© Paris Tourist Office Amélie Dupont
Less than eight minutes’ walk from Gare de Lyon, there’s a little bit of Paris where you can experience the rare but beautiful feeling of being alone among Parisians. For a few years, many creative talents from the fashion and media have been flocking to the district between Bastille and the forest on the eastern side of Paris, Bois de Vincennes. For example, Parasolerie Michel Heurtault (www.parasolerieheurtault.com). The environmentally conscious aesthete, who usually only rides a bike in town, loves his 12th arrondissement, which is mostly ignored by the masses of tourists.
He snagged one of the 50 studios in the Viaduc des Arts, which are in great demand due to the low rents. Heurtault is self-taught. For half of his life, he worked as a tailor for theatre, opera and haute couture. Now he has fulfilled his childhood dream: He handcrafts parasols and umbrellas and restores historic ones that are used in museums or costume dramas by Sofia Coppola or Woody Allen. His mission: To turn umbrellas and parasols into the stylish and practical fashion accessories that they once were. There’s nobody that tells as sexy a tale of mundane umbrellas as he. “Look”, he says, and takes one of around 3000 historic items out of a drawer. Cute little ruffles on the outside, but inside the ivory-decorated handle hides a sharp rapier. “19th century Parisian ladies used this to defend themselves against ruffians or wild dogs”.
Inside its arches, the 2.8-mile long disused railway embankment, which once connected Bastille Station to the suburb of Vincennes, houses French handcraftsmanship and original boutiques where nothing is off the rack. Such as the fabric studio Malhia Kent (www.malhia.fr). This is where haute couture designers go shopping or have things made – from Armani to Dior and Valentino. The world’s most sophisticated fabrics are created here, around 20 textile designers are seated at the looms, working on the DNA of what you will see two seasons later at the international fashion shows. From 30 euros a metre, customers can also purchase exclusive fabrics. In another studio, Israeli Tzuri Gueta (www.tzurigueta.com) exhibits his textile, silicone-injected jewellery creations: Both organic and futuristic, amorphous shapes that are reminiscent of bizarre eggs or corals – pure magic and yet politically correct.
Viaduc des Arts is not just a shopping paradise, but also a walking paradise: Up on the old tracks, you will find “Promenade plantée”, an urban green footpath that runs between the rows of houses like a corridor overgrown with bamboo and roses. At about 15 yards above the ground, you will meet strolling lovers, joggers and young families on Rollerblades. And, sometimes you will gain a very intimate view inside the windows of the top floors of the apartments facing Avenue Daumesnil. This must be one of the most beautiful places in Paris to get away from things for a while.