Category Archives: To do in Paris

Shopping in Paris: The Big Four



While every neighborhood in Paris has its own selection of tempting bou­tiques, four areas stand out as true shopping magnets. Each has a very differ­ent character, so there’s bound to be one that appeals to your shopping style.

Shopping Dos and Don’ts

> Don’t believe what you’ve heard about the French being rude-it’s just another cliché based on cultural misunderstandings. ln reality the French have such a well-developed code of politeness that they’d be considered overly formal in your country.

> Do make an effort to use five basic French phrases of good manners: Bonjour (hello); S’il vous plaît (please); Excusez-moi (excuse me); Merci (thank you); and Au revoir (good-bye). These few words will completely change the way you’ll be treated. Honest.

> Do greet the shopkeeper with “Bonjour, Madame” (or “Monsieur”) as you enter a boutique. Using the “Madame” tag may feel strange at first, but in France it’s a sign of being bien élevé, or well bred.

> Do start every question with “Excusez-moi, Monsieur” (or “Madame”), even if the next words out of your mouth are in English. It’s considered rude to begin a conversation without first excusing yourself.

> Do say “Merci, au revoir” on your way out of a small boutique, even if you don’t buy anything. Again, it’s the minimum in French politeness.

> Don’t take it personally when shopkeepers don’t automatically return your smile. The French simply aren’t a smiley bunch, and it’s got nothing to do with you.

Fantasy Land: The 8th

If you want to see where Paris gets its reputation as a bastion of over-the-top luxury, head for the 8th arrondissement on the Right Bank. Practically every one of the elite French designers is based in the 8th. If there are two streets that positively breathe haute couture, they are avenue Montaigne (Métro: Alma-Marceau, Franklin D. Roosevelt) and rue du Faubourg St-Honoré (Métro: Concorde). There are Parisiennes who shop exclusively on these two streets and, as you’d expect, the snob quotient is sky-high. But even if you don’t have a platinum card, you can have a hell of a good time window-­shopping here.

While avenue Montaigne and rue du Faubourg St-Honoré boast some of the same big designer names, they are completely different in temperament. Avenue Montaigne is wide, graceful, and lined with chestnut trees. Once upon a time it was filled strictly with French designers, but thanks to an influx of international names it’s become undeniably hip. Beginning at the Pont de l’Alma end, there’s Dolce & Gabbana at No. 2, Prada at No. 10, Inès de la Fressange at No. 14, Joseph at No. 16, Valentino at No. 19, Christian Lacroix at No. 26,Christian Dior at No. 30, MaxMara at No. 31, Nina Ricci at No. 39, Chanel at No. 42, Thierry Mugler at No. 49, Jil at No. 50, Louis Vuitton at No. 54, and Escada at No. 57.

Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré is narrower with small sidewalks, and it’s always jammed with shoppers. If you begin at the rue Royale intersection and head west, you’ll come across Gucci at No. 2, Hanae Mori at No. 9, Lolita Lempicka at No. 14, Lanvin at No. 15, Karl Lagerfeld at No. 19, Hermès (pronounced “Air-mess”) at No. 24, Valentino at No. 27, Hervé Léger at No. 29, Yves Saint Laurent at No. 38, Versace at No. 62, Sonia Rykiel at No. 70, and Christian Lacroix at No. 72.

 The Hot Kid on the Block

A few blocks east of rue Royale is Colette, 213 rue St-Honoré, 1 er, a must-stop for eagle-eyed trend watchers. The emporium showcases all that’s hip and now in home design, beauty products, art, and fashion accessories, with prices ranging from the very reasonable to the astro­nomical. Downstairs is a high-tech cafe with light fare and over 40 brands of bottled water on offer.

Rarefied Chic: The 6th

Every once in a while one neighborhood gets an infusion of shopping karma and emerges as the darling of Parisian retail. Right now that place is the 6th. It’s the perfect destination if you’ve only allotted a morning or an afternoon for shopping. The 6th has always been a magical quartier brimming with tiny one-of-a-kind boutiques, antiques dealers, art galleries, interior decorators, ivy-­covered courtyards, and cafes in which you could happily spend the rest of your life. What’s new is that the luxe big boys from the Right Bank have been moving in. Louis Vuitton, Dior, Armani, Gucci, Hermès, and Cartier have already opened branches here, and others are close behind. Still, it’s the tiny, one-of-a-kind specialty shops that make this neighborhood such a pleasure. The area’s best specialty boutiques are disproportionately clustered on and around place St-Germain-des-Prés (Métro: St-Germain-des-Prés), place d’Acadie (Métro: Mabillon), and place St-Sulpice (Métro: St-Sulpice). But the best way to do the 6th is to simply wander its streets, keeping an eye peeled for serendipitous discoveries. Below are just a few highlights.

> Boulevard Saint-Germain is the Left Bank’s main drag, with a suitably tempting array of shops. Head to Shu Uemura at No. 176 for voguish cosmetics that come in a zillion shades, and to Kashiyama at No. 147 for a look at what the world’s most trendsetting designers are turning out these days.

> Rue de Seine is fabulous for quintessential French items. Bensimon at No. 54 stocks the sort of striped Breton mariner tops that grace every French girl’s vacation wardrobe. Souleiado at No. 78 is the name for scarves, bags, and linens in traditional Provençal patterns. And La Maison Ivre, half a block away at 38 rue Jacob, sells pottery from all over France.

> Rue du Four has two don’t-miss women’s shops, Tara Jarmon at No. 18, for chic, understated streetwear and Au Vrai Chic Parisien at No. 47, for retro French styles. Also worth checking out are the fun and funky shoes at Boot Shop at No. 20, Mosquitos at No. 25, and Free Lance at No. 30. Shoe Bizz, nearby at 42 rue du Dragon, replicates the latest footwear styles for 30% cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere.

 > Rue du Vieux Colombier is where to come for that seemingly effortless, chic Parisian look. Try Victoire at No. 15 for smart weekend menswear and Claudie Pierlot at No. 23 for fabulous womenswear that simmers between retro and classic. Just on the other ride of the place St-Sulpice, the Elle Boutique, 30 rue St-Sulpice, a spin-off of the famous women’s magazine, is where Left Bank girls shop for classic separates.

Artsy Ecclecticism: The 4th

The Marais (4e) is an idyllic, picture-postcard setting crammed with artists’ studios, secret courtyards, magnificent Renaissance mansions, and some of the most original shops in the city.

Rue des Francs-Bourgeois is the neighborhood’s main artery, chock-a-block with jewel box-size shops of every ilk. And don’t miss rue des Rosiers, a fashion destination in its own right with its white-hot designers standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jewish delis. Everything is really close in the Marais, so don’t be afraid to ramble down the tiniest lave whenever whim dictates. Part of the fun of this neighborhood is that it’s such a mixed shopping bag.


Marais highlights include Paule Ka, 20 rue Mahler, for the sort of timeless womenswear Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn used to wear; Argenterie des Francs-Bourgeois, 17 rue des Francs-Bourgeois, for inexpensive bracelets made from Victorian-era silverware; L’Eclaireur, 3 ter rue des Rosiers, for cutting-edge designerwear that draws a faithful Celebrity following; Anne Sévérine Liotard, 7 rue St-Merri, for candles that double as objets d’art and burn forever; Lunettes Beausoleil, 28 rue Roi du Sicile, for glamorous sunglasses that flatter any face; Extrem Origin, 10 rue Ferdinand Duval, for ultrachic interior design that uses only natural elements; and Shamballa, 30 rue de Sévigné, for eye-catching contemporary jewelry for men and women.


Save the Marais for a Sunday afternoon. While the rest of the city is virtually shuttered up, this enchanting enclave of cobbled Streets and funky boutiques remains wonder-fully animated.

 Cheap & Cheerful Souvenirs

Ain’t got tons of leftover cash but want to return home with a nifty memento? Try the Seine-side booksellers for frame-worthy vintage French ads from old magazines. The interior stalls at St-Ouen flea market, 18e (Métro: Clignancourt, open Saturday to Monday Sam to 6pm) sell charming postcards of Paris, circa 1900 to 1940. Either of France’s two ubiquitous dime stores, Monoprix and Prisunic, are the place to go for inexpensive Bourjois cosmet­ics (made in the Chanel factories). Stop by a pharmacy for Roger & Gallet perfumed bath gels, pure-vegetable savons de Marseille (soaps), and Klorane hair products. La Vaissellerie, 332 rue St.-Honoré, ler, sells those huge bowl-shaped breakfast mugs that are quintessentially French. Louis Vuitton (see “Fantasy Land: The 8th,” above), makes a carnet de voyage, a scrapbook filled with watercolors of Paris sights and plenty of room to jot down your vacation memories. And finally, for lovers of kitschy keepsakes, you can pick up that miniature Eiffel Tower or World Cup ’98 T-shirt (now priced to sell) in any of the souvenir shops on rue de Rivoli, ler (Métro: Tuileries, Palais-Royal, or Louvre-Rivoli).

Young & Trendy: The 2nd

While it Jacks the atmosphere of St-Germain-des-Prés and the Marais, the 2nd arrondissement is where young, hip Parisians with more dash than cash head for this season’s trendiest looks. With the noteworthy exception of Place des Victoires, a hub of pricey designerwear, all the best shopping in the 2nd happens in an area called the Sentier. This is Paris’s garment district, which bleeds into corners of the lst and 3rd. The name of the game here is exploiting trends cheaply-a concept that may make haute couturiers grimace, but certainly one that makes fashion more democratic.

Many of the best shops are found within a square formed on the South by rue Rambuteau, on the west by rue du Louvre, on the north by rue Réaumur, and on the east by rue St-Martin. This ragtag pocket of the city is absolutely fabulous for hip secondhand cloches, funky clubwear, and “stock boutiques” selling last season’s designerwear at a discount.

Don’t miss Mon Amie Pierlot, 3 rue Montmartre, ler, for Claudie Pierlot’s (see “The Rarified Chic: The 6th,” above) less-expensive, casual liner Agnès b., 3-6 rue du Jour, ler, for time­lessly chic basics for men and women; Kiliwatch, 64 rue Tiquetonne, 2e, for supercool retro looks that’ll be on next year’s runways (designers come here for inspiration); Le Shop, 3 rue d’Argout, 2e, for two floors of clubwear by France’s hottest young designers; Orb, 39 rue Étienne Marcel, ler, for wild-‘n-chunky urban footwear, Et Vous Stock, 15 rue de Turbigo, 2e, for last year’s unsold Et Vous styles at half price; Kookaï Le Stock, 82 rue Réaumur, 2e, for massive reductions on Kookaï clothes.





April stroll in the quiet 7th arrondissement


oudinotThis month, Paris Hotels Charm invites you to explore an area of Paris that was shaped in the 1780s by a large-scale real-estate investment scheme. Architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart bought up farmland, divided it into lots, and built mansions, which led to the creation of new streets: Rues Monsieur, Duroc, Masserais, and Éblé. At the same time, broader avenues were laid out to connect the Military Academy to the Invalides and to Rue de Sèvres. Although the development of the 7th arron­dissement dates on the whole from the 18th and 19th centuries, only a few mansions from that period remain, along Rue Mas­seran, Rue Monsieur, and Rue Oudinot. Their gardens, rarely visible, are off Boulevard des Invalides. We will be strolling a neighborhood which is primarily residential, with many lavish Second Empire mansions, schools, and religions communities, but also government ministries.

  • – Start: Rue Oudinot (Métro Saint-François-Xavier or Duroc)
  • – Finish: Square Boucicaut (Métro Sèvres-Babylone)

Rue Oudinot Starting from Boulevard des Invalides, this is where Les Oiseaux prison was located during the Reign of Terror. It later became a convent, and was finally torn down in 1908. We will stroll beside the imposing wall of the Ministère de l’Outre-Mer (Overseas Ministry). Its main entrance is at 27 Rue Oudinot. At the far end of the courtyard is the main hall. The ground floor has four simple pilasters with lonic capitals. Over the second story is a sculpted pediment with military motifs. The lateral façades underwent several alterations. This mansion was originally the Hôtel de Rambouillet de la Sablière. In 1781, it became the property of count de Montmorin-Saint-Hérem, Minister of foreign Affairs, executed in 1792. His daughter, Pauline de Beaumont, was the romantic writer Chateaubriand’s mistress. Brongniart is credited for the pilasters on the façade. Napoleon rented the mansion for Cardinal Caprara, the Vatican nuncio. In 1910, the property was assigned to the government’s Ministry. The corner lot across the street is occupied by 22 Rue Oudinot and 49 Boulevard des Invalides (note the columns between the ground-floor windows). The arcs above the tall, dark green carriage doors are decorated with fox heads surrounded by oak leaves. This was the townhouse that Brongniart built for himself in 1781. Lets go back to the odd-numbered side of this street. Behind the carriage door at 23, there is an entire complex of old houses with little gardens, on either side of a paved lane. It feels like a charming little village from some other era. The majestic Clinique Saint-Jean-de-Dieu is at numbers 19 and 21. Founded in 1843 by Paul de Magallon of the Order of the Brothers Hospitallers of St.-John of God. It has a large and splendid garden that is a pleasure to stroll through in early summer, when the fragrant roses bloom. The clinic was built on a property that pre­viously belonged to Madame de La Sablière. Famous French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine was her protégé and often stayed in her home. She lobbied for his admission to the Aca­démie Française, where he replaced Colbert on May 2, 1684. Novelist Barbey d’Aurevilly lived across the street at 6, and 12 was the home of poet François Coppée.

Rue Rousselet The calm and secretive Rue Rousselet runs beside the clinic’s garden wall. Its name in 1676 was Chemin des Vachers (Cowherds’ Trail), because it was used to drive cattle to graze on the pastures of the Champ-de-Mars and the Esplanade des Inva­lides. It was later renamed for Ambroise Rousselet, a high-ranking tax officer, who owned much of the land here in the early 18thcentury. This street was practically a literary circle of its own at the turn of the 20th century, and is primarily known for the literary giants who lived here: Barbey d’Aurevilly at 25 from 1859 to, 1898, Léon Bloy lived at 2, Paul-Émile Borduas, a painter from Quebec, lived at 19, and Paul Léautaud lived at 17. Rue Rousselet is located on the Grande Randonnée trail crossing Paris from east to west, and on wee­kends, one is likely to encounter hikers.

Rue Monsieur Let’s head back up to Rue Oudinot. At 23, we will turn onto Rue Monsieur. Its name refers to the crea­tion of the street by “Monsieur”, King Louis XVI’s brother, who owned a tract of land stretching from Rue de Babylone to Rue Oudinot. The new street was made to provide access to the stables he built in 1779. One year later, architect Brongniart bought the lands for a housing development. In the space of a few years, three magnificent mansions (still standing today) were erected at numbers 20, 12, and 8. Number 20 is presently home to the Ministère de la Coopération (the Ministry of Economic and Cultural Cooperation with former colonies). This is the former Hôtel de Montes­quiou, built by Brongniart in 1781, across from Monsieur’s stables. Across the street is a plaque infor­ming us that Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin lived in the house at number 15. The famous Hôtel de Bourbon-Condé at 12 bas a gated entrance framed by four pilasters with Ionic capitals. It was built by Brongniart too. He desi­gned it in 1783 for Louise-Adélaïde de Bourbon-Condé who was a sister of the Duke de Bourbon. Despite the various owners and occupants since the French Revolution, the mansion has preserved its music room decora­ted with ionic pilasters, Mademoiselle de Bourbon’s boudoir, and the magni­ficent façade on the immense garden (which can be glimpsed from the Boulevard des Invalides). The white front door flanked by two smaller houses masks the Hôtel de Jarnac at number 8, erected between 1784 and 1787 by Étienne-François Legrand and rented by Marie-Charles de Rohan-Chabot, count de Jarnac. Today, it is a private property and not open to the public. If you are fortu­nate enough to be walking by when the gate is open, you may notice its resemblance to a villa designed by Palladio, with a peristyle. Note that it is possible to get a glimpse of this historical mansion’s back façade by going through the building belonging to the Saint-François-Xavier cha­plaincy at 39 Boulevard des Invalides to the garden in the rear, adjacent to the grounds of the Hôtel de Jarnac.

Rue de Babylone Rue Monsieur takes us straight to Rue de Babylone, where we will turn right. This street was named for the bishop of Babylon, who donated his houses and lands for a seminary to train missionaries. The exotic La Pagode cinema at 57 bis stands on the corner with Rue Mon­sieur. The history behind this odd structure begins a bit like a fairy tale. Mr. Morin, the director of the Bon Marché department store, was very much in love with his wife. In 1895, at the height of the trend for Japanese exoticism, he decided to present his wife with a real pagoda for her garden. Allegedly, certain elements in the structure, such as the carved wooden beams, were custom-made by crafts­men in the Empire of the Rising Sun. Petit-Palais architect Alexandre Mar­cel oversaw the reconstruction with an eye for authenticity in every detail: gilding, varnished tiles, frescoes, dragons, etc… Mrs. Morin was delighted with the gift. She let her imagi­nation go wild, holding lavish receptions and masquerade balls. Nevertheless, the very year the edifice was comple­ted, she left her husband for his partner’s son. The fairy tale had a vaudeville ending. In 1986, La Pagode, which had been a legendary art­-house movie theater since the 1950s, was listed on the historic register. It’s a must-­see, with its exotic bamboo garden, Japanese maples, and purple and white flo­wers. The tropical species make it one of the marvels of Paris in the summertime. Let’s continue strolling along Rue de Babylone toward Rue du Bac. Alter Rue Vaneau on our right, we may go daydream in the shade of the fruit trees in the Jardin Catherine Labouré, recently opened on the grounds of the Hôtel de La Vallière, where the Daughters of Charity grew fruit and vegetables for their convent. It is now a public park maintained by the city appreciated but those who wish to escape the noise of Rue de Sèvres and Rue du Bac. Its cross-like shape is lined with inviting lawns, shaded by apple, cherry, and pear trees. On the right, a trellis is laden with grape vines, near the hazelnut and raspberry bushes. Behind 36 Rue de Babylone, you can get a teint of the neigh­boring – and huge – grounds of the Hôtel de Matignon, which houses the prime minister’s offices. The Louis XVI style Hôtel de Cassini at 32 has long been given over to government offices, the Direction Générale de l’Administra­tion et de la Fonction Publique having made its home there since 1976. Rue de Babylone soon runs into Rue du Bac, and this is where we shall veer to the left.

Rue du Bac on either side of Rue de Babylone The houses on the corner of Rue de Babylone and Rue du Bac belonged to the first seminary of the Missions Étran­gères de Paris (Paris Foreign Missions Society) founded in 1644 at 128 Rue du Bac. Let’s go into the courtyard and explore the chapel which borders it on one side. The chapel was built in 1683 by master mason Lepas-Dubuisson on plans drawn up by architect Pierre Lambert for the missionary society. The society itself was founded in 1644 by Father Bernard de Sainte-Thérèse, bishop of Babylon, who wanted a seminary to train ecclesiastical students for mis­sionary work. Be sure to visit the crypt. It is prolonged by a gallery containing the display cabinets of the interesting and moving hall of martyrs, a repository for the souvenirs and relies of missionaries martyred in Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, and Japan in the 19th century. The hall of martyrs and the crypt are open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 am to 6:30 pm, and Sunday from 1-6 pm. The society has one of the lar­gest private gardens in Paris, lying in front of a magnificent building erected in 1732 to house curiosities brought back by the missionaries: rare plants, a Chinese bell, an oratory, statues, etc. Visits are allowed only during annual national architectural heritage days (journées du patrimoine). Returning to the beginning of the block, let’s cross Rue de Babylone to explore the other end of the Rue du Bac. At 136 is a house built in 1737 for the Hôpital des Incurables, which was purchased in 1859 by the Daughters of Charity. In 1812, they had moved into the 1681 Hôtel de Lassay at 140, alter commissioning the architect Damesne to accommo­date a convent and chapel for them there. The order was created in 1634 by Louise de Marillac at the instigation of Saint Vincent de Paul. The Virgin is believed to have appeared here five times in July and November 1830, to Catherine Labouré, before she even became a postulate. This belief has made the chapel a special place of devotion, attracting visitors from far beyond the neighborhood. Let’s go through the gate at 140 and take the path lined with convent buildings on our right. On our left is a wall with bas-reliefs relating the life story of Catherine Labouré. This tiny lane is often crowded with pilgrims who have come to buy one of the famous “miraculous medals” now available in rather prosaic vending machines. In the chapel, clergy and lay people from all over the world pray to the Virgin. Beside the choir, to the right, the body of Sister Catherine Labouré (+1876) is displayed behind glass, and to the left is the tomb of Louise de Marillac, whose remains were transferred here in 1920. Visitors are awed by the realism of these bodies. Across the street from 136 Rue du Bac, on the façade of the department store, one can still make out the engraving rea­ding simply “Magasin Aristide Boucicaut,” known far and wide as the Bon Marché (see inset). It stands not only on the site of the old Hospice des Petites Maisons, which pro­vided care for sick children, the pour, the crippled, the insane, and those with venereal diseases, but also covers two cemeteries closed in the 18th century: that of the hos­pice, and a parish cemetery of Saint-Sulpice.


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