Prepare to embrace your ooh la la!
Ever since the ‘grands magasins’ (department stores) opened on Paris’ picturesque boulevards in the 19th century, fashionistas have been flocking to the City of Love (and Shopping) for an uber-satisfying dose of retail therapy. These days, however, it’s all about the veritable smorgasbord of arrondissement delights (because all districts have their own unique style) awaiting those who are ready and willing to splash a little (or a lot) of cash. Faisons des courses! Let’s go shopping!
Explore with an expert
First-up, if you’re fashion-savvy but also time-poor, it’s worth considering booking an expert-led shopping tour to assist. Guides can offer exclusive ‘insiders tips’ and lead you on an insightful journey of hard-to-find resale shops (including ones owned by fashion editors and photographers) and sample sales where fashionable brands offer last year’s cast offs at great prices. You’ll also visit the workshops of the new generation of fashion designers who have trained with the most famous fashion houses and might even score an off-the-rack future investment piece. But if you’d prefer to go solo, here’s a quick run-down of the must-visit locales.
2nd & 3rd arrondissements
Known for its edgy boutiques and vintage shops, this neighbourhood was once the haunt of old nobility and to this day, exudes an artistic, elegant feel. Young hipsters congregate in northern Marais around vintage specialists, local artisans and eco-conscious designers, and in this district you can (shopping) bag pieces from pop fashion brands, high-end retailers stocking local wares and fashions pre-worn by Parisian models.
One of a number of its kind in Paris, Monoprix offers more mainstream fashion (it’s kind of like a French Target) and for a culture-vulture kick, visit Upper Marais for its spread of open-air markets, designer stores and vintage outlets.
If you head further west, you’ll hit Place des Victoires, an elegant circle on the border between the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, which is located in an upscale neighbourhood filled to the brim with some of Paris’ promising ‘up and comers’ and top designer boutiques.
You’ll find elegance personified on the arcaded Rue de Rivoli, which runs along the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre Museum. This is a heavenly spot chock full of fashion stores, including those hidden in the dark recesses of side streets yearning for discovery.
And if venturing to the Forum des Halles, there are so many choices you’ll be running around like a chick with no head. A vast underground shopping complex, it features dozens of stores, including retailers like Benetton, Quicksilver and Zara.
Affectionately known as the Triangle d’Or (Golden Triangle), this is where true Parisian shopping dreams are realised. Framed by Avenue George V, Avenue Montaigne and Rue Francois 1er, it’s perched idyllically across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The heart of Paris’ haute couture culture, here you’ll discover a dizzying display of some of the world’s finest fashion houses. Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Ferragamo, Prada, Bulgari, Gucci, Valentino … oh my, I hear you sigh. But wait, there’s more … Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gianfranco, Hermes, Rochas and Courreges … and I could go on. This is a seemingly endless and quintessentially delectable collection of Paris’ grand couturiers. Prepare to be overwhelmed!
If you follow Rue Tronchet at a brisk pace, you’ll head straight towards two of Paris’ biggest department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. Stocking a range of designer brand names and luxury fashions, check out Printemps for a crazy choice of department options and for a magnifique collection of basic French fashion (and ‘basic’ doesn’t mean ‘boring’, mind you) head to Galeries Lafayette. And don’t miss the stunning views of its glass dome and beautiful Art Nouveau architecture.
Head south and you’ll find one of the world’s first department stores (and the only one on the Left Bank), in the 7th arrondissement. Built around 1838, Le Bon Marché is an upscale retailer with stylish, higher-end offerings and a glorious food hall, La Grande Épicerie (a must-do for the hungry shopaholic).
Heading towards the heart of St-Germain des Prés and into the lively Latin Quarter, Boulevard Saint Germain is an eclectic mix of designer labels and bargain basement finds waiting to be loved (including vintage outlets where you buy items by weight). A kilo of must-have trends anyone?
And close to the edge of the 6th arrondissment, Sèvres-Babylone is a shopping mecca that offers a little bit of everything and will serve as a decidedly calmer alternative to the crazy crowds you’ll find elsewhere.
15th & 16th arrondissment
If you’re prepared to trek a bit of a way south-west (and possibly ditch the heels for a day), you’ll discover Reciproque, the largest consignment store in Paris. Basically a second-hand (vintage, darling!) establishment, it has a multitude of boutiques and almost 700 square metres of selling space. Discounts range between 20 and 80 percent and many of the luxury fashion items are in impeccable condition. Prepare to do a bit of rifling though!
And for a step-up the fashion chain, head down Rue Du Commerce. Often referred to as one of the best, hidden shopping streets in Paris, it offers a great mix of popular brand names and small boutiques that ooze the city’s charm. Perfect for those on a bit of a budget, brands range from H&M and Esprit to Kookaii and Gap.
For a delightful conclusion to your retail sojourn (or if you’ve finally over-stuffed that spare suitcase or just need some time-out from wallet pilfering), head to the Musée Galliera, a 19th century museum that houses over 100,000 pieces of clothing and accessories. As one of the richest collections in the world, it’s a fascinating reflection of some of the fashion trends that have defined France from the 18th century until the current day.
And finally, a bit of advice about Paris’ January sales. If you’re in the fashion know, you’ll be champing at the bit to book your overseas jaunt around this time. Sales traditionally kick off a retail frenzy that displays shoppers’ somewhat less ‘elegant’ behaviour than at other times of the year. Forget scrounging through bargain bins, many retailers offer top brands at a snip of the regular price. And don’t freak out if you’re not there for the stampedes, smart bargain-hunters practice a little patience and wait for the second wave of price slashing in February. Bring it on!