Today, one of my favourite topics… shopping. Not just that, shopping in Paris!
Now, I’m no expert, I’ve never lived in Paris and some days feel like I’ve only just tippy-toed into Paris rather than rolled around the whole of it. So consider this a beginners guide and please leave your suggestions/fabulous finds in the comments section below. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
We’ll start with the big guns, le grand magasins. The big department stores. There are four in Paris you need to know about:
Galeries Lafayette: the mothership of shopping. All the big brands in one glorious galleried building on Boulevard Hausmann. Excels in the shoe department which is the entire basement level. We pop to Jour cafe for a pick me up when needed or to the champagne bar overlooking the cupola whenever a rare seat is available. There is also a fabulous food/grocery section in the ground and basement levels of the home store.
Printemps: right next door to Galeries Lafayette and with a slightly differing range of brands that are often a little edgier/fashion forward where it has an edge on Galeries Lafayette. Cojean in the basement of the women’s store is our snack spot of choice.
Le Bon Marche: the solo grand magasin on the Left Bank and the most upscale of the big four with on-trend fashion, beauty and homewares. It has labels the Hausmann stores don’t have and a cracker hair care section worth hunting down. Rose Bakery has a cafe on site, but then the best coffee in the city is two blocks down rue Babylone at Coutume Cafe. Next door is Le Grand Epicerie – mecca for foodies.
BHV: where the Parisians shop (read: enter on a weekend at your peril). The holy grail of hardware and homewares in Paris. We’ve bought everything from door knobs to fancy light globs to brass hinges and furnishing trims here. Its where Paris meets practical. Located in the Marais so if your in the area and the heavens open, this is where you can continue your shopping until the rain clears.
Like the world over, the big department stores allow you to shop in (airconditioned/heated/rain free) ease, all have cafes and restaurants within them, and all have duty-free desks to process your shopping on the spot. For me, its more what’s around them to add to my shopping day that guides me on which one to head to. So lets focus on that.
So you’ve got your two biggies – Lafayette and Printemps – but there’s a few others nearby to add to your shopping joy. Right next to Lafayette Home store is Uniqlo – a one stop for anything your travel wardrobe hasn’t catered for (their puffy down jackets are lifesavers should the weather turn, and likewise their rain jackets and Heattech extra-warm long sleeve tees). This store also has a great range of the line by uber-chic Ines de la Fressange.
If you didn’t find that exact piece you wanted from the big French brands in the department store concessions, you’re just two blocks to the Golden Mile of rue Saint Honore. Hermes, Chanel (plus a lovely Chanel make up store where they are super helpful), Longchamp (for every Pliage bag under the sun plus pret-a-porter and footwear) and all the big labels are along here. I generally go as far as Collette and then circle either back up to Hausmann via Pyramides and Opera or towards the Tuilleries for a bit of time out or a treat at Angelina.
Where the right bank is big brands, the left bank is small, quaint and charming. We’d had several trips to Paris from Australia where we’d only been to the Hausmann stores before we ventured out to discover Le Bon Marche. To say we were bowled over was an understatement. We felt like we’d discovered old Paris even though LBM is as chic and modern as they come. It didn’t have the hoards of tourists and cattle lines outside the Chanel and Louis Vuitton concessions. It just felt more luxurious, more discreet, more stylish. It has a lot of labels I love – our watercolour scene cushions by Genevieve Levy are here, sneakers by Pairs in Paris (the nude sneakers are perfect for pairing with a travel wardrobe), J Crew is here (my non-French go-to for fashion), and David Mallet (hairdresser to the stars – an Aussie based in Paris) has his haircare range here. But when you’re done with Le Bon Marche and Le Grand Epicerie, there’s a lot nearby to love.
First, the area around rue de Sevres, rue des Saints-Peres, rue de Grennelle and rue du Cherche-Midi is a great area for a shop and stroll. Many of my favourite French brands have stores here (see list below) and there’s the lovely cafe in Hermes for a refreshment stop and the Poilane Bakery for its famous french bread.
I’ve saved the best for (nearly) last here. Rue du Bac. This narrow street meanders up to the Seine and is full of gorgeous stores. Chocolate shops, stationers, and homewares abound: duck down the ally into Le Grand Comptoir; Blanc d’Ivoire has lovely sophisticated stuff; and we bought a few of our bedheads at Du Bout du Monde. My favourite stop of all though is Parisian institution Deyrolle. Enter through Le Prince Jardinier – the chic garden wares store of Prince Louis Albert de Broglie, and head up the winding wooden stairs between the stuffed antelopes wearing gardening aprons and be prepared to be wowed. If you were staging Noah’s Ark (why? who knows, just go with it) this is where you’d come to get your animals. My first visit I thought it was just an extension of the gardening stores (didn’t click when I passed the antelopes at the staircase) and upstairs was a safari park of baby animals set up having a tea party. It was the most fantastical thing I’d ever seen. On the shopping front, its great for botanical prints and calendars (or a giant stuffed water buffalo if that’s your thing).
There’s one other corner of the left bank I’ll add in here. Its a little fabric and homewares haven tucked in behind the Eglise Saint Germain des Pres. Here you’ll find Belgian brand Flamant full of lovely furniture, dinnerware and homey bits. Its set up by rooms and lovely to walk around. Around the corner (or out the side entrance of Flamant) is fabric heaven in the charming Place de Furstemberg which is also home to the Musee Delacroix. Pierre Frey, Braquenie (fabric from here is in our two-bedroom suite at La Pommetier), Manuel Canovas, and Lelievre are all here. If you happen to be in Paris at the time of the design fair Mason Objet, visiting Place de Furstemberg for its decorations is a must. Then around the corner again onto Rue Jacob you will find more famous French homewares at Gien (pottery and dinnerware – we have some antique plates on the wall again in our two-bedroom suite), Caravane bed linens, and (American owned) Caspari for a great collection of chic and quirky dinner and table ware.
One more! Always one more. Galerie Salon just along from Flamant (walk across the entrance to Place de Furstemberg then come back to it after Galerie Salon). This is a great place to buy gifts – for others or for yourself. It is a jewel box of French names: from Astier de Villatte ceramics to Antoinette Poisson paper to Marin Montagut’s fabulous illustrated city guide maps (photo below – we have a bunch of them here if you want to have a peek).
No secrets here. The Marais is such a great place to wander, shop, eat, shop, stroll. So when you’re visiting BHV, there’s lots more to discover and have your comfy shoes on as we’ll make it as far as the fabulous Merci. Firstly, BHV. I’ve already mentioned the homewares and hardware sections, but they also have an Anthropologie store in here now for those hailing from places without their own. Between BHV and Merci are streets full of great shopping: rue Rosiers has Annick Goutal and COS among many (and l’As du Fallafel – ‘that’ felafel place); and then I like to wander up the rue Vieuille du Temple and then right into Pont aux Choux to get to Merci where a great latte and chocolate cake awaits at the book cafe.
Merci is a destination in itself for shoppers. Its a fabulously curated collection of fashion, homewares and things you never knew you wanted or needed. I love their own brand shirts and they stock a favourite Belgian brand called Bellerose. Other great labels there include Soeur, Laurence Bras and cashmere t-shirt maker Majestic Filatures. The own brand Merci scarves are great gifts as are the super cute Grevi beach hats and Merci zip purses or “pochettes”. And I could wander around the homewares for days. Its a modern “classic with a twist” vibe going on at Merci. I love it.
OK – you’ve waded through this far, here’s the list of French brands I love. Leaving your Chanel and Louis Vuitton aside, these are the smaller brands that to me, ooze Frenchiness. Things you may not be able to find at home but when you get them there, they’ll give you back your inner Frenchie. Also, if you run out of time you might be able to buy things online (although be warned, online shopping in France is really only starting to get going. Three years ago when we moved here not even Galeries Lafayette had online shopping. Quel horreur!
Amor Lux – for the classic stripey t-shirts. Look out for the lycra ones with SPF for summer.
APC – one of my ‘cost per wear’ justifications. So Frenchie. The ‘Dinard’ rain coat with cute lining is a classic.
Bensimon – great for casual wear and their cute plimsolls.
Comptoir des Cotonniers – great mid-ranger for casual and workwear. A high-street staple here.
COS – great on trend minimalist staples. Sale time at COS stores is bedlam!
Eres – the most flattering swimwear possible. Also the most eyewateringly expensive. But cheaper and less painful than surgical intervention. On the “worth it” list.
Gerard Darel – I can always find something here – its a great upper mid-ranger of smart casual for me now I’m in the “mid 40s” box.
Eric Bompard – cashmere that is expensive but I have sweaters and cardigans that have lasted 5+ years and are still going strong. (I’m a big one for cost-per-wear to justify expensive purchases!)
Ines de la Fressange – uber chic. No more words needed.
Majestic Filatures – the softest tee shirts ever. Cashmere for winter. Silk and cotton for summer.
Hair and Beauty
French pharmacy products have a cult-like following – particularly City Pharma which is apparently a small but excellent place to stock up (near Saint Germain des Pres). Google away or start with these:
Goop – it its good enough for Gwynneth…
Lisa Eldridge – she’s an expert and has a lot to say to grab a coffee (or a wine). Be sure to also watch her video on tips for long haul flying video. She’s serious, but it cracks me up every time!
Vogue UK – Jeanne Damas, model of gorgeousness, gives us her insider tips. Try not to have heart failure at the cat sitting on the table on her fifth floor balcony.
Model Recommends – another expert and you’ll need another glass of wine.
OK – that’s enough shopping for one day! At some random point in time I’ll circle back here to add “gourmet” and “children” to the list of shopping treats and expand on the homewares. If there’s anything else you’d like me to have a crack at, just pop a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One final thing. There is a great outlet centre to the east of Paris called “La Vallee”. Its easy to drive to from Paris or Charles de Gaul or there is a shuttle bus that goes from the centre of Paris (google away to see if you can get a free transfer with a discount code – we did!) Men are luckier there than women – Mike got a perfect Moncler coat there in his size whereas there wasn’t a single coat in my size. It’s not a particularly “French” way to shop, but its highly effective.