When in a foreign city, you always hope that you’ll meet someone famous. Maybe they’ll be shooting a big-budget movie near your hotel. Maybe you’ll walk into a Hugo Boss store right as George Clooney does. Or maybe you’ll nab a seat at the nearest up-and-coming restaurant and end up sitting right next to Uma Thurman. These things do happen.
When I was living in Paris on exchange last winter, I figured the above scenario was somewhat plausible. It could happen to me… But it probably wouldn’t.
At the time, I was in love with a bookstore called Galliano. Although I only came across it three months after arriving in the city of the baguette from my hometown of Montreal, it was one of the many lucky discoveries I made during those six months of intellectual bliss.
As the largest English bookstore in Paris (and the second most famous after the beloved and infinitely charming Shakespeare and Co.) Galliano was fabulous in every way. Tall beige marble columns lined the outside doors, cobblestone sidewalks weaved around the block, and you could see the green shrubbery and regal fountains of the Jardins du Tuileries right across the street. And the inside! Oh, the inside of Galliano was any nerd’s dream.
New and beautifully bound copies written by the English language’s finest minds worked their way across walls and over wooden tables. There was Fitzgerald, Austen, Hemingway, Nabokov, along with my newer obsessions, Sedaris, McEwan, Gladwell, and Woody Allen. The magazine racks contained the finest of glossies – the most high fashion, the most artistic, and the most forward thinking of photographic wonders. Their beautiful brilliance blinded you from the other side of the room.
To me, Galliano was the flame to which my soul would gravitate. Every book store has a certain romance. It holds the promise of the new and enlightening. If I could only read this gorgeous creature of a novel, I always think to myself, then I’d be so much wiser. Galliano, however, was on a different level. It was gigantic compared to Paris’ other bookstores. Two whole floors, decorated with leather chairs and perfectly varnished floors. The store was flawless, and when you sat down to browse through your chosen books the feeling was one of euphoria. You were in another world; a perfect and polished Parisian world.
The atmosphere was already enough to justify my adoration, but I loved it for another reason as well. It was there that I met the King. When I think back, it was a fitting place for him to buy his books; Galliano was located in the 1iere arrondissement, between the Louvres and the Place de la Concorde, in one of Paris’ most prestigious neighbourhoods. “He’s a regular”, they told me, once he had left. But when I first arrived and walked towards Galliano’s grandiose doors, I never expected to see him behind me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black limo parked on the street. I turned to stare, as any attentive exchange student would, and noticed someone walking towards me. He was wearing a black trench-coat over black dress pants, a vest, a black skinny tie and a crisp white shirt. Dangling from his neck was a black rosary, and covering his face were an enormous pair of dark sunglasses. It was him. Definitely him. Karl Lagerfeld. The King of Couture.
Of course, after having a very short-lived panic attack, I followed him in, and I continued to follow him as he began to converse with the store’s owner.
“Bonjour Mr. Lagerfeld. Vous allez bien?”
“Oui, oui. Merci. Je cherche…”
The rest of his sentence remains a blur. I could hear their voices wafting on in the back room of my mind, but my galloping heart rate prevented me from paying attention to their actual words.
Naturally, the shop owner took him around the store. He pointed out his personal suggestions as Karl’s black leather-gloved hand reached for the glossiest of glossies. My own hands began to sweat as I congratulated myself on wearing my heeled boots and not my regular beat up converse on the day I was to meet France’s fashion royalty.
“Est-ce que je pourrais prendre une photo avec Mr. Lagerfeld?”, I asked, slowly approaching his beautiful looking body guard. “Non,” he said. As my eyes fixated on his perfectly chiseled jaw and angelic brown hair, he clarified: there were to be “no photos or autographs”.
I thought of sneaking a photo with my phone, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth upsetting the man who revived Coco Chanel’s legacy. How extremely unsophisticated it would seem to Karl if I took a cheap and creepy photo of the back of his head. It wouldn’t be very French of me. After all, the other women in the store (the French women) were oblivious to his presence – and clearly much cooler than I. To them, he was just another customer.
I decided against the stolen photo and stalked him and his model turned bodyguard for a few more minutes instead. I admiringly breathed in the same air that Karl was breathing, touched the same magazines he had touched, and took the same circular path around the bookstore. As I did, the foolishly wide grin on my face began to grow even wider and the only words I could utter became the ever predictable, “Oh my God!” “It’s really him,” I remember saying, “oh my god!”
After another 5 minutes of browsing, he brought his selection to the cash register. He had filled two bags with magazines and books, although I didn’t see him pay for any of them. Maybe he had a tab at Galliano, I thought to myself. He might even have a VIP company account, or something equally as fancy.
As he turned to leave, he walked past me on his way to the store’s front door. That’s when it happened. Through his sunglasses I saw that his eyes had come to rest on me. He must have noticed the goofy look on my face or the fact that I’d been following him around for the past 15 minutes. To my surprise, Karl’s usually serious face then took on an unfamiliar air. His cheeks began to rise and the corners of his lips curled up into a smile.
I smiled back, and although it only lasted a few seconds there was no mistaking his reaction. Karl Lagerfeld, the King of Couture and the designer behind everything Coco Chanel for the last decade, had smiled at me. Not by mistake. Not because he thought I was someone else. But because he wanted to.
When I think back to that day in Galliano, I can hardly believe Karl walked in at all. I remember walking home afterwards in a complete daze, as if I was floating. I still don’t know how or which way I took home. The thing is, you never think these kinds of celebrity encounters will happen to you… Until they do.
By: Sophia Loffreda