Art in Paris: One for the Boys


Photo: Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs.

If you think of great art in Paris as pastries, scarves and stilettos, chances are your male companions feel a little left out. They’ve probably spent a large percentage of your joint travel time toting bags, cooling their heels and stifling their yawns in front of store windows.
Well, now is the time to make it all up to them—by taking a special trip to the Museum of Decorative Arts‘s show “The Art of the Automobile.” This is one art blockbuster that won’t travel beyond Paris. What is its draw? The “art” is 17 totally rare, iconic cars on loan from designer and upscale car collector Ralph Lauren. Taken together, they offer a history of auto luxury via prestigious names such as Bentley, Jaguar, Porsche and Ferrari.
These cars offer a window into a totally rarefied world: one of the ultimate in technical expertise and design. Arranged in a chronology that moves from 1929 (a massive “Bentley Blower”) up to 1996 (a Formula One McLaren), it offers a fab combination of the racetrack with the grandest of tripism. What may startle us girls is just how gorgeous they look. Boys aren’t the only ones scoping out these elegant lines—or breathing deeply the scent of their expensive leathers.

Photo: Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs.

This is a show that has really wowed everyone. Maybe that’s because each car, as well as being an ultimate object of desire, exudes its own quirky and unique personality. It’s even possible to see all the cars in action, thanks to the museum minitheatres with their racetrack films. Art in Paris doesn’t get more inventive than this; it’s a totally stunning show even when viewed from above on the mezzanine.
If you think it won’t amount to much more than oil and exhaust, think again and make sure you tag along. I found the parade of Testarossas and Monzas truly poetic—plus, there’s a 1955 Porsche Spyder in silver. James Dean famously perished in the same model.
The expo marks a high point of Paris acceptance for Lauren; the week it opened, he was presented with the French Legion of Honor. This was partly a thank-you for his four-year restoration of an hôtel on the boulevard St.-Germain. Here, in premises that date from 1683 (which have been both a monastery and an embassy), Ralph unveiled his Paris flagship store in 2010. 

Photo: Courtesy Ralph Lauren.

That establishment comes complete with its own tony Ralph’s restaurant, which offers posh 24 euro hamburgers. (The menu is all New England specialties, with “bio beef flown in from Ralph’s ranch.”) Its steep-prices issues have made this eatery somewhat controversial. But the store itself has had nothing but fabulous press. It has been complimented by Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert—even Kaiser Karl Lagerfeld.
Still, a real date for the boys means checking out the Lauren cars, even if the men do later decide to sample a burger. As with all art in Paris, be sure you book ahead. That way, you can arrive with tickets in hand, having prepared the perfect afternoon for boyfriend, husband or teens. Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti . . . dreams just don’t come any more masculine.
While in Paris, pick up one of those ’60s racing films so beloved by the French. Try those with actor (and real-life racing family member) Jean-Louis Trintignant: Le Fanfaron (known in its original Italian as Il Sorpasso and in English as The Easy Life) or A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme). Or suave Yves Montand in the same sort of role, via Grand Prix. All three often screen at Paris’ rerun cinemas.
Related links:
Museum of Decorative Arts (Musée des Arts Décoratifs)
“The Art of the Automobile” (“L’Art de l’Automobile”)
Ralph Lauren
Jean-Louis Trintignant
Le Fanfaron
A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme)
Grand Prix

Editor’s note: Keeping your man happy isn’t easy, but if you book an apartment for your stay that results in more space and savings, you’ll have more money to go shopping while he’s at the car show!