Story: Parisian Peep Show

ruth carlson

By ruth carlson
Written on 19 February 2008

A woman's purse is a sacred object. When I caught my college boyfriend rifling through my bag, it was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Ever since I told my husband Rich that story he's afraid to touch my bag. Even when I ask him to find some

Parisian Peep Show

By: Ruth Carlson

A woman's purse is a sacred object. When I caught my college boyfriend rifling through my bag, it was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Ever since I told my husband Rich that story he's afraid to touch my bag; even when I ask him to find something hidden in one of its dark recesses. When I visited my mother-in-law Bernice, who was 95 at the time, I carried her brown leather Coach bag until she puts aside her walking stick and sat down. Without fail, the first words out of her mouth were, "Where?s my purse"??

An artist in Paris has made a living out of displaying the secrets of womens purses to the public. Socialites, models and Parisian housewives have braved the four sets of steep stairs to reach Nathalie Lecroc's apartment located in a risqué neighborhood.

During my last visit to France I dragged my husband along to seek out this handbag seer. Our first clue that it was a shady area was our cab driver. Raising an eyebrow he asked if we were interested in visiting some wife swapping clubs later that evening. After our cabbie finally took no for an answer and dropped us off, we looked down at the piece of paper with Nathalie's address and looked up at a stripper clad in a mini-skirt, golden tube top, spiked heels and bleached blonde hair. Rich hopefully inquired, "Nathalie"?? The barker quickly stepped up,? "I don't have Nathalie, but meet Sophie."

I finally dragged Rich away to push the 12 foot wooden blue door opening up a to a courtyard surrounded by apartments. I asked a young man if he knew Nathalie. "Nathalie sounds like a beautiful woman, is she single,?" he slurred as he gulped from a bottle of wine. Before I could answer, he walked into the middle of the courtyard and screamed... "Nat-ah-lee, Nat-ah-lee come to me.?" I looked at my husband smugly since he's always accusing the French of being rude. Just then a short woman in her 30's wearing glasses, black hair and a flowered dress, hurried past. It was Nathalie looking for us.

Once in her apartment she unpacked her watercolors as carefully as any surgeon laying out his tools, placed her hands in her lap and asked me to empty my purse on the table for her version of a peep show. (Don't tell Nathalie but I edited my purse-a big no-no in her rules book. But you didn't expect me to leave tampons or Prozac pills in a painting that will hang on my bedroom wall forever, did you?)

She sifted through my items gingerly, looking for clues to my personality and asking me to name each item. When my passport popped up, I blurted freedom. My husband named my French bargain-shopping book my bible.

In the mildest of our archeological dig that lasted three hours, we heard a loud commotion. A deadpan Rich announced "someone threw a couch out their window." Nathalie and I hurried over to look at the ugly green couch making its way toward the courtyard. I asked if this was a common technique for movers but Nathalie assured me "This is not normal in France."

Nathalie plans to publish a book of her purse paintings, "Anthology of bags and handbags," when she reaches 1001 illustrations. "The last number of the series is now #639. So I still need to do 361 watercolors," she said. All the women whose purses are in the book will be invited to the release party in Paris. I'm number 271, so hurry up and get your purse painted. I need to buy a new purse for the celebration.

Lecroc told me that Chanel wanted to publish a book of her illustrations but they only wanted to feature their bags and she found that boring. "I care more about what's inside the purse than the label on the outside," she said. "All women's purses are interesting to me, some of the most unusual ones are the everyday ones. Her grandmother for instance carries a colorful straw bag with a hula dress inside!

One of Lecroc's clients was socialite Lynn Wyatt. "I had glasses of water for my painting brushes," said Nathalie "and I accidentally put Wyatt's cell phone in the water glass. You've never seen so many assistants running around to get her a new cell phone."

When my illustration was complete I gazed at a woman who likes to travel and shop, who wears glasses to improve her view of he world, always has a book to scribble in and loves to spend time with her French nieces and nephews as evidenced by the Euro Disney tickets.

It can be difficult to find your way to Nathalie but you'll leave with a better understanding of what's important to you. Since Nathalie just had a baby Armand, she's working on illustrating a children's book.


Phone or email for an appointment
Miss Lecroc
183 rue Saint Denis 75002 Paris
Tel : + 33 (1) 45 08 13 87
e-mail :


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