CARAMEL CARNY: Carnival life at Christmas, how stylish can it get? The answer from Beth Ditto came in the form of a bright silk dress, a huge, round hair bun — jet black — and her crystal-clear voice, strong enough to cut through thumping rock music in Galeries Lafayette.
The Parisian department store’s official theme this season is “Spectacular spectacular,” a chic and sugary rendition of the carny spirit of yesteryear.
First off, the red-carpet window unveiling with the group’s executive chairman Philippe Houzé; his son, the director of image and patronage Guillaume Houzé; and Haussmann flagship director Agnès Vigneron. Crowds jostling for a glimpse of the sparkly-heeled celebrity were also served colorful scenes of rotating toy carousels and ferris wheels in the windows behind the group.
The party quickly moved indoors, away from the brisk temperatures, past policemen in full riot gear — no, their costumes were not part of the show — and just beyond a giant red and white carousel display. Tucked between the horses, the red velvet, fur and studded handbags carry price tags in the 2,000 euro range and labels like Alaïa and Miu Miu.
The performance took place in the heart of the store, on a platform above the makeup stands and under the rotating tree of helium-balloon ornaments and balconies packed with shoppers. Ditto’s backup performers included a contortionist clad in green vinyl, a bearded woman and a strong man as she sang “Jingle Bells,” “Heavy Cross” and “Fire.”
Ditto’s long-time French stylist Frédéric Baldo chose a flowing, silk fabric with candy colored designs to make the dress for the occasion, with metallic threads for shimmer and trimmings in black, bright green and bright blue.
“I’m still dazzled by her energy,” said Baldo, who has worked with the singer for a decade and lauded her popularity in France.
“I felt a bit like Katy Perry in the Superbowl — with the sharks,” Ditto said afterwards, settling into a velvet couch, her black fishnet leggings poking out from under the dress.
“I love Christmas, it’s one of my passions in life, I start having dreams about it in June, like what I’m gonna decorate with that year, what I’m gonna do with the lights, where the tree’s gonna go, how I’m gonna rearrange the furniture,” she explained. “I have very strict rules about decorating. Very. Strict. Rules.”
She keeps things traditional — no pink trees — with perfectly distributed lights and garlands; her garage at home in Portland is packed with huge candy canes, toy soldiers and snowmen.
“We were taught very young that the small ornaments go at the top, the big ornaments go at the bottom, the smaller ones are filler,” she said. Her mother’s strategy for protecting the tree from kids? Throw a baby gate around it.
“Even my brother, who can barely pay his bills, when he puts up his Christmas tree, it’s immaculate!”
Ditto, who informed fans last month that she’s taking a break from Instagram, just wrapped up a tour in Europe — “old-school” style, with crowds under 1,500 — and plans on recording another record soon.
Shoppers on the lower floors browsed the goods, including a popcorn carton case offering plush dove toys — the Galeries Lafayette Christmas story is a tale of love between Pierre the pigeon and Coco the dove — for 19.90 euros. In-store entertainment included virtual reality roller coaster rides through the store’s ornate cupola, realistic enough to prompt a silver-haired gentleman to grip the bar of his seat.
The evening wound up on the rooftop overlooking the Eiffel Tower, with champagne and cotton candy for guests. Ditto, who switched between French and English as she chatted with other party goers, obliged when offered a bite of a caramel apple.
“Christmas has always been a statement at Galeries Lafayette. It only seemed natural to choose Beth Ditto to kick off the festivities this year, to have her incarnate, in her charitable fashion, this unique event,” said Guillame Houzé.
He did note that the summer months of July and August have overtaken business generated in November and December, with tourists accounting for around 60 percent of group sales.
“We are reconnecting with the original project of the department store as a place of sociability, where people and ideas mix with fashion,” he added, predicting “good days ahead” for the model.
“We feel a wave of optimism rising over Paris,” said Houzé, noting that tourists are coming back and business is speeding up.
Back on the street, a real-world sideshow offered animation to a more local audience, when a hefty septuagenarian turned up for a look at the displays. The controversial French carnival boss, Marcel Campion, posed in front of the windows with a life-sized cutout of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and a set of clowns that was brought for the visit; the image quickly became fodder for social media. While the pair have stood together for red ribbon cutting ceremonies in the past, they are currently locked in a public dispute over the future of the Champs-Elysées Christmas market and the Ferris wheel in the center of Paris.