Why the Brits are suddenly so chic in Paris

From Anglo-flavoured cuisine to Marks & Spencer, the French are developing a taste for all things British. By Jane Anderson

AS SIR Terence Conran prepares to wow Parisians with his new restaurant, Alcazar, there is more than just a hint that the French capital (though it would never admit it) is at last taking its lifestyle lead from London.

But there is an irony in this: with Conran's grand return to Paris, another piece of France, having been recycled in Britain, is now being sent back to France; as already happened with the early Habitat, now securely ensconced on the streets of Paris, selling a modernised English version of the Provencal farmhouse look.

In fact Conran is a Francophile of the highest order stemming right back to the time he was a plongeur in a restaurant called La Mediterranee in Paris in the '50s. Indeed, much of his inspiration has come from across the Channel.

Unsurprisingly, given these roots, he has been itching to expand his London restaurant empire into the heart of Paris. But only now has he has found the perfect platter for his theatrical restaurant panache. The Alcazar on Rue Mazarine was the original site of the Boit de Nuit, a famous Parisian nightspot with a great transvestite act in the 1950s and '60s.

Originally built as a printing works, the building has fallen into disrepair, but one fantastic feature remains just about intact, a spectacular glass atrium dome. Conran is busy restoring the building to create a double height, 200-seater domed restaurant which will greet diners as they enter through a small passage way.

Conran's PR manager remains adamant that Conran is not Londonising Paris. "Conran sees himself as an English restaurant designer creating a wholly French restaurant in Paris," she told me. "All the staff will be French and he is currently seeking a highly-talented French chef."

Generally though, the point of view that Paris is following London is backed by hotel concept guru, Grace Leo-Andrieu who was recently quoted in Conde Nast Traveller saying, "Compared with London, Paris is dead."

"I think there's a lot of tangible influence of the London scene in Paris at the moment," said Leo-Andrieu, "especially in the fashion and style sector. We've never had so many British designers in starring roles such as Alexander McQueen as head of that bastion of French couture Givenchy, John Galliano at Dior and Stella McCartney at Chloe."

"Conran has undoubtedly brought in a new concept to Paris with his shops and now feels the timing is right to introduce a new restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Whereas the French have a mature gastronomy, London is new and exciting and has revolutionised eating habits."

Following this trend of taking an Anglo-flavoured France back to the French is Jean-Christophe Novelli. Following the success of his four fashionable London restaurants in Notting Hill, Mayfair and the City, he is taking his modern French cuisine back to his homeland of Normandy this summer.

The UK Malmaison chain of hotels is another case of recycled French style bouncing back into Paris from across La Manche. Malmaisons in Glasgow, Edinburgh and now Manchester have all taken their inspiration from Chateau Malmaison, the former home of Napoleon's mistress, Josephine, just outside Paris. Founder and chief executive, Ken McCullough has been looking for a site in Paris for over three years and is just about to secure a former hotel most likely between the Left Bank and the Champs-Elysees, with 100 rooms opening later this year.

"There hasn't been much freshness in Paris hotels for five or six years, but we're not aiming to tell Paris how to do it," says McCullough. "Our whole raison d'etre has been the love of the Bonaparte dynasty, so in effect we are taking something French back to Paris. If we get it right, the French will love it, but we're doing it with respect.

"Malmaison will fill the gap in the market for a high standard hotel at a very competitive price, something which Paris has been alien to. Instead of charging pounds 300 for a room, we will charge pounds 150 leaving the other pounds 150 to spend in the shops!"

Another French hotelier/restaurateur who is shaking up the Paris scene is Patrick Derderian, France's answer to Conran, with his post-modern Hotel Square and Zebra Restaurant in the media-friendly 16th arrondissement.

"Where Conran's is a Nordic style, mine is Latin. Where he uses light wood and white metals, I use dark woods and gold," says Derderian.

Plunging through the lobby of Hotel Square is a five-storey-high gallery wall space, an outlet for up-and-coming artists. Terracotta urns, orchids and chic red sofas adorn the lobby, while the 22 rooms come in ivory and grey, brick and saffron or gold and bronze with stark venetian blinds and a Henry James novel to send you to sleep.

Fine. But who would want to stay in a new designer hotel and eat Conran when you could stay in a fantastically grotty Parisian pension and stuff yourself silly with croque monsieur and tarte citrons at a Parisian institution like Angelina's on Rue de Rivoli?

For Parisians it may be the craving for something new. What UK tourists seek and what Parisians desire from their home, may be as different as the Eiffel Tower and the Millennium Dome. Long has it been known that our safe symbol of British dependability, Marks and Spencer has been going down a blast in Paris. Instead of lunching at a bijou table in a brasserie with a glass of rouge and a baguette, high flying Parisians have been scurrying out at lunch to grab a M&S sandwich to devour back at the office. Along with the sarnies, best selling items include English marmalade and muffins. In the clothing range, traditional British blazers, tartarns, cashmere and lambs' wool are attracting Parisians.

Slightly wacky British ideas are seeping into French fashion. That peculiar British habit of mixing trash with cash is rubbing off with Parisians out and about in a posh Favourbrook waistcoat and jeans. According to Hannah Kelner at the British Embassy in Paris, "High-quality English garments are popular such as John Smedley knitwear which have a modern twist. Paul Smith is greatly influencing menswear in Paris and he is showing the staid Paris boutiques that shops can have their own personality. The French are often seen as being somewhat humourless, but they are being influenced by British playfulness."

According to the DTI, over 1800 British companies are now actively established in France. Visibly on the streets of Paris there's Virgin Megastore safely entrenched in the Champs-Elysees while Laura Ashley plies her wares on the upmarket Rue Cambon. Good old WH Smith is going down a storm at 248 Rue de Rivoli with sales up 15 per cent in the last two years. According to manager, Stuart Walker, 60 per cent of customers are Parisians. "English authors are doing very well here, especially writers like Nick Hornby and William Boyd."

Perhaps the Channel Tunnel has had more of an impact than we care to admit. Could it be that the concept of Europe is finally sinking in. What with Juliette Binoche over here and Eddie Izzard over there. If we're talking politics, what about Blair's two-hour address in the mother tongue of the French parliament - the gall of the man!

Writer Howard Jacobson recently marvelled at the new politeness of Parisians. "No one honks their horn at you. Everybody is patient while you struggle with your French. In short, they've become us and we've become them."

Whatever France is doing, it seems to be doing it right in terms of tourism. According to the World Tourism Organisation, 11 per cent of the 620 million leisure trips made globally last year ended up in the land of Citroens and croissants, making it first in the world.

The UK came home in fifth place. But after its reconquest of France, who knows? One day not far off, those positions may be reversed.

paris Fact file

Getting there

Eurostar takes three hours from Waterloo Station to the Gare du Nord. You can also board in Ashford. Economy fares cost from pounds 69 return. First class travel where you're served aircraft-style with a meal and can indulge in a spot of champagne costs from pounds 159 return. Tel: 0990 186186.

Where to eat

Alcazar: 62 Rue Mazarine. Bookings are not yet being taken for the September opening. Call Conran Restaurants on 00 33 156240222 for more information.

Hotel Square/Zebra Restaurant: 3 Rue de Boulainvilliers, Paris, Tel: 00 33 1 44 14 91 90 or book via Small Luxury Hotels of the World on 0800 964470. Twin/double rooms from pounds 135 to pounds 195. As the restaurant is a fashionable venue, advance bookings are necessary.

Angelina's: 226 Rue de Rivoli, Paris. Tel: 00 33 1 4260 8200. A great place to walk into on the spur of the moment.

Where to shop

Marks & Spencer

There are 10 M&S branches in Paris, the main one is at 35 Blvd Haussman.

W H Smith is at 248 Rue de Rivoli.

Further information

French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL.

Premium rate information line: 0891 244123 (costs 50p/minute).

Paris Tourist Board at 127 Champs-Elysees is a great source of information and hotel bookings can be made from there.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album