While America’s multicultural fabric facilitates opportunities for foreign vendors, there’s nothing quite like shopping the real thing, like a bustling Parisian marketplace or a trickling of booths beside the Côte d’Azur. That’s why Paris native Sophie Bailly aims to bring a bit of France to Hopewell locals.
Since November 2013, Bailly and a selective amount of French merchants have worked on mastering such authentic experiences on U.S. soil with the Oh-la-la French Ephemeral Boutique. They began as private sales styled with a specific theme, but have evolved into public events that offer, as Bailly put it, “full immersion for France lovers.”
The idea for a pop-up boutique came to Bailly shortly after she launched her upholsterer business, Tacks and Fabrics and side line of French linens. She had a home-based studio and little opportunity for exposure. Bailly knew of other expatriates who had also developed small businesses based on their own talents, such as baking, sewing, jewelry design and painting. A friend opened her studio for the sale, which was so well-received that Bailly wanted to expand the experience to all area residents.
In 2015, Bailly invited approximately 15 vendors to sell their pieces at the Hopewell Railroad Station. She remains committed to an intimate atmosphere so the human element is not lost. Bailly feels one of the most necessary aspects of a boutique marketplace resides in the one-on-one interaction a visitor and vendor can share.
Oh-la-la is not only a craft show, but a cross-cultural encounter with an authentic French touch, Bailly said.
“Our visitors spend, in average, 30 to 45 minutes in the show discussing with the designers. We talk about the process of fabrication, we explain our stories, and of course we talk about France… a lot,” Bailly said. “French items are beloved for their quality and creativity. Our customers love the spirit of our shows. We put a lot of effort in the decor, and we work together to find the best global display.”
Oh-la-la is hosting events this year again in Hopewell (date to be announced) and for the first time in Princeton at 16 All Saints Rd. on May 5 and 6. Opening hours are from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. An artist’s talk with French painter Pierre Bernay will take place Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m.
Past Oh-la-la themes have included “Paris bistro” and bord de mer (“seaside”). With this year’s event in the thick of spring, Bailly wanted to evoke a feeling of the upcoming summer and sea and holiday with one of France’s southern regions: Provence.
To capture the Provencal theme, Bailly will create a central booth with items all reminiscent of the region. There will be linens from Provence, Marius Fabre soap — a 117-year-old brand run by four generations of Marseille natives — honey, herbs, and special breads with rosemary and lavender. There will also be an outdoor “buvette” decorated to feel like a roadside café in Provence.
“What I like in Oh-la-la is to make ideas real. I love transforming a space into something surprising,” Bailly said. “In spring, we all want sun and to dream of our next summer.”
The merchants, all of whom live in Mercer County, are not limited to the Provencal theme. Many of the goods are inspired by the many regions of France, such as Sandrine Ducos’s jewelry line, la dune, which reflects the atmosphere of her beloved beachside town, la Dune du Pilat.
Annelise Mugnier, of Princeton, sells the confections she grew up savoring in the northwest province of Brittany. After moving to the U.S., Mugnier longed for the calissons, guimauves, and caramels and so she opened her own bakeshop—Les Delices d’Annelise—available by custom order, at the Princeton Farmers Market, and at Oh-la-la.
The pop-up boutique also acts as a gallery space for French artists. Photographer Laurent Ouzilou represents both his native country and his new one in a variety of urban landscapes. His current portfolio includes collections titled “My Beloved Paris” and “New York, My Best Friend.”
Pierre Bernay, who will host the artist’s talk the evening of May 5, became a full-time painter when he moved to Cranbury two years ago. His works are distinctive in that they echo his career as a marketing manager in the boat building industry.
Bernay spent 25 years observing racing boats, military vessels, and luxury yachts in the South of France. As a hobby, he used to paint en plein air while sailing in Brittany with his family. His subjects as a painter stem from his interest in boats and seascapes.
Recently, Bernay took an expedition with his 23-year-old son, Luc, in honor of 20th century explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roald Admunsen, and Jean Baptiste Charcot. The Bernay men navigated a sailboat through Antarctica and documented its pureness with sketches, watercolors, and paintings.
“My participation in Oh-la-la is a chance to share our experience. We found it quite important to show what we have seen,” Bernay said.
Protected since 1959 by the Antarctica Treaty and strictly reserved to peaceful activities and scientific research, Antarctica looks like a virgin continent with breathtaking scenery, Bernay said. He particularly took note of the many glaciers and icebergs.
“All of them have a unique shape and I still have in memory one huge iceberg which looked like a crystal cathedral,” he said. “We cannot forget all the courageous and brave sailors from the last century who fought against the elements in these tough seas with rudimentary means on large sailing boats.”
Bernay and his son joined the crew of the Podorange, a 65-foot ex-racing boat traveling through Antartica, Patagonia, and South Georgia. They were able to sail, sometimes in extreme conditions, right up along the glaciers to capture the colors and elements with their brushes. While the Antarctica pieces will not be for sale, Bernay is eager to display the importance of such untouched landscapes with Oh-la-la patrons.