Book Review: My Paris Dream

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I constantly dream of packing up and moving to Europe. (Maybe not the packing part, actually, considering one of my biggest anxieties about said dream is how I would transport all of my clothes.)

During the winter I downloaded an app to help me relearn the French that I’ve forgotten since my high school days. I’ve spent countless hours looking online at jobs in London to avoid the language barrier, but there seems to be this weird thing called a visa that employers don’t want to have to worry about.

I’m lucky enough that my parents began taking us kids to Europe when we were little, so I developed the travel bug at an early age. Sadly, though, one of my most vivid memories of my trip to Paris was waiting in line at the Parisian McDonald’s in awe that hot dogs were their biggest seller. Kids will be kids, I suppose.

I’ve always wanted to return to the magical place as a twenty-something, especially since Paris and I have the same thing at the center of our universe: fashion. That, and fresh baked goods.

I didn’t return to Paris while I was abroad in Barcelona simply because there were so many other places I wanted to see. I thought it would be silly to revisit a place rather than check another off of my list. What I’ve realized since, though, is that people with the travel bug experience a constant battle between returning to the places we fell in love with or exploring new territory. Sure, it’s possible to do both… if you are the heir to an oil conglomerate. Cha-ching.11-my-paris-dream-cover.w529.h793.2x

For now, I try to satisfy my wanderlust with books. One of my favorite novels of the past few years is The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictional take on the life of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Hadley.

So when I came across My Paris Dream while hunting for a new read, it was a no brainer. May as well read about someone else’s Paris dream while I’m haunted by my own, right?

The author, Kate Betts, has spent twenty-five years at the top of the fashion journalism industry. She worked closely with Anna Wintour at American Vogue and it was rumored that she was in line to be her successor. In a dramatic twist, Betts left to become the youngest ever editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar. She has since worked for Time magazine and published two books.

My Paris Dream rewinds to Betts’ college graduation from Princeton. She is eager to step out from the shadow of the generations of family before her that all followed the same path. Her self-description at that stage resounds with me now: “I wasn’t a rebel in the usual sense of breaking rules, but I had a hunger to learn something about myself – what that was, I didn’t exactly know.” She decides to jet off to Paris in the hopes of establishing a career in journalism. At first, she has no interest in fashion. Then, she lands a job at Women’s Wear Daily. Swoon.

Betts chronicles the trials and tribulations of adjusting to Parisian life as a young American on her own. She reveals the eccentric and cutthroat style of John Fairchild, the infamous publisher and editor in chief of WWD and the founding editor of W Magazine. Betts’ experiences read like the much more sophisticated, cultured older cousin to America’s Devil Wears Prada. While she isn’t asked to obtain the Harry Potter manuscript for her editor’s children before it is released, there is an unspoken assumption that she will put her friends, family and lovers on the back burner whenever duty calls. And duty calls often.

Betts and Lagerfeld

Betts and Lagerfeld

On the flip side, Betts’ blossoming friendships with now worshipped designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent are enough to make a reader’s eyes bug out. The relationships weren’t superficial, though. Betts met with Louboutin as a favor to an intern – she describes feeling sorry for the aspiring designer, whose big idea at the time was to cover heels in fish skin. She wrote a small blurb about the designer because he was such a likable person. As for Saint Laurent, Betts describes him as “living proof that putting yourself in a foreign context – real or imaginary – is often the best way to see yourself more clearly.”

As a fairly recent graduate with dreams of fashion, writing, and Paris, Betts’ coming-of-age tale left me with a strange mix of hope and dejection. The best memoirs do, though. Her story isn’t one of sipping café au lait on a picturesque city corner without a care in the world. That isn’t what life is like. I appreciated her candor in that her success didn’t come cheap.

Towards the end of the book, Betts leaves us with a poignant idea: “If you have a wish for something from a young age and you nourish it, if you continually make an effort to nurture the wish and stay connected to this dream, then you will live a fulfilled life. If you believe in something, it invests everything you do with meaning.”

Here’s to all of our ‘Paris dreams.’

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