“Having the experience of being a foreigner I think is really interesting, because it makes everything a little more alive, because everything is so new and different.”
On Episode 4 of Season 3 of the francophile podcast The Thing About France, host Liesl Schillinger interviews journalist and author William Middleton, who lives in Paris with his French Bulldog, Hubert. The Kansas native spent his 20s in Paris while working for womens’ fashion magazines like W Magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and returned last year to work on a biography of the late, great fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld (who may have dropped by one of Middleton’s parties in his fashion mag heyday).
Middleton is the author of the double biography Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil, which he was inspired to write after a trip to their home in Houston, where he discovered one of the greatest collections of French art in the United States. Ironically, he know lives on the very street in Paris where the de Menils once lived.
The writer’s passion for French art goes hand-in-hand with his passion for French fashion, which was honed in 1990s Paris, when runway shows were performance art, designers were small and scrappy, and the demigods of the fashion world were forging not only their own paths, but the future of fashion. He describes his experience as “an end of two eras,” one, the zenith of the magazine world, and the other, of Paris fashion as it once was. “Paris was always a place for me of individualistic designers, smaller houses that were super interesting creatively, but maybe not as successful commercially… there were others that were bigger houses, but now they have gotten so much bigger.”
Having moved to Paris without knowing any French, Middleton describes learning the language by transcribing interviews with the big fashion names of the day, and why you should never, ever, walk into an interview without a tape recorder.
He also talks about his present situation, returning to Paris later in life, and what it was like contracting COVID-19 at the virus’s peak in France. “I was impressed with how the citizens of France responded to this crisis. I felt that there was a real coming-together.”
For more expat tales and travails, you can listen to Thomas Chatterton Williams on race and philosophy, Lauren Collins on loving and parenting in French, and John von Sothen on learning French social norms.