Style, taste, elegance, chic, glamour, quality, originality, the classic cut, the perfect fit, le look francais, that petit je ne sais quoi – these are the things that bring shoppers from all over the world to Paris.
The exclusive boutiques of Faubourg St Honore and Avenue Montaigne are the province of the mega-rich. Still, there’s great sport here for ordinary folk in “la leche vitrine” – window shopping (literally, licking the windows!) or in watching poodle and parcel-toting chauffeurs trail superstars, princesses and demi-godesses from limousine to boutique and back again.
Better suited to mere mortals, but still elegantly displaying the expensive but attainable treasures we covet, are the boutiques of Rue Etienne Marcel and La Place des Victoires in the Premier Arondissement, or St Germain des Pres in the Cinquieme.
Better still are Les Grands Magasins or department stores. As the name suggests they are grand, in both the English and the French sense of the word. They are also chic, provide a glamorous ambience and offer everything from designer clothing to kitchen wares. On Boulevard Haussman are Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette, with its beautiful glass dome and tiers of shopping galeries which have been the inspiration for some the new world’s great stores. Bon Marche, over on the left bank is another beautiful, old Grand Magasin, with exquisite wrought iron elevator cages, curving staircases and luxurious powder rooms.
Then again, there’s Les Halles, under the site of the old Paris fruit and vege market of the same name. It is a subterranean maze of hallways, corridors, with a few French designer boutiques but mainly shops crammed with European and global labels, as well as those “throwaways” found the world over. Fast, loud and hectic, this is the place for the dedicated bargain hunter and the shopper with stamina and perseverance.
The real Paris bargains and indeed treasures, lie in the markets. Most quartiers have their weekly market, mainly selling produce but also clothing, shoes, jewellery, leathergoods and even homewares, some very good and all “une vraie affaire”. The most famous and the best, however of the Paris markets is Le Marche aux Puces, or flea market, at Saint Ouen, which dates back to 1870 and is now classified as a “protected zone of urban, architectural and landscape heritage”. In its complex of thirteen covered markets, you can find everything from antiques, to bric a brac, to clothes and yes, it’s here that you’ll find that je ne sais quoi, that unexpected treasure meant just for you.