Retro Mania in Paris

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Visiting Paris and hoping to meet some real live Parisians? Well, ditch the hotel and get dolled up for the Retro Mania Festival. Imagine the rockabilly, swing and burlesque scenes rolled into one, with some of le rock and roll thrown in, and you get the picture. Between dance classes, vintage shopping, photo expos and the outdoor terrace, this atmosphere appreciative of Americana offered a convivial way to faire la connaissance de, or meet, the French.

I brought my friends (a fashion designer from NYC and a photographer from LA) to the Nex Step studio, the main venue for the festival, which wrapped up August 29. In seconds my designer friend was cooing under her breath about the amount of bon style in the room. This from a woman wearing a black-gold-fuchsia-sequined tank top she just finished sewing in her Marais atelier.

On the program that night was a summer session of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, a life-drawing soirée featuring costumed models cast from local cabaret and burlesque shows. The front row was full of early birds, serious artistes working in pencil and ink. The models Miss Guided and Lily Deslys posed on the beach set in 1940s summer garb: pinafores, two-pieces and a bikini-bottom-and-pasties number. We expats sketched feverishly and enjoyed sharing our mini-masterpieces with one another between poses.

During one of the drawing breaks, I lost and then found my photographer friend. She was slowly moving between the two photography expos on view. “Really good work here,” she said. Dimitri Leprêtre’s show “Film Noir” featured gorgeous film heroines in various states: reading a treatise on Dada, lounging in the boudoir, staking out a hallway in very high heels. At the other end of the salle, photographer Franck Pinero exhibited “Archive de Swing: le fil retrouvé des Année 40 et 50.” Pinero poses 21st-century swing scenesters in the style of the 1940s and ’50s, revealing differences in the idealized presentation of happiness between now and then. It all made me wonder if, at the heart of the retro scene, there exists a grass-is-greener sentimentality for the past.

Most festival evenings, event producer Turkey could be found managing the bar and restaurant. He introduced me to the dance teachers Turquito and Little, who were more than happy to welcome américaines to their classes in tango, swing and le rock and roll. They also teach year-round at different venues in Paris.

On the second floor of the salle, Casablanca boutique offered a selection of 1950s and ’60s looks.  Here, propriétaire Najat was giving fashion advice: il faut faire un mélange. In other words, if you’re going to wear vintage, mix it up with something contemporary. “We live now, not in the ’30s,” Najat told me, adding that “one should benefit from all the eras of fashion.”

After shopping, drinking and drawing, we girls were ready to see where else the night would take us. So we bid our new acquaintances a bonne soirée and received smiling bonnes soirées back. Yes, smiles. From French people. In Paris.

What: Casablanca Boutique
Clothes and accessories from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
Where: 17, rue Moret, in the 11th. 01 43 57 10 12. Mon–Sat, 2–7 p.m. get map

What: Swing Dance
Paris’s resident retro electroswing DJs.
Where: Bart & Baker

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