Datuk Seri Bernard Chandran: Finding inspiration in Paris

The celebrated fashion designer shares some of his favourite spots in the city of love and lights.

We see the beauty of Paris through Chandran's eyes and share some stories about each establishment’s tales and times.

The heavy, scholarly and intellectual writings of Friedrich Nietzsche might seem a world away from the bright lights and romantic air of Paris, but the dour German philosopher did get it right when he once wrote how “an artist has no home in Europe except in Paris”. But the city of love and lights is not just for artists. For millennia, it has inspired legendary writers like Victor Hugo (all it takes is a climb up the narrow spiral stone steps to the summit of the cathedral of Notre Dame to see why) as well as energetic post-WWII existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre and great painters, including the expatriates Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani.

The world of fashion and style would also be left wanting without a sprinkling of Paris’ fairy dust. Basque-born Cristobal Balenciaga, considered the greatest couturier of his time, opened his eponymous couture house in the city’s gilded Avenue George V in 1937, while there is no shortage either from the local front, with names like Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin impressively representing the world of fashion, from their inimitable brands of classic chic to all-out provocative flair. Echoing this sentiment is Datuk Seri Bernard Chandran, undoubtedly one of the great names in the Malaysian fashion industry. Here, we see the beauty of Paris through his eyes and share some stories about each establishment’s tales and times.


Palais Royal, 8 Rue de Montpensier

A historic palace in the heart of Paris that dates back to the 1600s, the Palais Royal was once home to Cardinal Richelieu and later, to a young Louis XIV, the Sun King. “I have always, always loved Paris. Even before I visited the city, I loved the idea of it,” Chandran says over a café crème at the Restaurant Villalys in the gardens of the Palais Royal in Paris’ 1st arrondissement. “This,” he says, “is my favourite part of the city. From the Colonnes de Buren to the Rick Owens boutique, which I always visit whenever I am in town, the Palais Royal is my favourite … I enjoy strolling through its passages couverts (covered passages) and simply wandering around.”


Chez Omar, 47 Rue de Bretagne
If the thought of another heavy, cream doused meal gets to you, come to this popular dining room for a dash of Moroccan and North African cuisine. Knowing locals and globetrotting foodies come for the most popular item on Chez Omar’s menu — couscous, although the merguez sausage comes a close second. “This is a very old, established restaurant and very real. It is an institution in Paris and you can feel as if you have stepped back into the 1940s when you come here. The staff are all very gracious — no airs at all — and the crowd is always lit. I once sat next to [Comme des Garçons founder] Rei Kawakubo here,” says Chandran.


Le Pont Des Invalides

The lowest bridge spanning Paris’ romantic River Seine, the Pont des Invalides dates back to 1855. “Paris is a city of bridges and I think there is no more romantic bridge than this one. Don’t come in summer as it is simply too crowded. My favourite time to walk across this bridge is during springtime and autumn. I walk from the cathedral of Notre Dame, all along the river, crossing this bridge to the St Germain area. Choose a time when there are fewer people and tourists so you can create your own romance,” he says.


La Belle Epoque, 36 Rue des Petits Champs
This Paris bistro is a great choice for those who like to be spontaneous when it comes to eating out. With a “no reservations” policy, who knows? You might just fi nd yourself lining up next to a fashion designer or soignée socialite while waiting to indulge. Chandran says, “This is a good spot for lunch. Paris can be hideously expensive but this place isn’t … and yet it is terribly chic. All the fashionable people eat here. I love the duck confit and the foie gras and it is not far from the Louvre either.”


Kong, 1 Rue de Pont Neuf

Trendy and with interiors designed by Philippe Starck, Kong offers Asian-influenced cuisine and a particularly wonderful selection of cocktails. If you are not propping up the bar, be sure to bag a table right under the Jean-Jacques Ory-designed, light-bathed glass roof. “Kong is a good place to get a feel of cosmopolitan Paris,” says Chandran. “It has a very nice vibe and the décor is bright and beautiful … and very Asian-themed. But to really enjoy yourself here, you must make the eff ort to dress up. Fashion up! Put on your most beautiful clothes so you can meet random beautiful people.”


Musée Nissim de Camondo​, 63 Rue de Monceau
Right by the fringes of the elegant Parc Monceau in the city’s 8th arrondissement, this museum of French decorative arts, housed in the former home of the banker and art collector Count Moïse de Camondo, is a treasure trove of exquisite, artistic items like Aubusson and Beauvais tapestries, Sèvres porcelain and items once owned by the tragic Marie-Antoinette. “Everyone knows all the big, beautiful museums and galleries to visit while in Paris but this one, in the Rue de Monceau, is my little secret,” shares Chandran. “The architecture of the mansion is stunning and the interiors truly beautiful. It is so inspiring to be here. There is also a lovely garden to stroll through, not forgetting the expansive Parc Monceau almost next door.”


Palais de Tokyo, 13 Avenue du Président-Wilson

Located near the Trocadéro, the Palais de Tokyo is a temple of modern and contemporary art. Having no permanent collection, it produces all of its exhibitions. “I always love the temporary contemporary exhibitions here. I find whatever is showing is always very inspiring, particularly for the work I do,” says Chandran.   

Hotel Costes, 239 Rue Saint-Honoré​
The chic crowd cannot get enough of this celebrated Jacques Garcia-designed hotel, which opened in 1991. It has a reputation for ostentatious opulence but in a modernist style. It is especially famous for its courtyard café and bar, a favourite celebrity hangout. For such a glamorous Parisian joint, it is also famous for a surprisingly American dessert — cheesecake! It has been said that reality star Kim Kardashian flew to Paris just for a slice of it. “Be it for dinner or just drinks, I have always liked the vibe at Hotel Costes,” says Chandran. “It charges you up! The flower shop is also very nice and the scented candles here, in brown, white, purple or orange, are simply amazing. Just being here gives me incredible energy.”



This article first appeared on Sept 17, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.


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