Barbara Mariani is part owner and the manager of Rick Owens, the wildly successful shop in the Palais Royal of the cult designer. Barbara was brought up in the Midwest and also lived for a number of years in New York like myself; suffice to say we clicked immediately, and were able to compare and relate to one another’s comparisons of the two cities. I interviewed her last month in the shop and while I was waiting for her to finish with some clients (it was great to see how she selected just the right garments for her customers) I perused the racks and saw some super chic, to-die-for pieces including a leather coat that had my name on it. By the way, Rick Owens is a big fan of Eye Prefer Paris.
Where were you born and where did you grow up? I was born in Lancaster Pennsylvania in the Amish country, and was brought up in Birmingham Michigan, home of the suburban automobile executive, and want-to-be East coast of the Midwest….
When and why did you move here? I moved to Paris definitively in 1990 after spending several years hopping back and forth between Paris and New York. My ex-husband had residences in both cities at the time. When I became pregnant with our second child, and shuttling back and forth became a chore rather than a pleasure, he asked me to choose between the two cities. I am sure that you can understand that New York ran a very weak second in comparison to the glamour, simplicity, and challenge of life in Paris. I never looked back without experiencing a keen sense of satisfaction with my choice.How did you get started in the fashion business and what was your first job? I started in the fashion business in 1988 in New York by opening a flagship store for Christian de Castelneau on Madison Avenue. Christian was a French designer living in LA who had “popped” in New York at the same time as Adriane Vittadini. I had an invaluable experience giving birth to that project, and had a blast catering to an elite clientele including Jackie Onassis, Grace Jones, and many other colorful characters. After moving to Paris I worked for a small fashion house called Chacok, running their retail operation in Paris and opening stores for them as a partner in the US and the Carribbean. In 2000 I was offered the post of commercial director of pret- a -porter for Pierre Balmain.
How did you association with Rick Owens come about? I became associated with Rick and Michele in the last quarter of 2005 when they began looking for a retail partner in Paris for the opening of their first store in Paris. Palais Royal was, at that moment, still an “off –the- radar”, up and coming retail haven in Paris. Armand Hadida, founder and owner of L’Eclaireur, introduced me to Michele as a potential manager/partner. From the moment I walked into Michele’s office she is fond of saying that it was “love at first sight” and without undue exaggeration, it was a “done deal “on both sides". I found myself on a plane to Italy 48 hours later to meet Rick and his Italian investors .It would be pretentious of me to say that I found a kindred spirit in Michele, but I cannot underestimate the extent to which I was captivated by the intellectual electricity that surrounds this incredible woman, and the fiery chemistry that pervades the combo of Rick and Michele. I was hooked from the moment I met them both, and they are candid enough to claim to have felt the same way.
There remained a crucial detail, that being the agreement of the Italian Investors who were putting forth the majority of the capital for the store, and who were in fact financing and producing Rick’s line in Italy. Olmar and Mirta, and Naxeco, were determined to go forward with the project ONLY IF they found a partner who was willing to take a part of the financial risk with them. I had recently lost my grandmother who had left me a small inheritance, and my willingness to invest my own capital in the project was enough to convince everyone that my commitment to the success of the store was solid. We signed a contract very shortly after….
You mentioned that you were an avid tennis player. Please tell us about that part of your life. I have played tennis on and off for all of my life and since moving to Paris it has been my private garden and escape from Fashion and Retail Mania. I play on the team at my private tennis club, and train weekly for individual tournaments in the FFT (French Federation of Tennis). It sounds more impressive than it is; actually it is far easier to break into the circuit and have a ranking in the FFT than in the American equivalent. I work out weekly at my gym (L’Usine) because as any serious tennis player will tell you, “One has to be in shape to play tennis, but tennis will not get one into shape!” It has always been vital for me to have a hobby and a sport. Cooking is my passion, and tennis is my way of keeping the pressure of running a business and raising three children at bay.
Who is the greatest designer who ever lived? Sorry, but Rick is the only answer to that one. Before Rick (BR) came into my wardrobe (a bit like BC and AC), I used to collect Helmut Lang, Hermes, and Yves St. Laurent.
If you were stuck on a desert island and could have only one of Rick’s garments, what would it be? My sleeveless black crocodile vest. It is the only garment I have ever owned that looks more and more beautiful the longer it is worn. By the time I get off the island it will be a monument, (and might actually scare off wild boar …)
Please tell us about who wears Rick’s clothes and about your clientele. Rick’s vision has been adopted by the most amazingly diverse clientele imaginable: the planet’s rock and roll elite, successful underworld characters, movie stars, rock stars, film producers, fashion savvy millionaires/billionaires, opera divas, fashionistas, bankers who are tired of looking like bankers, students who save their dollars painstakingly for months to buy a T-shirt, famous and not so famous models , architects, authors, football stars, basketball stars and their wives, and god knows who else….Brad Pitt buys our T-shirts and an occasional leather jacket, Bruce Springsteen is a fan of our jeans and Lenny Kravitz is a client. Courtney Love was among the first to discover Rick’s line a zillion years ago in LA and she is still among the first clients in the store to place an order every season. Fergie comes into the store and wears EVERYTHING so well, Daphne Guinness pops in, and so does Eugenie Niarcos, Lindsay Lohan, Vanessa Traina, Zhang Ziyi, Vivi Nevo, the Spielberg Family….
What do you prefer about Paris? One of my favorite aspects of Paris is the SIZE of the city. It is on such a HUMAN scale; I never knows who is going to come around the corner or pop into the store, but invariably I am blown away by the fact that Celebs and financial pillars become people here in this city, and even more so when they enter Rick’s universe here in Palais Royal; I am also mesmerized (STILL!) by the glamour, beauty, and sensuality of the city’s architecture that seeps into every day life.
Finally I love the way that Parisians have perfected the art of hiding their success instead of flaunting it. Discretion is a part of life and they wear it so well - A bit like a well-worn and much loved Rick leather jacket. I feel that way about my life in Paris – IT IS A PERFECT FIT.
Jardins du Palais Royal
130-133 Galerie de Valois, 1st arr.
Metro: Palais Royal
Tel. 01 40 20 42 52
Marais Photo Contest
I am looking for unique and intriguing photos that don't show the typical Marais sites or a new perspective on a popular site. Take a cue from some of the photos I am posting today so you have an idea of what I am looking for. Please send no more than 4 images to email@example.com and also include a short description and location. I will post the winner and photo next Wednesday, January 27.
Now for the BIG prize. The winner will receive a copy of Murder in the Marais by Cara Black, a stylish and entertaining murder mystery about private female detective Aimee Leduc's attempt to unravel the murder of an old Jewish woman who was an Auschwitz survivor. Murder in the Marais is the first in a series of books of murder mysteries with private investigator Aimee Leduc in different areas of the city including Murder in the Sentier, Murder in the Bastille, Murder in Montmartre, Murder in the Ile St. Louis, Murder in Clichy,Murder in the rue de Paradis,Murder in the Latin Quarter and Murder in the Palais Royale coming out in March which takes Aimée back to the crime in Murder in the Marais. Click here to look at all the books in this series and to order.
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte’s professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 3 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com