Just who is the Parisienne of summer? That’s the title of a Paris expo on display throughout la Cité de la mode et du design. All its snaps of Parisiennes at leisure were taken between 1880 and 1960. The show—free to anyone—is a late summer gift, from the civic company that digitizes historic photos. The shots you see come from the archives of eminent Parisian agency Roger-Viollet.
Their views will return you to an ultraromantic Paris, one whose girls are smiling in their best summer finery. With bathing suits, high heels and demure coiffures, they loll on terraces and sunbathe by the Seine. It’s remarkable how many of the pastimes on show—especially along the river—persist with little change. To replicate them, just take a stroll through Paris Plages or les Berges sur Seine. The great difference? It’s now illegal to swim in the Seine.
Whether they show cyclists in jersey or dandies in convertibles, you’ll easily recognize the backdrops in the shots. They feature some of the most iconic Paris cafés, streets and bridges. A few of the scenes were grabbed just days before the liberation; others were staged in the ’50s by famous lensmen. The photos are shown on each level of the complex—which houses a fashion school, two nightclubs (Nuba and Wanderlust, also a restaurant), an art gallery, a café and a public sundeck.
Once a landing dock for commerce on the river, this industrial site was transformed by the addition of a snakelike, green glass carapace. Its breezy decks make a relaxing promenade and, as well as boutiques, there’s always a Paris expo. (Currently, you can see “No Skateboarding,” by Mathias Fennetaux.) After you pay a visit, it’s a short walk to the Jardin des Plantes: Europe’s largest botanical garden is a pleasant place to picnic.
Enthusiasts have tried to bring back swimming in the Seine—last year, a race the length of the river was scheduled. Citing aquatic pollution, the city had it canceled. But race organizers (who include former French swimming champion Stéphan Caron) maintain the Seine is as clean today as 100 years ago. At least in some respects, it would seem they’re right. Over 30 kinds of fish thrive in the river—including Atlantic salmon, who can startle viewers with a leap. Street fishing along Paris canals and quais is also trendy.
Near this Paris expo, in fact, you can swim “in” the Seine. Just head for the Piscine Joséphine Baker, the one municipal swimming pool that floats on the river. The barge containing it also boasts a children’s pool, a sundeck and a fitness room. When it’s sunny, the glass roof retracts to make it open-air. Although it’s crowded on very hot days or weekends, during weekday hours the piscine is a Paris pleasure.
• Paris expo “Parisienne en été” (“Parisienne of Summer”) is at la Cité de la mode et du design, 34, quai d’Austerlitz, in the 13th Arrondissement; free through October 6; open daily, noon–midnight.
• Paris expo “No Skateboarding” is also at la Cité de la mode et du design; free through September 30; open daily, 3 p.m.–8 p.m.
• Swim on the Seine at Piscine Joséphine Baker, Quai François Mauriac, in the 13th Arrondissement (see site for summer hours).
Cité de la mode et du design
“Parisienne en été” (“Parisienne of Summer”)
Paris Plages (through August 18)
Les Berges sur Seine
No Skateboarding, by Mathias Fennetaux
Jardin des Plantes
Street fishing in Paris
Piscine Joséphine Baker
Editor’s note: Do you follow us yet on Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram? If not, why wait? It’s free, fun and a beautiful reminder of our favorite city—Paris of course!