Shopping in Paris…ah yes, we all swoon with fantasies of Yves St.-Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior, and Givenchy. Yet eminently more satisfying…and brag worthy…is to discover Parisian designers whose gorgeous boutiques are tucked away in the fashionable chic side streets of Paris’ arty Left Bank.
Sally forth into the narrow streets of the uber chic 6th arrondisement, where sophistication and intellectual rakishness are on display in equal measure. This is where designer boutiques, art galleries, and publishing houses live cheek by jowl with institutes of higher learning such as L’Ecole des Beaux Arts and Sciences Po.
Le Bon Marche Department Store
Le Bon Marche department store is the perfect place to start. A classy alternative to the grands magasins of Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps, it has a boutique-like feel and a fine selection of labels, according to Paris-based Australian couturier Martin Grant.
Owner Aristide Boucicaut hired Gustav Eiffel’s consulting firm to develop Le Bon Marche into the first specially-designed store building in Paris in the 1870s. Not surprisingly, given the French fascination with literature and shopping, Emile Zola fictionalized the Boucicaut family in his novel, Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise), which documented the birth of modern retailing and deconstructed desire in the marketplace.
Today Le Bon Marche, now owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, is fabled for its fashion collections from more than 40 top designers, including Christian Lacroix, Comme des Garcons, Stella McCartney, Balthazar and Manolo Blahnik, elegantly laid out in an airy, atrium space. Be sure and also visit the luxurious lingerie and beauty departments and La Grande Epicerie, which offers the finest foods from all over the world. There is also a marvelous children’s section, great paper products and even an extensive yarn collection. Don’t be mistaken by its name, which means “the good deal”…shopping for fineries here requires deep pockets.
Rue du Cherche Midi
On the curving Rue du Cherche Midi is another Paris institution, Pain Poilane (#8), perhaps the most famous bakery in Paris, renowned for its crusty stone-ground sourdough bread baked in wood-fired ovens. Buy some to fortify yourself as you shop the many boutiques lining the street.
Visit the sleek four-story emporium Marithe Francois Girbaud (#7) famous for its edgy (and comfortable) jeans and deconstructed style. Great kids clothes too. Lilith (#12) is another must stop for its delicately colored, whimsical, slightly retro look.
Rue du Cherche Midi also features loads of shoe shops. Check out Charles Jourdan (#28) for statuesque heels and Robert Clergerie (#5) for quirky designs with chunky heels.
Left Bank Shopping Icons
On 25 Place St. Sulpice, Vanessa Bruno’s boutique charms with the soft colors and fluid lines of this avant gardiste designer popular with young French actors. The daughter of a Danish supermodel, Vanessa Bruno also counts Nicole Kidman and Charlotte Gainsbourg among her fans. Don’t miss her cheaper second label, Athe.
Back on Rue Jacob head right to husband and wife design duo stores. Isabel Marant specializes in the latest in ethnic-chic designs (Elle MacPherson is a fan) while her husband Jerome Dreyfuss offers a world of functional and beautiful leather bags with useful accessories such as clips for keys and mini flashlights. Jerome’s store resembles a modernist locker room where he shows off bags with names like Billy, Bob, Carlos, Franky, Max and Willy.
Zadig et Voltaire (#3 Rue du Vieux Colombier and many other outlets) offers gorgeous cashmere tops and classic French knits as well as hip boots and groovy rock ‘n roll CDs.
Kid Chic Shopping
For classic bon chic, bon genre French children’s clothing you can’t go better than Bonpoint’s gorgeous expansive children’s clothing concept store is located in a 17th century townhouse (#6, rue du Tournon) It exudes l’art de vivre Francais that begins with a child’s first breath. Here you can find absolutely every delicious item of clothing you need for babies, boys and girls…even shoes, perfume and skincare.
Soeur (#88 rue Bonaparte) is a must-visit for preteens and their older sisters. Two sisters: Domitille Brion (a designer for ten years at Bonpoint) and Angelique Brion (who trained in teenager psychology and worked in family marketing) have created the perfect clothing shop for the ages of 10-14, girls begging to leave childhood to look more like grownups. Here they offer classy options so rarely found elsewhere.
The brightly colored Pom d’Api (corner of Rue Bonaparte and Rue du Four) is one the most appealing kids shoe shops in the world chock block with the latest littlest leather masterpieces.
Pick up a copy of Paris Chic by 50-something model and Karl Lagerfeld muse Inez de la Fressange for insider tips on how to shop and dress like a Parisian, which she claims is a state of mind somewhere between rocker and bourgeois. She recommends focusing on a few brilliant basics such as a man’s blazer, jeans, a tank top, a navy sweater, and a little black dress and adding accessories to develop a personal style.
When you enter a store, always say Bonjour otherwise you will be considered just another rude tourist. Some other useful phrases: Je cherche (I am looking for) and then you can point to a clothing item. You may be asked Quelle taille (what size) and again you can point. You may also be asked Pour offrir? Which means is this going to be a gift in which case it will likely be beautifully wrapped. Solde is sale.
The exquisite Gerard Mulot (corner of Rue de Seine and Rue Lobineau) is a bakery, chocolatier and pastry shop rolled into one. There are also tantalizing sandwiches made with their own pain de campagne, perfect for picnic fare as well as a great selection of sorbets.
Pierre Herme (#72 rue Bonapart) has the most exquisite macarons in Paris and the shop windows would rival those of Hermes the clothier. You’ll have plenty of time to admire those bijou window decorations: dessert as couture, before ordering delicacies such as jasmine, rose, chocolate and coconut, olive oil and vanilla.
There are two official government-mandated six-week sale periods in France and one floating two-week sale period run at different stores’ discretion. Prices can plummet by as much as 50%. The winter sales start the second Wednesday in January, the summer sales start on the last Wednesday of June. Many locals try on clothes in their favorite stores in the week before the sales so they can simply walk in and make their discounted purchases amidst the shopping frenzy.
I know there are many shopaholic Francophiles out there so if any of you have any additional suggestions of favorite shopping haunts on the Left Bank, please leave me a comment below.
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