“When I was fourteen, I went to Paris for the first time. I spent most of my time with my sister shopping for jeans and eating frozen yogurt, until our dad actually cried, saying he had taken us to Europe to “experience art.”

When I was fifteen, I went to Nice to study French. This was a summer of firsts: first menthol cigarette, first application of tanning oil, first Lacoste polo shirt (size 4, light yellow). I was so impressed by the girls I met there; girls from schools called Chapin, Nightingale, Spence, girls who breezed into the quad with new Longchamps after morning lessons, girls who had an answer for everything. They seemed so urbane and worldly. There was something in the casual way they related to luxury that fascinated me – and still does. It was the first time I felt that strange mix of attraction and repulsion that motivates so much of my work.

Mornings we spent conjugating the stolid verbs of ancient French, but in the afternoon we went to the market. One afternoon, we stopped at the stand of an old madame who sold tribal jewelry. My friend Louisa held up a pair of wooden earrings with parrots on them and sniffed them. In perfect schooled French, she said:

“Vos boucles d’oreilles sont très jolies.”

by Buck Ellison