Tailored tours give Paris trips the perfect fit

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tailored tours give Paris trips the perfect fit
Anya Firestone, left, who leads custom tours of Paris for a starting cost of $2,400 per day, leading guests through the Louvre, in Paris on June 26, 2023. Last fall, Firestone starred in “The Real Girlfriends of Paris,” a reality show broadcast on Bravo that followed six 20- and 30-something American women as they navigated work, life and l’amour. She said that the opportunity to put her business, called Maison Firestone, on public view was the main reason she had done the show. (Hugues Laurent/The New York Times)

by Chantel Tattoli

PARIS.- On a recent morning at the Louvre, Anya Firestone handed out bottles of Evian. “Because ‘the art of drinking’ begins with hydration,” she said.

Firestone, 34, a museum guide-conférencière (tour guide) and art integration strategist, wore rhinestone earrings in the shape of olive martinis, pink Manolo Blahniks, the Mini Bar clutch by Charlotte Olympia and a Marni dress printed with likenesses of Venus.

She escorted Matt Stanley, her client, and his Parisian date, Salomé Bes, 30, past the long lines at the museum’s entrance and toward the Code of Hammurabi. The set of ancient Babylonian laws included “an eye for an eye,” she explained, and it also dealt with issues of alcoholic beverages, like watered-down wine and the people’s “right to beer,” as she pithily put it.

“Pretty impressive!” said Stanley, the chief executive of a memory care community near Austin, Texas. Stanley, 43, had hired Firestone to design a two-day visit around alcohol.

“You’re going to see that drinking and art had the same upbringing and moved in the same direction — from a religious context with prayers and libations to decadence and debauchery,” said Firestone, who calls her custom tours “cou-tours,” a play on couture.

Last fall, Firestone starred in “The Real Girlfriends of Paris,” a reality show broadcast on Bravo that followed six 20- and 30-something American women as they navigated work, life and l’amour. She said the opportunity to put her business, called Maison Firestone, on public view was the main reason she had done the show.

But Firestone had also liked the idea of elevating the oft-scorned TV genre with art and culture. (Not to mention some pun- and Yiddish-inflected wit.) “By the way,” she said, “I don’t describe myself as American. I say I’m New-Yorkaise.”

Firestone was raised in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan; her parents were actors. She first moved to Paris in 2010 after college at George Washington University, for an artist residency, during which she wrote poetry and sculpted oversize macarons. (People thought they were colorful hamburgers,” she said, explaining that the confection had not become popular yet.)

She worked briefly as an au pair, channeling Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp, she said. But Firestone likened her current plot to the TV shows “Emily in Paris” — “Love her chutzpah, less her bucket hats,” she said of the protagonist — and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

After a master’s degree in French cultural studies from Columbia Global Center in Paris, she spent a few years traveling between New York and Paris, offering custom tours and writing about art and brand intersections for Highsnobiety. Maison Firestone — which also designs themed events with luxury brands — followed from that interest in “art as branding,” she said.

At “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” a white marble statue from Hellenistic Greece, better known as “Niké,” for example, Firestone noted that the figure’s wings had inspired the sportswear empire’s Swoosh logo.

Firestone’s clients used to find her only by word-of-mouth, but now about half of them, including Stanley, come to her via the Bravo show and Instagram. The majority are visiting France from the United States; the cost of a tour starts at $2,400 for one or two people for one day.

Her angle is to take “art off the wall to show its intersection with things that people already enjoy and consume,” Firestone said, be it Champagne or Schiaparelli or NFTs. Recent and upcoming tours have been designed for drag queens, the crypto team at a venture capital firm, “Eloise-like” little girls with a fondness for dinosaurs, and a man who is blind.

Working her way through Dionysian art and decorative works, Louis XIV’s stemware, and the occasional Bravo fan (“I just want to say that I loved the show!”), Firestone directed Stanley and Bes into the museum’s largest room, where the Mona Lisa hangs on a wall across from “The Wedding Feast at Cana,” an immense piece by 16th-century artist Paolo Veronese that depicts Jesus Christ turning water into wine. “You can see wine tastings happening all over the painting,” she said.

After lunch at the Ritz, which naturally featured cocktails and Champagne, the itinerary called for the Musée d’Orsay. “The Louvre was a former palace, this is a former train station,” Firestone said. She likes companion visits to the two museums, which, she said, help to show how art entered modernity by breaking from the monarchy, the church and the academy and spilling into the cafes of Paris.

“L’Absinthe” by Edgar Degas pictured what she called a “tapped out” woman with a glass of the infamous green spirit on a table before her. Nearby was a painting by Édouard Manet of the same woman (actress Ellen Andrée), titled “Plum Brandy.” Firestone prompted her clients to ponder the difference. “She’s not nearly so sad or so schnockered here, right? She seems OK.”

Paris, she said, had by then been transformed by Napoleon III’s urban planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann, bringing with it grand department stores like Le Bon Marché and Samaritaine.

Firestone and Stanley met the next day at Samaritaine, where she had arranged for a cognac tasting and some shopping in the private apartments with a stylist. “Bonjour. How y’all doin’?” Stanley said, greeting the staff. “I’m not an aristocrat — I’m just a cowboy!” He chose a pair of drawstring trousers by Maison Margiela.

Afterward, in a taxi, Firestone pointed at a Prada ad featuring Scarlett Johansson. “I think they’re referencing that Man Ray photo of Kiki de Montparnasse,” she said. “We like a good art-brand ref.” She Googled the Man Ray photograph on her phone and held it up for Stanley to see, who said he felt like he had gotten a master class.

“Who doesn’t love their hand held in Paris?” Firestone said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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