Photo: Jean-Pierre Poulet
Last year’s exhibitions here were fabulous but, if you missed one, you can still buy the catalog—collecting these is a great way to amass the best books on Paris. The lavish volumes are seductive treats, widely available and stuffed with “extras” not in the shows. Every year, Parisians give in and buy stacks of them. Prices are usually around 45 to 50 euros, but: you’ll have something you’ll always treasure.
Lasting longer than the finest perfume, such beautiful books always take you back to Paris. Here’s my list of the year’s best titles—don’t worry if you don’t read French. These are primarily picture books, mostly also available in English editions. All venues sell catalogs from past exhibitions but there are other bookshops where you can find them. Note: prices below come from the Centre Georges Pompidou shop, one of the best sources for books on Paris.
1. Ideal History of Contemporary Fashion (Histoire idéale de la mode contemporaine)
Les arts décoratifs, 45 euros
Olivier Saillard’s exposition at the Musée des arts décoratifs, in two parts, has only one catalog: this gorgeous encyclopedia. Now curator of the city’s fashion museum, Saillard presents his pick of the most influential designers (and designs) from 1971 to now.
Rizzoli, 55 euros
I never thought much about Kenzo until this year’s celebration of his 40th year in fashion. But what a book! One of the best on ’70s ambience in Paris, it offers page after page of mouthwatering fabrics and fashions. (There are also wonderful foldout and pop-up pages.) If you love color and pattern, this one is for you. Plus: each cover replicates a different Kenzo cloth.
3. 100 malles de légende (100 Legendary Trunks)
Louis Vuitton, 100 euros
This outsize book made every local list of “best books on Paris.” Like the show, it is ultraluxurious. Structured around the stories behind, as well as the design of, the very most extraordinary trunks commissioned from Vuitton. It takes you from Empress Eugenie up to Karl Lagerfeld, with special inserts, reproductions and decorations. Price or bringing it home a problem? Think of it as a Vuitton trunk!
4. Yves Saint-Laurent
Broché, 45 euros
The catalog from his huge retrospective has every morsel of YSL and his muses, work, atelier, models and his trailblazing fashions. Just as featured in the blockbuster show and published as elegantly as possible.
5. Brune/Blonde: Women’s Hair in Art and the Cinema (Brune/blonde, la chevelure féminine dans l’art et le cinéma)
Broché, 39.90 euros
A book of photos, essays and interviews (with the likes of Catherine Deneuve) on what it means to be blonde, brunette or red-haired in movies. Movies, that is, with reference to other arts such as literature, painting and sculpture. This was a giant four-month festival presented by the Cinémathèque française. Louise Brooks and Sophia Loren to Frida Kahlo and Laura Palmer, plus Rapunzel, art nouveau and “the chignon.” A book best accompanied with a week of movies on Paris.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Poulet
6. Murakami Versailles
Editions Xavier Barral, 49 euros
You may love him. Or you may think he should stick to Vuitton handbags. But, if you’re a fan, this is for you. Crammed with backstage details as well as wonderfully grand photographs, there is also an illuminating interview where Murakami discusses how hard it is to cross cultures. He even explains why he is “not seen as an artist” back home. Fascinating; and I’m not a fan.
Paris musées, 31 euros
There have been many Basquiat shows and many catalogs. This one offers the best value since the 1992 Abrams book by the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Hazan/Jeu de paume, 49 euros
A beautiful, incredibly comprehensive book with almost everything on the great photographer’s long and rich career. Special treats include his four years of work in the First World War, reproductions of almost every page from years of photojournalism, plus his final work with Polaroids. A dream for fans of photography.
9. Monuments, stars du 7e art (Monuments as Stars of the Cinema)
Centre des monuments nationaux, 45 euros
In French only but easy to follow, with fabulous pictures, this book is for any lover of cinema. It “stars” almost 50 well-known châteaus, gardens, prisons and stately homes. Studying the starring role they have played throughout film history, it shows how they have been shown or reproduced (both here and in Hollywood).
10. Photo/femmes/féminisme (Photo/Women/Feminism)
Paris bibliothèques, 39 euros
One hundred and fifty years of famous women doing their thing: entertainment, social life, work and activism. The best-known women in France, thus one of the best books on Paris history. See what the great courtesans who inspired Proust really looked like; ditto the women who posed for Degas or Toulouse-Lautrec. The source: a “first-ever” exhibition from the women’s library founded by activist Marguerite Durand.
• These books and more like them can all be found (especially in their English editions) at the vast librairie of the Centre Georges Pompidou, at 19, rue Beaubourg, in the 3rd Arrondissement, which is open every day except Tuesday, and late, too: from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Stocks some of the best books on Paris shows, travel and all the arts.
• A great selection of fashion catalogs is always available at
107 Rivoli, at 107, rue de Rivoli, in the 1st, a bookshop and gift shop for the Musée des arts décoratifs, open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
• A wonderful source for catalogs, as well as books on art and fashion, is L’ecume des pages, at 174, blvd St.-Germain, in the 6th. Hours: Mon–Sat, 11 a.m.–midnight; Sun 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
• The same is true of La Hune, at 170, blvd St.-Germain, in the 6th. Hours: Mon-Sat, 10 a.m. to midnight; Sun, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
• A fair selection of art books on Paris is also available at the Carrousel du Louvre Virgin Megastore, at 99, rue de Rivoli, in the 1st. Hours: Mon and Tues, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Wed–Sun, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; seven days a week.