Over the last two weeks I have spent half my time in Paris for trade shows – such a hardship I know. My first long weekend visit was to Maison et Objet, which is absolutely gigantic, though luckily my attention is usually focused on just one or two of the halls. Most of my time at Maison is spent on the Djeco stand and this year was no different. I love being taken through what new things are coming; and then things get really exciting and we settle down to the serious work of playing the new games – this year Natalie, who oversees all the games and their development, was my guide.
Although the primary reason for my visit was work, I also managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Picasso Gallery on Sunday morning – it’s wonderful! My only advice to anyone would be to arrive early if you can; I was one of the first visitors and I had a wonderful time wandering from room to room freely. The Hotel Sale, the building that the Picasso Gallery resides in, underwent an amazing transformation in the 1980’s by architect Roland Simounet, a brilliant marriage of contemporary architecture in an exceedingly traditional space. And I was lucky enough to see the Picasso-Giacometti exhibition.
Another interesting gallery that I would recommend a visit to is the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, a private museum of hunting and nature. I got the top tip from Liz, aka the brilliant locally based Dicky Bird, so I had no idea what to expect… what a find. It reopened in 2007, it had kept the basic layout and proportions of the two adjoining 17th-century mansions that it is in, but it feels more like an art gallery than a museum. The history of hunting and man’s larger relationship with the natural world are presented in quirky exhibits like a series of wooden cabinets devoted to the wolf, the stag…. each containing a bleached skull, small drawers that you can open to reveal droppings and footprint casts, and a binocular eyepiece you can peer into for footage of the animal in the wild. A stuffed fox is set curled up on a Louis XVI chair looking very at home! The entire exhibition was both macabre and theatrical; each marvellously opulent room explored the relationship between humans and animals in a wonderfully playful way.
Travelling on your own is always an adventure but I find it’s far more pleasurable to do it with company, and when I had to return to Paris the following weekend I thought I’d make a weekend of it and take my two girls. So on a slightly dreary Friday afternoon we three girls set off for Paris. As always seems to happen, I had overestimated the number of hours in a day and ended up with just 30 minutes to pack. Needless to say I spent most of that time ensuring that Ottie had everything she needed in her suitcase and I later discovered that I’d brought an interesting collection of clothes for myself…Ottie quite rightly asking why I’d brought the clothes I never wear at home, as I struggled to find an outfit I wanted to wear on Saturday morning. I’d booked an Airbnb in my favourite part of Paris – Le Marais. The flat was perfect for our weekend – large, homely and with just enough French charm. Ottie got dreadful giggles when she noticed that several of the walls contained posters in which bottoms were a rather prominent feature- oh to be 8!
As it was Ottie’s first time in Paris we spent the whole of the Saturday seeing some of the typical tourist sights, both by Batobus and on foot. We stopped to refuel at a quaint Italian restaurant and to meet up with an old French friend of mine – Jessica. Over lunch she
suggested we take a visit to the Natural History Museum, and what a good recommendation it proved to be. The Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, similarly to the Mussee du Nature and Chasse, was filled with stuffed animals – however it had the added benefit of an interactive exhibition downstairs, and amazing lighting. After finishing our wander around the museum we took a stroll through the gardens at the back, and stumbled across an outdoor exhibition of polar bear photographs by Vincent Munier which were breathtaking. We rounded off an amazing day with a wonderful meal in the evening. Well, it took us an age to find a restaurant, the issue was finding somewhere that a) had a table (it was really quite late by this point on a Saturday evening), and b) they needed to have both steak and frites for Ottie
and a good vegetarian option for Bea. The search most certainly paid off and we found a great restaurant down one of the side streets in La Marais. As serendipity will often have it, we found ourselves sitting next to a large party of people who were exhibiting or attending Playtime! We donated half of our table to the ever growing number of their party and got chatting- if you’re looking for a cool Instagram to follow, check out this one lafete_nl – really lovely people and we are loving their pictures. After leaving the restaurant we walked round the corner to get the girls their ‘night cap’ …crepes – OMG the amount of Nutella that went into their crepes can only be described as OTT – needless to say they loved them.
On Sunday it was time for work – Playtime Paris – an international children’s & maternity trade show. It really didn’t feel like ‘work’ as we had great fun walking around the show checking out all that was on offer. It was great to have both of the girls’ ‘eyes’ with me, even if Ottie was somewhat distracted by all the amazing clothes! As well as having some chats with old friends – Lara and Ollie, Olli Ella, Petra Boase, whose stands all looked great, and where there were lots of new and exciting additions to their ranges – we also met lots of new brands that we can’t wait to stock. Some of the night wear we saw had both Bea and I wishing we could bag ourselves a bottle of Alice’s ’drink me’ potion and shrink back to under 8 child’s size. Ottie’s favourite brands were Indee, a new clothing label, and a lovely British company called Chapter 2 who make and design ‘uber cool’ (in Ottie’s words) shoes.
Monday was our last day in Paris – our first stop of the day was Season for breakfast: I can safely say that we would all definitely recommend the hot chocolate, the avocado on toast
and the hazelnut chocolate spread which came with the baguette. After stopping ourselves from ordering a second round of breakfast, yes it was that good, we walked over to the Djeco offices. After visiting the Djeco stand at Maison et Objet the prior weekend I decided it was time to take up their offer to visit their offices in Paris. Djeco, as anyone who’s been to the shop will know, is one of our favourite brands. Visiting Djeco’s offices was a real reminder of why they are such a special company. The company was founded by Frederic’s mother just after the 2nd World War – the fact that she started her own company in a post war society was a miracle in itself. We were really fortunate to catch some of the Djeco team before they headed off to the Nuremberg Toy Fair (sadly I’m not going this year- I have rather a lot of work to catch up on after all these trade shows); Frederic, who now runs his mother’s company, very generously took the time to show us around the offices. We were introduced to all the different departments and met some of the creative individuals who work so very hard to make sure that each product Djeco produce is of the best quality. Part of the charm of the offices is the original art work that features on almost every wall. It was wonderful to see where they sit to decide which games they will produce and also discuss which artists to approach for which project – Frederic pointed out that once the discussions are over they have their own bar located in the adjacent room with the all important table football.
Travelling back to London we were all exhausted and were desperate for a teleportation device which could whizz us home. We’d had a wonderful adventure but were over the moon to see both Pete and our gorgeous smelly 14yr old French Basset hound- we’d missed them loads.