Shopping in Paris: The Big Four

 

shopping

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.

 Time-Savers

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.