The annual fall trip abroad for a European Conference with my husband took us to Bulgaria, a short stay in Paris and three days in London. Sofia, Bulgaria was obviously not on my "must see" list though it is always exciting to see a different part of the world from the perspective of a fashion observer. After all, Lady Gaga recently chose the Bulgarian capital for the first leg of her European Born This Way Ball tour that started August 15, wowing the international audience with her controversial style.
Landing in this ancient city surrounded by mountains after 18 hours of flying and three connections was a relief, especially since the Sofia airport was very modern and efficient. Bulgaria is surrounded by Romania, Yugoslavia, the Black Sea, Macedonia, Turkey and Greece (important information for most of us who may have napped through geography class.) It was part of the Soviet Block until the Iron Curtain began to fall in 1989.
Founded seven thousand years ago, Sofia is the second oldest city in Europe and along with its ancient ruins and gold topped churches, there are many monuments left from the Communist regime. Many are in disrepair and crumbling much like the attitudes from a different era. The infrastructure is bad throughout the City with sidewalks that had broken cement and exposed wires.
It was impressive to see women walking in very high heels without a missed step. Trying to make eye contact with the locals was challenging since they always seemed to be looking down. We decided they weren’t avoiding eye contact, but watching where they were walking.
Transported to another street in what seemed another world, our second stop, the Avenue Montaigne in Paris, was buzzing. Paris Fashion Week was about to begin with the couture houses and hotels on the street preparing for the onslaught of fashion followers settling in for the spring 2013 collections. Elegant cars with high profile plates revealed that, for example, the Monaco royals were in town. As we took in the excitement, a runway show was about to begin right on the sidewalk with press photographers, theatrical lighting, pulsating music, dancers and staging. Anyone could stop and watch as designer Mossi and his five models entertained an eclectic audience of fashionistas and the nonchalant Parisians with his designs. The venues for the shows have become as diverse as the collections. Marc Jacobs showed the Louis Vuitton collection in the courtyard of the Louvre, utilizing escalators and descending models to a floor of yellow checkerboard squares. Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld erected 13 huge wind turbines inside the Grand Palais, on a runway decked out with solar panels. His approach is obviously modern and politically relevant.
For fun, we attended an exhibit called Paris Seen by Hollywood, held at the Hotel De Ville. Over 800 films have used Paris as a backdrop for romance, action, and comedy. Some of the films represented starred Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Marlene Dietrich. Besides film clips, there were costumes and memorabilia from George Cukor's Camille to Martin Scorsese's Hugo.
Our three days in London included two musicals—Jersey Boys (somehow we had never seen it) and Let It Be (a Beatles tribute show). Everywhere in the city the Union Jack was flying proudly after the success of the Olympics and the Queen's Jubilee. One morning I attended an exhibit called Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It included gowns from Princess Diana’s “Elvis Dress," designed by Catherine Walker, to an Alexander McQueen feathered creation.
Harrods's windows featured the new James Bond film Skyfall, which was about to be released, with designs worn in the film by the Bond women and excerpts from the movie shown on high definition screens. It seems that during the 10 days I was able to see a lot of fashion in some of the most surprising places and it makes me eager for the next adventure that may be right around the corner. It also reminds me that I can never have too much fashion.