As if a general strike weren't enough to snarl Paris traffic, a hoard of fashionistas brought it to a crawl as they turned out en masse for the City of Light's edition of Fashion's Night Out, a Champagne-drenched nocturnal shopping extravaganza.
Paris' luxury "triangle d'or" — the Avenues Montaigne and Georges V and Rue Francois Premier — shed its image of hushed, tasteful shopping for one of bubbly-and-macaroon-fueled conspicuous consumption played out beneath a booming house and techno soundtrack. Celebrities, most of them designers or French starlets, added a shot of glamour to the event, which saw luxury giants including Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Valentino throw open their doors well past their regular hours and into the balmy night.
The brainchild of Vogue editor-in-cheif Anna Wintour, Fashion's Night Out was launched last year as an antidote to the recession. This year, it's slated to take place in New York, London, Milan and other cities.
In Paris, thousands shrugged off a nationwide strike that saw major demonstrations snake through the streets of France's cities, where the number of buses and Metros was slashed to the barest of minimums. Still, the city's fashion crowd turned out in force, streaming up and down Avenue Montaigne and hitting one heavy-hitting luxury label after another. After elbowing their way through the waiting hoards, they zeroed in on the trays of Champagne proffered by stoic wait-staff.
"If you're going to drink like that at each store, we're going to have to carry you home," one reveler hissed to her tipsy companion.
The women broke out their vertiginous, red-soled Louboutins for the occasion, while the many of the men took advantage of the warm weather to don their relaxed holiday wear just one last time.
At the Chloe boutique, visitors swarmed a makeshift studio to get their 3-D portraits taken, while at Ralph Lauren, the less self-conscious ones shimmied to the Prohibition-era tunes of a jazz band.
"Blondie" was blasting out of oversized loudspeakers as herds of fashionistas sullied the mythical gray carpets of Christian Dior's labyrinthine headquarters, where the founder used to fit European royals and movie stars with their haute couture gowns.
Headhunter Catherine Euvrard, a striking fifty-something poured into a sharp black skirtsuit, was admiring the mix of people.
"I love to see these grand dames who are richer than God but don't have particularly good style with all the young, hip people, most of whom couldn't dream of actually buying anything in a place like this," said Euvrard, adding that she, unlike many in the younger generation, hadn't come for the free Champagne.
"I can afford my own, darling," she said.
Up the street at the Chanel boutique, the line to get in stretched down the block. Inside women with wills of steel queued up again, this time for a manicure with polish from this season's taupe, drab and khaki collection. Oddly but tastily, the food obeyed a similar color scheme: Macaroons, Parmesan crackers and a chilled soup were all either brown or green, or both.
It was rumored the label's uber-designer Karl Lagerfeld would put in an appearance sometime before the sprawling boutique finally closed its doors at 11pm.
Still, the cash registers seemed to be humming the loudest at Louis Vuitton, where a small army of multilingual saleswomen — and a more foreboding one of beefy security guards — greeted revelers with dazzling white smiles.
Anxious to take advantage of every possible shopping second, an Italian man tried on two pairs of Vuitton shoes at once, wearing a white tennis shoe on his right foot and a loafer in gleaming black patent leather on his left. Perhaps in an attempt to keep his balance, he held a glass of Champagne in each hand.
Champagne was the common denominator throughout the evening, and rivers of the stuff helped get the credit cards sliding.
"This is a really great way to get off to a start on winter shopping. You get to go to hit all the stores and check out everything on your list in one go," said 22-year-old college student Melissa Mehra as she helped a friend decide whether to splurge on a bolero jacket in inky ostrich feathers at Pucci. "I love the music and the Champagne, it's so fun. They should do that all the time. I really think they'd sell more."