If you talk to a French person and say you lived in Lille… most say “I’m sorry”. That was the reputation this gritty Northern manufacturing city had years ago. It is the fourth largest metropolis in France and sits at the crossroads between Belgium, Britain and France. My ex-husband was from a small town outside the city, and we lived there for a few years while I taught English (or American) to top execs from Renault, Auchan, Peugeot and various other big French companies. He had to work through his military service scenario and I thought why not—I spoke French, loved the culture and was ready for an adventure. There was tremendous charm to Lille, a great mix of Flemish and French culture. We often went to Bruges and Brussels, the North Sea and England. I was in love and didn’t realize how provincial France, outside of Paris, could be. It was an odd combination of very bourgeois culture, girls my age wearing pearl necklaces and Hermes scarves and then an entire class of what seemed like factory workers. The factories there have drawn many Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerian immigrants over the years and the racial tension was always palpable. Much of the Vieux Lille, Old Lille, was destroyed in World War Two, so it had a bizarre mix of old and new which I grew to love. We hung out at this great old bar called L’illustration and truly found a motley group of friends. I took frequent trips, at the time, to Paris for my shot of fashion and culture so it was a shock when I read an article in the New York Times recently entitled: Renewing Lille, Fashionably. I have one vivid fashion memory of ‘dressing up’ in a fuchsia old lady coat I had bought in a ‘Spastic Shop’ (Goodwill) in England. With combat boots and a funny hat, my British friend Jane and I walked around town speaking outrageous Fawlty Towers English just to freak out the uptight Lillois. Another time, my mother in law told me I couldn’t wear white and cream together and I said “watch me” in more polite terms. I even recall being really sick and my mother in law was to take me to see her friend who was a doctor. He was apparently in the rotary club with my father in law, which meant nothing to this American rebel from Greenwich Village. I had a temperature of 102, goop pouring out of my eyes and a host of other unattractive symptoms and when she arrived I was sitting in a pile wearing sweat pants and a sweatshirt. She insisted I go upstairs to change and wear an ‘ensemble’. So, it was quite a shock to read that Lille was remaking itself into a fashion Mecca. It has always been home to the equivalent of French LL Bean or J Crew but high, innovative fashion? Apparently there are now a number of ateliers and prêt porter chic shops all over town. Designers are flocking to the area. I was in France last summer and thought about a day trip to my old haunts in Lille … maybe I could have found some cool clothes!