Paris is a magnet for the starving artists and the well-heeled fashionistas; there’s blight and there’s beauty and, most of the time, there’s beauty in blight. Even shopping malls become gorgeous historic monuments to the golden belle epoch, or art nouveau, or art deco; the concept stores are post-modern projections of an untold but no less stunning future. It’s Paris, and Paris is both highbrow and lowbrow, with the firm, age old understanding that everybody is an aesthete and everybody is smoking – and for everyone else, there’s the megaplex Gap on the Champs-Élysées. See? There is something for everyone. Whether you’re in the market for haute couture, vintage rock star finds, antiques, a good bargain, or just inspiration, you’ll be sure to find it in the city of lights.
The Louvre-Tuileries area is the Paris on film, bordered by the Seine River to the south and the Bourse (old Stock Exchange) and Grands Boulevards to the north. The skyline is contoured by the majestic Egyptian Obelisk grazing the sky, the internationally and historically renowned Musée du Louvre and the sprawling Tuileries Gardens. Such unguarded beauty and art makes its way through the streets. Down the Rue Saint-Honoré, window shoppers, high rollers and fashionistas find themselves in an inspirational haven of exclusive Parisian couture industry houses, concept stores and the flagship boutiques of some major labels. Colette, one concept store, looks more like a gallery than a shop, hawking streetwear, luxury ready-to-wear, accessories, watches, cell phones, limited edition art, design books and coffee table-ready magazines. The basement in Colette houses a water bar, which sells international bottles as well as super-trendy candy and snacks. Want to bag a deal on St. Honoré? B. Biberon & Fils is a trendy purse store that specializes in unique and colorful designs from relatively unknown designers, making each purchase memorable, unique and affordable.
One-stop shopping outside of the local Monoprix can certainly be found down the broad, tree-lined Boulevard Haussmann, which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte. This 2.5-kilometer stretch opens up to beautiful stone uniform apartments with window boxes (Marcel Proust once lived on this auspicious street) on top of department store after historic department store. Galeries Lafayette is every shopper’s Christmas dream: a golden temple that has held its location since 1896, decked out with a glass and steel dome and Art Nouveau staircases with seven floors of upmarket men’s and women’s apparel and a home decor section. Arrange a visit for Friday at 3 pm, where professional models strut under the Lafayette Dome, modeling the latest designer collections for their free weekly fashion show. Au Printemps, located just down the street, is utterly unmissable: it’s a totally Art Nouveau-style edifice with nature motifs and sculptures of Grecian demi-goddesses. Its history is one with the history of retail shopping itself: they were the first retail store that used electric lighting in 1988, they scaled their prices to that of the local economy, so middle-class patrons could afford quality goods. Visitors now can admire the graceful stained glass cupola atop the main restaurant, installed in 1923. Talk about timeless style!
Le Marais is a historic district in Paris across some parts of the Right Bank, where art galleries abound along with a growing gay community. The shopping is diverse and always on trend, from vintage to upmarket design pieces. Merci, located in upper Marais, is a large concept store bonding the world of independent fashion designers, design, and household goods that seeks to bring attention to young designers from France to the international market. It’s also huge and immaculately designed. For the complete opposite, vintage stores like Vintage Désir and Free P Star are large spaces crammed with racks and racks of cheap, unique fabrics. One could purchase an entire outfit and then some in these cluttered stores with the money spent on a designer item from a boutique store. For a really unique stroll around Medieval streets loaded with trendy boutiques, bakeries, clubs and cafés, check out the unmissable Le Marais district.
The Champs-Elysées neighborhood is one of those nice-work-if-you-can-get-it places, because the average upper-middle-class shopper will be hard pressed to find affordable garments. However, just strolling around the gorgeous stone buildings, elaborately designed windows and instantly-recognizable names is an intoxicating experience. Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi and Valentino all call the prestigious Avenue Montaigne home, while closer to the looming Arc de Triomphe, tourists queue around the corner for a picture-perfect box of macarons and other pastries from the world-famous Maison Ladurée. For every-day makeup fanatics, there’s the giant flagship Séphora store (yes: in France, there’s an accent aigu in Séphora); while high rolling aesthetes can pick up a pretty keepsake from Guerlain. Backpackers with an eye for style will find dream parkas and boots at Aigle, while everyone else will probably be able to find something in continental Europe’s largest Gap store, because, y’know, banalisation makes the world economy go round.
The best thing about Paris is that it doesn’t need to be expensive to be beautiful. In certain areas all over the city are huge collections of stalls, vendors and a vast range of eclectic items. Collectors of old books will be thrilled to find the Marché du livre ancien et d’occasion, a weekly open air book fair with rows of tables loaded with beautiful leather bound texts and other types of used books in both French and English at better prices than most competing bookstores. Outdoor shoppers can also make their way to the edge of the city to Clignancourt, where one of the largest open air markets in the world opens up with thousands of antique and bric-a-brac stalls, ready for some hardcore haggling. The Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen is a labyrinthine trip, full of winding corners and flapping curtains behind which unveil other worlds of unique and eccentric collections of items, so visitors are recommended to find a distinct meeting spot and to watch their bags from pickpockets. Find Art Nouveau display pieces, old postcards, rugs, classic Provençal cookware, perfume decanters, books, art deco furniture and more in this sprawling open-air market. Other flea markets include Puce de Vanves , Marche d’Aligre (for food, produce and regional snacks), and Puces de Montreuil (for furs and other eclectic gifts).