Paris is a city of neighborhoods, or quartiers. Every quartier has its own distinct charm. I stay in the 6th or 7th arrondissements. Shopping in Paris has a different flavor than shopping in New York or any other city. The individual shops in this area have their own distinctive viewpoints. There is not much sense to the way the streets run, and the shops tend to be very small, even the boutiques of the major brands are much more intimate and less cookie cutter.
Walking out of my hotel to see what’s new in store takes me past historic architecture and intriguing buildings. The beautiful 18th c Fontaine des Quatres Saisons is on the rue de Grenelle, next to the Musee Maillol, and it’s the first thing I see after crossing the rue du Bac. Not a bad way to start the day.
Paris is full of all sorts of things that you can’t find in New York. Fabiano is a case in point. The Italian boutique is a store for showcasing the written word. Need a small colorful leather bound book to hold all your passwords? Take your choice of 6 or so colors. Leather cases for colored pencils, folios, briefcases, pens, pencils, briefcases, journals and much more line the shelves. Shop local takes on a new meaning here.
Around the corner, in the distinctive 1927 building that used to house the Communist Party headquarters, is the Celine store, with its pricey, haute bourgeois fall collection. Miu-Miu and Hermès were previous occupants of the same space. On these streets big brands and small businesses adapt to different kinds of space, with often interesting pasts.
Should you not want to spend a fortune at Celine, take a look in Ami. Alexandra Mattiussi offers his chic suitings and city clothes at about a quarter of the price. Well made and stylishly displayed.
And just down the street is the Paris outpost of the British designer Paul Smith. There are hundreds of small elegant stores all over these neighborhoods. Online shopping exists in France, but not to the extent that it does in the US because the delivery systems provided by companies like UPS and Fedex mostly don’t exist.
Victoire has separate boutiques for men and women. Chic and relaxed clothing fills the store.
A few blocks away is the Maison Kitsune shop for men and women. A Japanese take on BCBG French dressing does classics with a twist.
Stores are hidden around corners on the small streets.
A droguerie is French for a general store. I love them. The shop on the rue du Cherche-Midi is one-of-a-kind. It has electrical appliances, seeds, closet and kitchen supplies, pans and plates, glasses and linens as well as baskets and small suitcases, sewing supplies, nails and hooks. In other words just about anything you might need for day to day living, as well as many things you don’t need but end up buying. The shopping here is more fun and real than simply ordering online.
Nearby is a big boutique that carries many French and Italian brands. The store has the old Sentier, or Parisienne garment center atmosphere of stuffing as much as possible in everywhere. American brands are available at Brand Bazaar too.
Kids also have so many choices as to where to shop. From extremely proper to pure attitude. Milk on The Rocks is a French brand that serves up imagination with their clothes.
Nearby is the Bon Marche, a very branche department store on the left bank. When I was there they were celebrating punk the French way. Rabbits with Mohawks sitting near pricey scents and candles might not be authentically punk, but the store features a lot of product with humor.
Bon Marche also has a huge selection of designer and contemporary clothing for men and women. Their selection of Balenciaga is a tamer curated choice, more suited to their local customers.
Across the street is a second Bon Marche. Le Grand Epicerie on the ground floor holds a slew of food delicacies, and upstairs is two stories of home and lifestyle goodies.
Just up the block is the new Hermès boutique. They moved from the old party headquarters to a building that used to house a local swimming pool. Hence the soaring ceilings and creative displays. In Paris you adapt creatively.
“Which way do I go now” is a question that I often have to ask myself. I am not lost. I just can’t decide which stores I want to visit.
Deyrolle, the natural history emporium, used to be somewhat more forbidding. Home to iconic taxidermy, it burnt to a crisp in 2008. The French government and the city of Paris joined hands in helping to raise money for the rebuilding of the store. Christie’s held an auction of donated artworks (sans commissions) to support the project. It was rebuilt slowly by its owner the Prince de Broglie. The amazing selection of creatures of the land and sea is upstairs. About 90% of the pieces were destroyed by the fire, but the stock has been replaced. Some pieces were donated back to the store by its customers. On the ground floor is a collection of designer gardening tools and accessories from le Prince Jardinier, a line created by M. de Broglie. It’s been a Paris must see and shop for generations.
Fairmont is a neighborhood go-to shop. Reasonably priced drivers, loafers, moccasins and booties come in a ton of colors. They will even ship to the USA if you happen to have become addicted.
I love this part of Paris as it is full of design stores both ancient and extremely modern. Near the Seine is the Carre des Antiquaires. Spread over a dozen or so blocks, are dealers dealers displaying odd and rare pieces. Design and home goods shops dot the area too. Casa Lopez sells an array of novelty rugs and other home accessories like lamps, dishes and glasses. You can order semi custom rugs mixing their patterns with your ideas.
Siecle is a very small boutique that is full of simply chic objects for the table and home.
Compagnie Francaise de’lOrient et de la Chine sells furniture, lighting and decorative pieces that radiate good taste. It is owned and designed by Parisians, and crafted in Asia respecting its crafts people and the environment.
There are small shops selling vintage and antique china, crystal and silver. Hotel particulier living can be easily be yours.
A few steps down the rue du Bac takes you to the R&Y Augousti boutique. The modern sculptural pieces made from shagreen and metal. Pick up some accessories or order custom made pieces to fit your home. The pieces are made in their factories in the Phillipines and can be shipped to the States.
Take a deep breath and smell the cheese in Barthelemy from half way down the block. Normally it’s packed with customers. Why not join them, and take some away or take some home. Every quartier has its specialists. That’s Paris.
In this neighborhood, even the fruits and vegetables are displayed to artistically.
This trip to Paris is too short, as usual. It’s now time to head over to the Right Bank.
Located near the Palais Royale, Verlet is always on my must stop shops list. Verlet has been selling its coffees and teas since 1880. The shop and tearoom space were recently renovated and expanded. They roast their coffees and make delicious blends. Spices, peppers, dried fruits, candies and cookies are also for sale. The tearoom is perfect for a quick and interesting lunch.
It’s just as nice to sit or dine in the garden of the Palais Royale. The galleries that run up the sides are full of boutiques. Stella McCartney, Pierre Hardy, Rick Owens, Didier Ludot vintage, Acne, Serge Lutens, and many others have shops. Joyce Hong Kong also has a gallery that shows art and clothing.
Gabrielle Gepert is another store that sells less expensive vintage. There are also jewelry and home shops among the restaurants and cafes that line the garden.
Head over to the Marais next. This is where the French aristocracy and wealthy bourgeois lived before they built the 6th and 7th. Grand buildings remained, and some fell into decay. The area was gentrified several decades ago, and it now hums with shops and shoppers. Jil Sander just opened a new boutique on the rue Malher. The brand has a pair of new designers who have brought it back from the edge. The clothes for men and women are chic and clean.
The Marais is full of eclectic boutiques filled with accessories. This one specializes in jewelry.
Close by is the huge branch of L’Eclaireur. The store has room after room filled with the best Paris has to offer for men and women. Gucci, Balenciaga, and Oscar de la Renta and Off-White. Alexandre McQueen to Zimmerman. As well as a collection for the home that includes vintage and new Fornasetti and other modernist designers.
Comptoir de l’Image looks deceiving. It looks a mess. But crammed into its tiny space are some of the best and most collectible photography and fashion tomes ever printed. Vintage fashion and style magazines are stacked high. It’s a well known shopping spot for fashion lovers and insiders around the world.
But is was soon time to head south to Bordeaux and then to the Bassin of Arcachon about an hour to the west. It is a huge bay surrounded by a town and many villages, and is connected to the Atlantic Ocean. The waters ebb and flow with the tides. It is home to 60% of the oysters raised in France. I made it for dinner under a full moon in Cap Ferret, a chic village on the peninsula to the north. The Dune of Pilat and Pyla sit on the other side of the Bassin.
The Dune is the largest in Europe, at 1 3/4 miles long and about 600-800 feet high (it varies all the time as it moves.). The air and water are clean, clear and full of salt air. Cap Ferret is on the other side of the channel. The village of Pyla is nestled in the pine trees below the Dune. The little ant-like specks in the sand are people hiking further down the dune.
Shopping in France is often defined by its markets. Paris has many, and so do villages around the country. Cap Ferret’s market is both indoor and outdoor. Clothing and decor are located in a large square above the water. Straw lampshades, tables, baskets and rugs from North Africa offer gypsy resort style.
Several of the stalls offer older haute flea market pieces.
And as it is France, of course there are books. Books on art and design, children’s books and more. The clothing is casual resort wear for men, women and children. There are stalls for sandals and shoes too.
A large building is full of food vendors. Bakeries, butchers, cheese, fruits and veggies and more. Since it is on the Bassin you can get absolutely fresh oysters. Try them with some pepper and pate, the way the locals do. A counter around the corner sells plates of oysters and glasses of wine in case you want to dine on the spot. Everyone brings their dogs. It’s France.
The selection of ultra-fresh fish, crabs, shrimps and sea life.
There are calm beaches on the Arcachon/Pyla side of the Bassin. Beach clubs with restaurants serve meals beach side during the season.
There are also clothing stores on both sides of the Bassin. Cap Ferret and villages to the south attract surfers. There are stores that cater to them at many price points.
Pyla has a few restaurants and many real estate agents. There is a big pier in the village of le Moulleau. An allèe that extends up from the pier is full of shops and restaurants. Preppy chic reigns.
The shops sell clothing and relaxed home decor.
Life around the Bassin is extremely casual. The boutiques in le Moulleau and Cap Ferret have looks that go from prepster to boho, with surf and boating gear in between. Life is lived on and around the water.
At the edge of Pyla lies the Dune and its pristine beach. And yes, those tiny specs are people.
To truly enjoy the Bassin, experience it by boat. Whether you want to sail or choose to rent a pinasse, the gondola of the Bassin, join the locals and bliss out on the sea. Late summer early fall is the perfect time to go. The August crowds are gone, and the days are sunny and warm.