All images by Nicholas Calcott for Paris By Appointment Only™
Leading Role: The ageless, timeless Jacques Fivel (above), a man of many hats, including vintage fashion dealer, sculptor and gong therapist.
Supporting Cast: His wife, the amazing tattoo artist Philippine Schaefer (above), their two young kids, a couple of cats, and whoever else shows up.
Setting: Jacques Fivel’s vast, ground floor atelier in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, a remote neighborhood in the Northeast corner of the city.
Décor: A cabinet of curiosities, Fivel’s place is packed to the rafters with gorgeous handcrafted aural sculptures, random artifacts, ancient hunting tools, Balinese totems, and racks and racks of fabulous frocks.
At high noon the first Wednesday of each month a series of sirens rings throughout Paris to test the city’s emergency warning system. Startling at first, the practice grounds you in the present—at that very moment you know exactly where and when you are. The sound is also a haunting blast from the past (it’s impossible not to think of curfews and distress alarms when you hear it). For those in the know, the signal has another sense entirely: it’s a stirring reminder to attend Jacques Fivel’s monthly fashion happening, Le Jour de la Sirène (The day of the siren), later on that evening.
Much like the bell for which it’s named, Fivel’s party has a bygone, La Dolce Vita feel to it. Full of fascinating eccentrics, surreal conversations, flamboyant costumes and breathtaking décor, it feels like a fin de siècle film thick with decadence, elegance and intrigue. With the exception of few added flourishes, the cinematic show unfolds much in this manner:
8:30pm: Just as the kids are finishing up dinner, people start wandering in carrying bottles of wine as offerings. A steady stream of characters, including Brazilian folk musicians, art restorers, starving poets, war heroes, and fashion muses gather around the kitchen before filling up the colorful space with their amiable charm and chatter. Animals and kids complete the Baccalian backdrop as Fivel works the crowd. Starting with his standard look—black leather pants, shagreen cowboy boots and a fitted button down shirt—Fivel changes attire every so often as the night draws on. First it’s the tailored red and white striped dinner jacket, then the purple suede biker jacket and gem-incrusted starfish necklace made by an ex-lover, then the Dior Homme black and white spotted fur jacket with black leather sleeves.
10:00pm: Inspired by his whimsical display of sartorial play, revelers start plucking items to try on too. The gold leather Balenciaga jackets draped over the hand painted room divider mesmerizes all, as does the embroidered Kangaroo couture Lacroix jacket. People switch in an out of both marveling over their images in the mirror. Pictures are snapped, laughs exchanged and checkbooks taken out (the clothes are for sale, biensûr..) A fan of large collars, an American expat blogger spots a Flash Gorden inspired Karl Lagerfeld jacket in the corner and tries it only to find out that it’s not only slightly too large but way out of her budget for now (800E). One of Fivel’s more voluptuous lady friends is modeling a deep V-neck black Lanvin leather jumpsuit nearby, so no one has noticed the blogger’s disappointment.
11:00pm Camera pulls away from fashion action back towards kitchen where an erotic cartoonist is sketching figures on a sculpture pedestal in a bright pink felt marker. A crowd has formed to watch while sipping leisurely on their glasses of wine. Nearby, two people are crouched over a bundle of ancient metal spears that Fivel fetched from an off-camera closet. Is a sale going on? Who knows? But the stuff looks pretty rare. What else does he have hidden around the house? The possibilities seem endless.
12:00am: Items modeled by Fivel earlier in the evening have now made their way onto his guests. A strapping fellow is wearing the very smart-looking red and white striped dinner jacket and has his checkbook out. He turns to Fivel and says, “I can only pay by check, don’t have enough cash,” to which his host responds, “that’s alright, nobody’s perfect.”
What’s this? An impromtu concert? Channeling Seu Jorge and Manu Chao, some dude is belting out Spanish love songs on guitar. Fivel saunters over arm raised like a Spanish dancer while clacking his heels against the floor. Eventually the whole crowd joins the dance, dressed to the nines is their fabulous new frocks.
Email me if you’d like to attend Le Jour de la Sirène, the first Wednesday evening of each month.