Student Life in Paris and a love for French Fashion
The 16th arrondissement is known for its high-end shops and embassies. Less well-known is its connection to someone celebrated both for her high-end fashion shopping habits and for a diplomatic success linking France and the United States: Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
Junior Year Abroad
Jackie came to Paris in 1949, aged 20, for a Junior Year Abroad, at a time when France was still emerging from the privations of the war years. She and two other American girls were billeted with the widowed Countess de Renty and her family on avenue Mozart (a 10-minute walk from the Hotel Félicien). The accommodations were far from palatial. All seven inhabitants of the apartment shared a single bathroom, and the house was freezing in winter (central heating was unknown in France at the time). Jackie wrote to her family that she did her studying in bed, swathed in quilts and sweaters.
In some ways, Jackie was a typical student: studying, attending lectures, and hanging out with classmates at bistros in the Latin Quarter. In other ways, she was far from typical because of her wealthy family and friends. American and French acquaintances invited her to parties or to the Ritz for drinks (which she called “swanky” in letters home). She spent several weekends at a chateau outside Paris, the home of a French writer and literary hostess whom she had met through a college friend.
But what really set her apart from the typical Junior Year Abroad student was her return to Paris twelve years later.
Returning to Paris as First Lady
In 1961, she arrived in a motorcade from the airport, accompanied by her husband, the president of the United States. This time, she stayed at the Elysée Palace (the French Foreign Office) on the Left Bank. No worries there about sharing the bathroom or being too cold!
During the motorcade, people lining the route shouted out her name. Jackie was a sensation: she had conducted an interview with a television journalist entirely in French that had been broadcast the day before her arrival (the French appreciate any foreigner who speaks good French). John F. Kennedy fed into this adulation at a press conference at the Trocadéro, describing himself as “the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris.”
Jackie was feted everywhere she went, but her biggest triumph was the state dinner at Versailles. She arrived in a Givenchy ballgown (ivory silk with hand embroidery on the bodice). During the dinner, she acted as translator between her husband and French President Charles de Gaulle. The conversation she facilitated helped cement an important connection between the two heads of state.
On that visit she also struck up a friendship with André Malraux, then French minister of culture. Thanks to this bond, she arranged a U.S. tour in 1963 for another popular Parisian resident: the Mona Lisa.
As First Lady, Jackie’s love of French fashion caused problems in the United States, where she was expected to wear American-made clothes. American designer Oleg Cassini came to the rescue, creating fashions for her that mimicked the French styles she adored. She wore Cassini’s creations on most official occasions, but she was wearing a pink Chanel suit in November 1963 in Dallas when her husband was shot, and a black Givenchy outfit at the state funeral. French fashion seems to have been a source of comfort to Jackie in the midst of grief and turmoil.
Jackie O in Paris
After she married Aristotle Onassis, Jackie continued to visit Paris frequently, staying at his apartment on the avenue Foch in the 8th. She shopped in the 16th and patronized many well-known restaurants. The staff at these establishments tried to preserve her privacy and keep away the paparazzi, but it was hard for her to move freely in the city she loved.
Many years later, Jackie described her Junior Year Abroad in Paris as the happiest, most carefree period of her life. It is easy to see why. She was able to explore the city, not as an American First Lady, nor as the wife of a wealthy man, but as an enthusiastic student of French life, literature, and art. What she learned that year in the 16th arrondissement shaped her for life.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Hotel Félicien, Paris