THE SLINKIEST SILHOUETTE

He was a designer who mastered ultimate glamour. But, for Azzedine Alaia, there was nothing virtual or synthetic about what that meant. Like those of Dior and Balenciaga, all the lines he created were pure and impeccably tailored.

Alaia passed away just before Christmas, at 81. His Foundation is now presenting a tribute called Je Suis Couturier (I am a designer). It’s an elegant affair, with 41 dresses that mix styles from six decades.

Seen from above, their luminous cubicles look like a necklace of pearls. Seen close-up, the dresses appear almost alive.

Je Suis Couturier runs until June 10 at 18 rue de la Verrerie, Paris 4e; it’s open from 11 am to 7 pm every day and entrance is €3

CAMILLE CLAUDEL’S REVENGE

Whenever the Seine rises, it’s hard not to think of Camille Claudel. The famous film with Isabelle Adjani shows the 1910 flood almost drowning the sculptor in the studio. Below are the current waters, with the river’s edge near which she worked at left.

Claudel actually was rescued from her studio.Today, the door which led to it is marked by a plaque. In a strange coincidence, the Musée d’Orsay has just given rarities by her a special show.

Last November, the Claudel family announced it was going to auction twenty pieces by the artist. Thanks to the French state’s “pre-emptive rights”, they got the first bids. Six museums worked together, ensuring that more than half the works stayed in France.

Such a sale is enormously rare – and the museums involved so competitive that their efforts were supervised by a diplomat. Marie-Christine Labourdette, the Director of French Museums, took charge of the secret negotiations. They included state funding for the smaller, non-Parisian institutions.

It was a good thing the state intervened: at the auction, prices rose to €3.6 million. It was three times what the auction house expected. “For far too long,” notes the art critic Emmanuelle Lequeux, “Camille Claudel has been considered primarily as Rodin’s student and lover, albeit one with talent. When an auction of her work sets three world records, one could see it as rather sweet revenge”.

All the works are small – most are studies – and deeply intimate. A bust of her brother, the poet Paul, testifies to the closeness they later lost. Here the sister captures his
weak chin, his big ears and tremulous mouth.

Each work also encapsulates a different moment. Her study of a crouching man, chin on one knee, depicts an Italian model who worked in Rodin’s studio. Two clay depictions of lovers being reunited were made during the height of her love affair with the sculptor.

But the truly stunning pieces are studies of the old: a blind woman singing, a head in white plaster and the bronze bust of a family maid. This bronze (above) was finished in the studio on Quai de Bourbon. A weird coincidence when, right outside the museum, the Seine’s waters are mounting again.

Camille Claudel’s works remainon show at the Musée d’Orsay until 11 February 2018

THE ELVIS OF PARIS

Yesterday, cutting through one of the big department stores, I saw a quote from Proust over a cosmetics counter. Later as I walked past a (closed) antiquarian shop, I caught sight of that famous moustache on its door. Two hours later, buying groceries, he regarded me from a fancy madeleine tin.

It’s not unusual. Like the weather, Proust is everywhere, all the time. He’ll turn up on the wall in a museum text or a commemorative plaque. He’s cited by newscasters, in ladies’ magazines and for publicity.

His famous portrait by Jacques-Emile Blanche may sit in the Musée d’Orsay. But there are replicas all over town. There are also theme hotels and bookstores named in homage. Plus, of course, there are the books.

Proust gets his own graphic novel, his own one-man shows and his own department in the Bibliothèque nationale. He’s the heart of an ongoing menu of broadcasts, discussions, happenings and conferences.

You can of course also go see him in Père Lachaise. One of the reasons this is nice is that it’s sociable. If you bring flowers, a passer-by may thank you “on his behalf”. Leave a bouquet on his grave and, when you pass it later, you’ll usually find it nicely arranged in the vase.

• Proust’s note to Jean Cocteau, below, is displayed at the Paris Historical Library