . . . I loved working with him at Louis Vuitton, because his experience ranged from art to clubs to Broadway shows. He is for me the best idea of a creative, cultured New Yorker.”
“Any movie of his: the voices, the exchanges, how his characters think . . . for sure, Woody Allen.”
The Mercer Hotel
“I’ve been staying there for years, so Soho has become my neighborhood. The rooms are tiny, but I love the lounging areas. It has all the best magazines, which I bring up to my room. I always order the tuna spring rolls, and they have delicious ginger mojitos. My favorite celebrity spotting has to be Pedro Almodóvar.”
The Statue of Liberty
“When I was little, my father told me that our family name is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. My great-great-grandfather Admiral Henri Gaspard d’Abel de Libran brought it from France on his boat in 1885.”
Kaufmann Repetto Gallery
“Francesca Kaufmann, who is a good friend of mine, opened her gallery a few years ago. She has an amazing eye, and really pushes younger artists. I discovered Talia Chetrit through her, who I now collect. She started photographing her parents when she was 12 or 13, and has reworked the images. Her point of view on their relationship then and now is fascinating.”
“It’s more French than French, and the menu is incredible, and I love the noise of the room; I like to have a feeling of Paris when I’m in New York. My father has always been in the French bistro business, so that also explains why I have such an affinity for it. Balthazar is also my son’s name, and I took him there when he was a year old, and photographed him with a menu. I didn’t name him after the restaurant, though, just to be clear!”
“I discovered it when a friend took me there, and a lot of my friends go to it. You can do a class when you’re in your office or wherever via your computer, you Skype in. I can be in Paris, and reserve a class, and be at home and do the whole thing—though, really, I need someone right in front of me to motivate me!”
“I’ve bought a few pieces from there, including some beautiful carved earrings with diamonds. It’s so sophisticated in the way it brings different pieces from different times together. Everything has a story. I’ve spent a lot of time in that shop.”
“It must have been, hmm, maybe 2000, or early 2001, and I went to see The Strokes at a moment when they weren’t so famous. It was one of their first times playing the Bowery Ballroom. I saw them again in Paris years later, and I still love their music.”
Whole Foods Market Bowery
“When I’m staying in a city for a while, I get bored with eating out in restaurants every night. I’m vegetarian, and like natural foods, so I find the selection and the quality magical. Plus, we don’t have kale chips in France!”
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