Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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There are few things more French than Bensimon. Sounding like a hoity-toity version of the name Ben Simon, the marque encompasses clothing, home furnishings, accessories and stationary, but it’s the Bahhhn seemawhnn tennis shoes that have become a phenomenon by working their way into French wardrobes of every social and economic class.

My first inkling of understanding the popularity of Bensimon hit me last fall, when I happened to walk by a sale of Kaporal 5 brand copycat tennis (say it like “ten-knees” and don’t bother with the chaussure part). Seeing the large Soldes sign in the window of the boutique, I peeked in to see a mob of teenaged girls fighting and scrambling over each other to find their preferred colors and sizes in the cardboard bins full of some of the ugliest shoes I’d ever seen.

The sale was a buy one, get one free, and even at half off their original price of 20 euro a pair, this seemed like a huge rip-off to me. These shoes, which I’d been seeing on the feet of Parisians since moving to France in August, look like shoes to clean the house in. They’re plain canvas with a flat rubber sole and toe bumper, and come in every color imaginable. You have your choice of the slip-on sneaker variety, the lace-up tennis shoes which look like bowling shoes gone wrong, and a few other subtle variations on the original slip-on.

I couldn’t believe the fuss being made over these bins of overpriced ugly shoes, but I was intrigued by the general chicness of the girls who were frantic for this canvas and rubber footwear, so I made my way to the size 39 bin. In addition to my tendency to conform to anything Parisian girls find cool, I was motivated by a challenge put to me by a friend in Seattle. Knowing that I was going home for winter break, she asked be to bring her some article of clothing that was completely French and that couldn’t be found in the U.S. This task would have probably been much easier just 10 years ago, but thanks to globalization you can find just about any French brand somewhere in the U.S. and vice versa. There isn’t much that is exclusively French anymore – unless it is just too weird for Americans to handle. As I elbowed the other girls away from the bin I was digging through, I found my answer. Bensimon is not going to make it to Tacoma any time soon, because there is just no way that any American teenybopper is going to think these look cool – I certainly didn’t.

Being that it was a buy one, get one free kind of deal, I was, um, forced to buy myself a pair as well. For most of the fall they were strictly laundromat shoes. They were just too odd for normal streetwear. When I presented Kelly with her pair (grey slip-on tennis) at Christmas, I felt the need to add a disclaimer. I know these are ugly, but…they’re very French! Since coming back in January though, I think I’ve become desensitized. Or Frenchified. Or crazy. Because all of a sudden, I like them. Like really really like them. They’re so practical and comfortable. They come in an array of dazzling colors and variations! They’re plain and ugly, but somehow chic, and their weirdness makes them oh so cool.

Now that the weather’s warm again, every other boutique on every boulevard in Paris is advertising Ici! La tennis Bensimon!, and these funky canvas shoes are out on the streets in full force. Everyone wears Bensimon, from the banlieue to the centre, whether you wardrobe yourself at Monoprix or Prada. Every kid in France has at least one pair, and most of their parents do too. Technically…I have three pairs, if you count my bogo Kaporal 5s, and I’m a little anxious at the thought of moving home for good with no way to replace them as they wear out – I’m going to need to stock up before I repatriate.

I can’t believe I now find cool what I once thought was oh so wrong. That’s Paris for you – I’m living in a city where black and brown and navy blue go perfectly together, where trench coats aren’t just for flashers – where anything can become chic with time. If it’s something weird, like the Bensimon tennis, you just have to wait enough years for it to become classic and boom, everyone will have a pair. I love this city.

Author: Halley (Griffin) Knigge

Storyteller and adventurer with a focus on new and social media. Ten years of award-winning writing and editing experience, eight years working professionally to share compelling stories through brand journalism, three years as an airline spokesperson, two years as a Tacoma Arts Commissioner and 30+ years of learning something new every day.

8 thoughts on “

  1. I still don’t totally get them…but I know that Anna is looking for a brown pair. I hope they come to Canada soon, since they are cheap and comfy, which is fashion I can deal with!

  2. Haha yeah cheap and comfy and ugly as all heck. But cool nonetheless.

  3. I have been desperately looking for a place that sells these in the US. I can’t even seem to find them online! I adore the high tops, and the classic tennis are, well, classic.

  4. Guess what!!!? La tennis Bensimon is here!! Yes, in the USA. http://www.thebensimongirls.blogspot.com check out more about us, where to find, and fun info. Tell us where you live and we will surely help!Love, the bensimon girls.

  5. A store on Queen West in Toronto (kolkid 670 Queen W.) has bensimon shoes, kids and adult. I just picked up a pair of grey maryjanes….

  6. where in the UK can i buy Bensimon clothing??? ive searched the internet and nowhere seems to sell it in the UK?…..

  7. AHAHA this is pretty crazy. I am from (well, I have been living in for a while) Tacoma and I am in Paris. I googled where to get a pair of Bensimons in Paris, because I forgot to pack mine and saw a girl in the street in a cute turquoise pair. Your little blog post was the first thing that came up in my google search. LOL ironic.

  8. Bensimon has a few stores in Paris 8 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75003 111 rue de Turenne 7500354 rue de Seine 7500657 rue du Cherche Midi 75006GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY!www.thebensimongirls.com keeps an up to date list of stores they sell in the USA too.

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