Perhaps surprisingly, the typical fashion fetes here are not frosty posing contests; instead, the spirit ranges from warm familiarity to all-out goofiness. Almost none of the venues are slick or brand-new, and the dress code, even among the chicest natives, tends to favor vintage separates, Repetto flats and scruff. “At Le Baron, it’s really about letting your hair down and being with people who are like family,” says Lionel Bensemoun, the club’s co-owner, pointing to a hilarious Internet clip of Björk at Le Baron, drunkenly hollering the song “No Limit.” And if there’s often drama at the door (no one gets in who’s not a friend), once you cross the threshold, the snootiness subsides—yes, even if you’re one table over from Mick, Sofia or Agyness. One of the best-known recent parties there (besides the countless after-show soirées that take place during Fashion Week) was the Sunday rock ’n’ roll karaoke night, when a scrum of chic youngsters competed with campy renditions of Johnny Hallyday cheese, and everyone who participated won a prize.
“We’re not as all-business as they are in London or the States,” notes Nadège Winter, head of communications for the boutique Colette, whose deliberately dorky Colette Dance Class has been a fixture at Le Paris Paris since November 2005. Just try to maintain pretension while learning the steps from “Thriller” or trying to krump. “People really don’t take themselves seriously,” Winter says. They typically put a lot more thought into their outfits at Club Sandwich, which often has a themed dress code; stylists might borrow head-to-toe Chanel from yesterday’s shoot, and the drag queens manage to find of-the-moment footwear in really large sizes. But according to Marc Zaffuto, a photographer and PR consultant who started the party with men’s-model agent Emmanuel d’Orazio two years ago (they have since moved it from tiny Club Neo to the larger La Scala to accommodate the crowds), “No one is here to do business. We are here to have fun, fun, fun, and there is no networking allowed.”
Not to say that New Yorkers can’t have fun, but in the States (and in London) the line between party guests and party throwers is more clearly defined than in Paris, largely due to a lack of financial incentive to cross over. In Paris the fact that it’s almost impossible to make a living as a DJ or a party host helps keep the vibe loose. And the pros are all hyphenates of some sort. “When I started DJ-ing in 2001,” says fashion publicist Fabien Guyon, who plays monthly indie rock and punk sets at the Hedi Slimane–frequented Pop In, “the attitude among many club owners was, ‘Oh, you work in fashion and have a personality—so put it on the floor!’” Guyon had few competitors for the gig, because “these places don’t pay much,” he says. “We treat them as places to have parties and invite our friends. Besides, it’s very Parisian not to be an expert in one thing, but to do everything.” This is, after all, the city that gave birth to such lifestyle labels as APC, which, like Colette, peddles music compilations as well as clothes; Kitsuné, which started as a record company and morphed into a fashion line; and April 77, a clothing company–cum–record label–cum–fanzine blog–cum–events company.