It is a city synonymous with womanhood, at least in French eyes, with effortlessly chic working mothers gliding through their daily marathons wearing enigmatic smiles and ankle boots from Isabel Marant.
But Paris has never been run by a woman, with les Parisiennes confined to a largely decorative role while men get on with the serious business of urban planning.
Now the city is in for a shock. Its next boss is almost certain to be female for the first time in its 2000-year history. All the candidates to succeed Bertrand Delanoe, the socialist Mayor – or at least all the serious ones – are women who have fought their way through the hornets’ nest of Parisian politics.
Their emergence has been hailed as a sign of deep change in a country that has long been a bastion of sexism in public life.
The race appears to be a consequence of the specifics of Parisian demography, and notably the rise of bourgeois bohemians – or Bobos – with their fat wallets and avant-garde aspirations. For them, a woman mayor would be a statement of modernity.
The favourite in next year’s mayoral election is Mr Delanoe’s deputy, Anne Hidalgo, 53, who has long had backroom roles within the council and is now all but certain of being made the socialist candidate.
Her main rival is Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 39, a former ecology minister who left her rivals in the centre-right in the starting blocks when she announced her intention to run. They wailed and threatened to teach her a lesson, then realised they had no option but to support NKM, as she is known.
The aristocrat Ms Kosciusko-Morizet is odds-on to win the centre-right primary to choose a candidate for Paris, although she will first have to see off Rachida Dati, France’s feisty former justice minister. Ms Dati, 47 – one of very few second-generation immigrants to reach the upper echelons of French politics – is probably too divisive to win, with her “extraordinary capacity for destruction”, says political commentator Thierry de Cabarrus.
Claude Goasguen, a powerful centre-right figure who is an NKM supporter, can testify to Ms Dati’s bite. When he accused her of failing to play by the rules earlier this year, her reply was: “Is it because I refused to sleep with you that you think yourself authorised to say that?”
Mr de Cabarrus says: “NKM knows just how destructive Dati can be, which is why she will have to make concessions. My guess is she will agree to a ticket with her.”
A third Sarkozette – as the women in Nicolas Sarkozy’s former government are dubbed – may also run. Rama Yade, 36, the daughter of a Senegalese diplomat who was plucked from anonymity and given a cabinet job as human rights minister by Mr Sarkozy, has suggested she could be a centrist candidate for mayor.
Ms Yade, who is seven months’ pregnant, has no hope of victory but does have an aura – young, black and good on television – that will make her a thorn in NKM’s side. Like Ms Dati, she may be looking for a decent job offer in return for withdrawing from the race.
Then there is Cecile Duflot, 37, a former Green Party leader and Housing Minister in President Francois Hollande’s government, who has suggested she may throw her hat into the ring.
The Greens are too small to win the mayoral election but Ms Duflot has style and substance to please contemporary Parisians. She is anti-car (55 per cent of Paris households do not own one) and anti-conformist, having turned up for her first cabinet meeting in jeans, to the horror of purists.
Paris has 2.3 million residents in the area within the Boulevard Peripherique ring road, and its suburbs are very different from the city. Parisians are younger, wealthier, better educated and (they think) more civilised than their suburban counterparts.
“The sociology of Paris has changed enormously since the mid-1990s with the rise of Bobos and the arrival of rich families who work in liberal and intellectual professions,” says Jerome Fourquet, director of the opinion department at polling institute Ifop. “Wealthy Parisians . . . have jobs in public relations, in culture and in the media, and they tend to vote on the Left.”
Model-turned-designer Ines de la Fressange offers an insight into the Parisian mindset in a little red book entitled La Parisienne that has become essential reading for the city’s decision-makers.
The modern Parisian woman is “anti-bling” and “distrustful of good taste”, de la Fressange says. “She is neither conventional nor negligent.” Her clothes come from the menswear department of H&M and her dishes from the local takeaway.
Ms Dati seems to have got the message, eschewing her haute couture dresses in favour of plainer attire since launching her Parisian political career. She is also a single mother, which goes down well in a city that views fathers as a removable item.
Ms Kosciusko-Morizet tried to rectify her image the moment she announced her candidacy by sitting in front of a shelf full of books wearing jeans and brogues.
Mr Fourquet says she will need more than a new pair of trousers. She would also have to recast her party’s key policies for Paris, such as car ownership.
While the Right cultivated an almost religious belief in the petrol engine, a view shared by voters in almost every other town in France, the Parisian masses thought otherwise. They back the socialist council’s moves to increase pedestrian zones, restrict parking places and promote bicycle and electric car-hire schemes.
Ms Kosciusko-Morizet will also need to face down her colleagues over the equally fraught question of same-sex marriage, which Mr Hollande wants to authorise. His plan has horrified provincial France – and with it the Centre Right – but won support among Parisian voters, who had no qualms about electing Mr Delanoe as Mayor after he revealed his homosexuality. “Paris has a big gay community and on the whole a very, very liberal approach to social issues,” Mr Fourquet says.
Ms Hidalgo’s detractors say she is a dull figure who has been thrust into the limelight by Mr Delanoe. The daughter of Spanish immigrants who moved to France when she was two, she was a health and safety inspector before becoming a socialist apparatchik. Her most notable job with the Paris council has been to head its Orwellian-sounding Office of Time Management, which tries to persuade strike-happy workers to accept flexible hours so public services are open when people need them.
With her anoraks and plain-coloured scarves, she looked like “the nice neighbour struggling to find a baby-sitter for the children”, says news magazine Le Point. Mr de Cabarrus describes her as “weak and washy”.
Now she is seeking an upgrade, with the publication of a 267-page book, Mon Combat Pour Paris (My Fight for Paris), which contains two eye-catching proposals.
The first is to link Paris parks by “corridors of vegetation” to enable les Bobos to walk from Montsouris in the south to Monceau in the north without meeting a car. The second is to break the stranglehold of the most powerful educational institution in the capital – its music and dance conservatory, which draws in ultra-ambitious parents hoping their toddlers will turn out to be a future Georges Bizet.
Ms Hidalgo suggested a more laid-back approach to music, signalling a cultural transformation in a country that believes you should not touch an instrument before you learn all your scales.
That could go down well with the Bobo classes, as will photos of her in Paris Match with husband Jean-Marc Germain. She was photographed making a millefeuille of beetroot marinated in raspberries and avocados in lemon. “I like working, but also being pretty,” she says. “I am a Parisienne and a bonne vivante.”