Vicky Tiel’s Paris Journal: “Memories Are Made Of This”

Paris from Vicky’s apartment window last New Year’s Eve
Photo: Vicky Tiel

France has always been the home of haute couture, the home of great new fashion and great fashion artists and now it seems to me everybody I knew and loved, everybody, is gone. Ungaro just died last week and Givenchy, Azzedine and of course Karl passed in February, all these great designers in the last two years. Before that, we lost Sonia, Emmanuelle, Pierre Berge, and YSL. Yes, our beloved YSL, worshipped by us all in Paris. Everybody is gone.

If you love YSL and the 1960s French fashion designers please read this memory of a night in September 2007. YSL, his partner, Pierre Berge, Sonia Rykiel, Emmanuelle Khanh, and myself are all seated on the same red leather banquette at Brasserie Lipp in Paris by accident as we all walked in separately the same night, the same time and they put us “Fashion Folk” altogether.

Vicky and Emmanuelle

I was with Emmanuelle, my dearest girlfriend. We came in first. We were celebrating Emmanuelle’s September 2007 retirement from fashion and she ordered champagne and I ordered lemonade. We were laughing all night and happy, unlike somber Sonia who came in with her elder male friend. I imagine she had just found out she had Parkinson’s. Then in walked tragic YSL and Berge who arrived last and never spoke a word to each other not even “bonjour” to all of us. Just Silence! YSL was 6 months away from dying as he drank into his usual bottle of scotch that night in silence.

I often think of this night as Emmanuelle left me and her loved ones three years ago and now with the passage of Azzedine and Karl Lagerfeld last year I’m all alone when I go to the Flore or Lipp, except for the journalist Mary Russell, who just wrote her photo memoir « Entre Nous; Bohemian Chic in the 60s and 70s. ». I wonder will the new designers of today have their own Club Flore or will they only meet online?

Mary Russell book photo cover

Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin are still alive but not hanging out at the Flore. Cardin discovered mass licensing after working at Dior and he licensed his first deal in 1964 when he was the first designer to sell accessories and luggage in Brazil. Cardin has been given every honor, every award and is almost 100. Today he has over 200 licenses of the name Cardin in 140 countries. The Brooklyn Museum is having a Cardin show through Jan 5th. He is a “ Piece Unique” and now lives in a castle in Lacoste, Vaucluse that was home to the Marquis de Sade.

Photo of Cardin in his honorary uniform

Everybody else is gone to a fashionable Heaven and the few of us left are in our multiple country homes. Paco Rabanne is still alive and I hope he’s happy as he made the cherry perfume deal perfume of a lifetime and he never had to think of designing again. Paco Rabanne was one of the first designer fragrance brands who like Chanel sold worldwide especially his men’s brands, something Coco never imagined, as knowing her, she would have done men’s fragrance too. Coco was brilliant. She invented sportswear.

YSL, however, ruled Paris. I first met YSL in Castel’s nightclub in July 1964 when we all danced like fools and did a dance called La Bomba, where we all fall in a giant pile on the dance floor and we would writhe around each other drunk and happy. In the mid-Sixties, I bought an apartment in Rue du Dragon and met YSL’s great love, Jacques de Bascher, who lived on my street and he walked his two Great Danes on long fashionable leashes. Jacques was the most elegant BOY in Paris, right out of a French 1930’s movie and he was SHARED by both Karl and YSL in an unusual arrangement that lasted until Jacques’s early death from AIDS.

Karl and I also shared next door couture sewing ateliers in the 1980s on Rue Visconti near my shop and we would visit the sewers daily creating our masterpieces. Those were the “no stopping us “ years for couture designers, anything and everything would sell and we began to make quantities of 3000$ suits and dresses and sell them to Harrods, Bergdorf, and Neiman Marcus

Jacques de Bascher and Karl Lagerfeld, Paris 1979
Photo: Guy Marineau

Cafe Flore was our fashion designer home. We all had our personal sections. I was to the inside left of the front door patio or outside in good weather, Karl was always inside in the right-back, Sonia was upstairs and had her own floor, Paco Rabanne was main floor center and Azzedine didn’t care. YSL worked and lived in the 8th and 16th where the apartments are super large and he would only cross town for dinner at Lipp. He was shy and making the booming entrances at the Cafe Flore was not his thing. In his later years, Karl would arrive with a giant entourage, reminding me of my Elizabeth Taylor years. Then his old friends like me would get a royal nod.

Quasar and EK on palace steps

Emmanuelle Khanh, the first Knit Queen,(before Sonia) also was the great Parisian hostess. In the sixties and seventies, she owned The Pink Palace outside the city ( with husband artist Quasar Khanh). Saturday nights were always at her pink palace in the huge pink kitchen with her green glass 30’s tableware. Her table was where all of Paris fashion, cinema, and art royalty loved to dine. There were marble stairs descending into the pink ballroom and we ladies always wore major gowns and real jewels just to descend those marble stairs. My husband, Ron Berkeley got a navy blue Maserati convertible to arrive at the Pink Palace in grand style

My husband Ron and car

Emmanuelle would cook for everybody and personally serve 10 people or more. The last years of her life were spent in a gorgeous apartment in the same building as Lou Lou de la Falaise and EK still cooked for everybody and served up delicious food until her death. Micheline Presle ( Thé Devil and the Flesh) was always at her table loving EK and her food. Do you remember Micheline kissing Gerard Philippe? She is still alive and beautiful and almost 100. Of course, she wasn’t in a stressful fashion world.

Emmanuelle serving at the table

Emmanuelle actually created the French ready-to-wear fashion world as we know it today and her pink big ribbed sweater on the cover of Elle is happening again today. In 1962 she partnered with Christine Bailly to create a line of PRÊT A PORTER DESIGNER FASHION made in the local garment district, the Sentier of Paris. Michele Rosier also made inexpensive designer clothes. Michele was the daughter of Helene Lazareff who created Elle Magazine by marrying into the France Soir newspaper family. Helene promoted “her three girls “designs and all of a sudden Fashion Design Brands began for inexpensive clothing.

When I got to Paris in 1964 and I competed with my partner Mia Fonssagrives for a dress design job at Royaume on the Rue Royale, upstairs from Maxims, but Karl Lagerfeld won out. It was his first collection with his own name as he was previously an assistant to Jean Patou and also at Balmain. Mia-Vicky then signed with MADD and Dorothée Bis and we left in 3 years and Karl joined Fendi in 1965 and Chanel after her death. And he STAYED.

It’s hard to imagine fashion’s future. Everyone’s closing doors from Sonia Rykiel to Barney’s, from New York to Paris to Rome and the fashion industry must CHANGE. The person who comes up with the Fashion of the Future will be the Google Amazon billionaire of the next decade. It’s happening soon. We all need to cover our bodies with clothes. But how? We are billions of people all connected instantly technically for the first time on earth. Some genius will figure out how we get instantly dressed by machines, computers, and avatars. I wish it was me, Mia, and Emmanuelle and YSL and Karl lunching on a red banquette at Lipp dining with two charming French ROBOTS.

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Vicky Tiel

Vicky Tiel is an American born French couturier designing since 1964, when she went to Paris with her partner, Mia Fonssagrives. They created a storm with their miniskirts, hot pants and jumpsuits. Vicky did the costumes for 15 films and in 1975 she sold couture to Henri Bendel’s and 45 leading shops In 2011 she joined HSN TV, wrote her first book “Its All About the Dress” and has written a second book “The Absolute Woman It’s All About Feminine Power” which she recently launched on HSN.

  1. Wow, what a fantastic piece! I visited Paris for the first time in the late 80s as a lowly editorial assistant with an invite to a party at Maxim’s for Roger Vivier, hosted by the great Eleanor Lambert. That lead to a ticket to a Chanel Couture show, my very first. That changed my life! Among my favorite memories: getting taken by the hand (wrist, actually) for a personal tour backstage by Karl, and shushing the roudy gentleman behind me screaming “Regine!” It was YSL himself, who did not. Thank you for your magical, first-hand reflections!

  2. ABSOLUTELY CHARMING, albeit a bit sad… but a wonderful read!! I spent a lot of time in Paris in the
    60’s and 70’s… evoked such pleasant memories!! ❤️

  3. So great to read about those days and nights in Paris. Wish I could have been there. There was nothing like it in NY. Jealous. Happy New Year. Renee

  4. Wonderful! Will absolutely enjoy reading it today! Happy New Year, Vicky! As Bogart said to Bergman, “We’ll always have Paris!”. Love,. Jan

  5. Dear Vicky,

    I miss you and also many of the designers you mentioned, now in another place. What if they were to return to our new fashion world: closing brick and mortar, shopping on the Net and also out of our own closets??!
    What would they say? What would they do?
    Vicky: conquer that next!

    Sandy Schreier

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