Every late September, when the style mavens descend on Paris for fashion week, they envision enjoying buttery post-show croissants and the occasional pack of Vogue cigarettes savored guilt-free at after-parties. But this season, it’s a bit different: Paris is infested with bedbugs.
Videos shared on social media show bedbugs crawling over seats of the Paris Metro, which carries more than 5 million passengers a day. Some Parisians have reported bites at various big-chain movie theaters. The French meme accounts are having a field day. “You have to understand that in reality no one is safe, obviously there are risk factors but in reality, you can catch bedbugs anywhere and bring them home,” Paris’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, said Friday.
Although Parisians don’t seem too concerned about the bedbug infestation (the metro, bars and movie theaters are just as packed as they’ve always been), at Paris Fashion Week shows, attendees have been trading tips on how to avoid catching them: store your luggage in the bathtub, they said; if you take public transportation, don’t sit down on the fabric seats; buy a $220 bedbug-killing heater on Amazon.
Bedbugs are a common urban scourge, often found living in mattresses, carpets, clothing and linens, and usually surfacing at night to feed (on your blood, that is). They typically bite in a telltale zigzag pattern, leaving clusters of three to five bites on the skin that can cause itchiness, redness and swelling and burning. In major cities like New York, having a brush with bedbugs is such a universal experience that the New York’s health department has their own bedbug complaint line.
“In large urban cities, bedbugs are just there. It’s a fact of life,” said Zachary DeVries, an assistant professor of urban entomology at the University of Kentucky. “But some of the videos of things they’re showing — especially on public transportation — were a little bit alarming. Usually if you’re seeing bedbugs out in the middle of the day crawling around on these surfaces, you probably have a lot of them.”
At Paris Fashion Week, the rumors and gossip about what hotels, restaurants and bars may be infested have taken on a life of their own.
“Whoever is having FOMO about this Paris Fashion Week must know that one of my editor friends saw bedbugs at one particularly upscale restaurant today,” tweeted Mayra Peralta, the fashion and beauty editor for EnVi Media. The very idea that Avenue Montaigne could be crawling with tiny bloodsucking insects is enough to send any visitor into a spiral.
Bedbugs are a democratizing force, an unwelcome reminder that regardless of wealth, fame or influence, none of us are immune to the power of nature. After all, bedbugs are just as likely to make a home inside a Chanel tweed jacket as they are a Zara knockoff. Bedbugs don’t care if you’re staying in a palace hotel or a 1-star Airbnb, if you’re dining in the 8th or the 18th. Certainly money can keep you from taking the metro, but you may still have to go through the city’s Charles-de-Gaulle Airport to fly home — and the bugs are reportedly there too.
As Paris Fashion Week comes to a close, the editors, influencers and stylists who flocked to the city will start to make their way home. Professor DeVries said it was possible that travelers could bring bedbugs back with them, but as long as you’re aware of your surroundings and keeping luggage and clothing off hotel beds and rugs, you should be fine.
If you believe you brought some hitchhikers home, you can follow the heat or freeze rule: Run your items in the dryer on high heat for an hour, or leave them in the freezer for two or three days. Either option should get rid of any remaining pests.
Bedbugs are extremely expensive to get rid of, because of the fact that they multiply so rapidly. Professor DeVries said that infestations often required professional pest-control treatment, which can cost upward of $5,000, depending on location. “Everybody can get them,” he said, “but not everybody can get rid of them.”