SHOPPING IN FRANCE (PARIS)
You don't have to buy anything to appreciate shopping in Paris -- just soak up the art form the French have made of rampant consumerism. Peer in the vitrines (display windows), absorb cutting-edge ideas, witness new trends, and take home with you a whole new education in style.
The Shopping Scene
For bargain cosmetics, try out French dime-store and drugstore brands like Bourjois (made in the Chanel factories), Lierac, and Galenic. Vichy, famous for its water, has a skin-care and makeup line. The newest retail trend in Paris is the parapharmacie, a type of discount drugstore loaded with inexpensive brands, health cures, beauty regimes, and diet plans. These usually offer a 20% discount.
Foodstuffs -- Nothing makes a better souvenir than a product of France brought home to savour later. Supermarkets are located in tourist neighbourhoods; stock up on coffee, designer chocolates, mustards (try Maille or Meaux brand), and perhaps American products in French packages for the kids.
Fun Fashion -- Sure you can buy couture or prÃÂªt-ÃÂ -porter (ready to wear), but French teens and trendsetters have their own stores where the latest looks are affordable. Even the dime stores in Paris sell designer copies. In the stalls in front of the department stores on boulevard Haussmann, you'll find some of the latest accessories, guaranteed for a week's worth of small talk once you get home.
Usual shop hours are Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm, but hours vary, and Monday mornings don't run at full throttle. Small shops sometimes close for a 2-hour lunch break and may not open at all until after lunch on Monday. Thursday is the best day for late-night shopping, with stores open to 9 or 10pm.
Sunday shopping is limited to tourist areas and flea markets, though there's growing demand for full-scale Sunday hours. The department stores are now open on the five Sundays before Christmas. The Carrousel du Louvre, a mall adjacent to the Louvre, is hopping on Sunday but closed on Monday. The tourist shops lining rue de Rivoli across from the Louvre are open on Sunday, as are the antiques villages, flea markets, and specialty events. Several food markets enliven the streets on Sunday. The Virgin Megastore on the Champs-ElysÃÂ©es, a big teen hangout, pays a fine to stay open on Sunday.
Popular Shopping Neighbourhoods
1st & 8th Arrondissements -- These two arrondissements adjoin each other and form the heart of Paris's best Right Bank shopping strip -- they're one big hunting ground. This area includes the rue du Faubourg St-HonorÃÂ©, where the big designer houses are, and the Champs-ElysÃÂ©es, with hot mass-market and teen scenes. At one end of the 1st is the Palais Royal, one of the best shopping secrets in Paris, where an arcade of boutiques flanks each side of the garden of the former palace.
Also here is av. Montaigne, Paris's most glamorous shopping street, boasting 2 blocks of ultrafancy shops, where you float from big name to big name and in a few hours can see everything from Dior to Caron. Av. Montaigne is also the address of Joseph, a British design firm, and Porthault, maker of the poshest sheets in the world.
2nd Arrondissement -- Right behind the Palais Royal is the Garment District (Sentier), as well as a few sophisticated shopping secrets, such as place des Victoires.
In the 19th century, this area became known for its passages, glass-enclosed shopping streets -- in fact, the world's first shopping malls. They were also the city's first buildings to be illuminated by gaslight. Many have been torn down, but a dozen or so have survived. Of them all, we prefer Passage den Grand Cerf, between 145 rue St-Denis and 10 rue Dussoubs (MÃÂ©tro: Bourse), lying a few blocks from the Beaubourg. It's a place of wonder, filled with everything from retro-chic boutiques and (increasingly) Asian-themed shops. What's exciting is to come upon a discovery, perhaps a postage-stamp-size shop with a special jeweler who creates unique products such as jewel-toned safety pins.
3rd & 4th Arrondissements -- The border between these two arrondissements gets fuzzy, especially around place des Vosges, centre stage of the Marais. The districts offer several dramatically different shopping experiences.
On the surface, the shopping includes the "real people stretch" (where all the nonmillionaires shop) of rue de Rivoli and rue St-Antoine, featuring everything from Gap and a branch of Marks & Spencer to local discount stores and mass merchants. A "real people" department store is in this area, BHV; there are also Les Halles and the Beaubourg neighbourhood, which is anchored by the Centre Pompidou.
Hidden in the Marais is a medieval warren of twisting streets chockablock with cutting-edge designers and up-to-the-minute fashions and trends. Start by walking around place des Vosges for galleries, designer shops, and special finds; then dive in and lose yourself in the area leading to the MusÃÂ©e Picasso.
Finally, the 4th is the home of the Bastille, an up-and-coming area for artists and galleries, where you'll find the newest entry on the retail scene, the Viaduc des Arts (which actually stretches into the 12th). It's a collection of about 30 stores occupying a series of narrow vaulted niches under what used to be railroad tracks. They run parallel to av. Daumesnil, centred around boulevard Diderot.
6th & 7th Arrondissements -- Though the 6th is one of the most famous shopping districts in Paris -- it's the soul of the Left Bank -- a lot of the good stuff is hidden in the zone that turns into the residential district of the 7th. Rue du Bac, stretching from the 6th to the 7th in a few blocks, stands for all that wealth and glamour can buy.
9th Arrondissements -- To add to the fun of shopping the Right Bank, the 9th sneaks in behind the 1st, so if you choose not to walk toward the Champs-ElysÃÂ©es and the 8th, you can head to the city's big department stores, all built in a row along boulevard Haussmann in the 9th. Department stores include not only the two big French icons, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, but also a large branch of Britain's Marks & Spencer.
Centres & Malls
Paris is rich in iron-and-glass galleries, the first "shopping malls" of the Western world, but some are a bit seedy. In our view, none has the charm of the Palais Royal. You can enter, among other choices, the arcades from the rue de Montpensier behind the ComÃÂ©die-FranÃÂ§aise.
You can spend a lovely afternoon following in the footsteps of former residents Colette or Jean Cocteau. The merchandise? Almost anything. As you wander, here's a sampling of what might await you: military medals, traditional lead-made French toy soldiers, vintage clothes from any number of fashionistas (perhaps creations of Patou or Balenciaga), silk vests, wooden toys, music boxes, accessories for women, bronze sculptures, china, cobalt glass, perfumes, antiques (mainly neoclassical), autographs of famous French celebrities, handcrafted shoes -- you name it.
Outdoor markets are plentiful in Paris. Some of the better known are the MarchÃÂ© Buci; the rue Mouffetard market, open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 1pm and Tuesday to Saturday from 4 to 7pm (6e; MÃÂ©tro: Monge or Censier-Daubenton); and the rue Montorgueil market, behind the St-Eustache church, open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 7pm (1er; MÃÂ©tro: Les Halles). The trendiest market is MarchÃÂ© Biologique, along boulevard Raspail, a tree-lined stretch lying between rue de Rennes and rue du Cherche-Midi, 6e. It's open Sunday 8:30am to 6:30pm (MÃÂ©tro: Montparnasse).
The Paris Art Market is "the place to go" on a Sunday. At the foot of Montparnasse Tower, this market is like an open-air gallery and has done much to restore the reputation of Montparnasse (14e) as a quartier for artists. Some 100 artists participate, including painters, sculptors, and photographers, even jewelers and hat makers. Head for the mall along the boulevard Edgar Quinet for the best work. Go any time on Sunday between 10am and 7:30pm (MÃÂ©tro: Montparnasse).
Designer Boutiques & Fashion Flagships
There are two primary fields of dreams in Paris when it comes to showcasing the international big names: rue du Faubourg St-HonorÃÂ© and av. Montaigne. Though the Left Bank is gaining in status, with recent additions like Dior, Armani, and Vuitton, the heart of the international designer parade is on the Right Bank.
Rue du Faubourg St-HonorÃÂ© is so famous and fancy, it's simply known as "the Faubourg." It was the traditional miracle mile until recent years, when the really exclusive shops shunned it for the wider and even more deluxe av. Montaigne at the other end of the arrondissement. (It's a long but pleasant walk from one fashion strip to the other.) Av. Montaigne is filled with almost unspeakably fancy shops, but a few of them have affordable cafes (try Joseph at no. 14), and all have sales help that's almost always cordial to the well dressed.
The mix is quite international -- from British (Joseph) to German (Jil Sander) to Italian (Krizia). Chanel, Lacroix, Porthault, Ricci, Dior, and Ungaro are a few of the big French names. Also check out some of the lesser-known creative powers. And don't miss a visit to Caron. Most of the designer shops sell men's and women's clothing. The Faubourg hosts other traditional favourites: HermÃÂ¨s; Lanvin; Jaeger; Rykiel; and the upstart FaÃÂ§onnable, which sells preppy men's clothing in the United States through a business deal with Nordstrom. Lanvin has its own men's shop (Lanvin Homme), which has a cafe that's perfect for a light (and affordable) lunch.