Putting the best of Paris into one list is an impossible task; it seems that every store I visit is the best in Paris. Every magazine has pictures of merchandise I must own because, surely, it is the best in Paris. Now that I spend several months a year here, I run around with a notebook in my handbag so that I can write down my latest finds to share with my readers. The notebook is bigger than the actual Suzy Gershman's Born to Shop Paris.
With that in mind, the selections below have been chosen for people in an incredible hurry, who have no time for leisurely strolling and shopping. If you have more time, you owe yourself the luxury of checking out the finds described elsewhere in my book. However, if you must hit and run, I hope these choices will be rewarding.
Best Specialty Perfume Shop
142 galerie de Valois, Jardin du Palais Royal, 1er (Métro: Palais-Royal)
This tiny shop, with high ceilings and royal purple decor, is the showcase of makeup genius Serge Lutens. He used to create makeup for Christian Dior and has now been with Shiseido for decades. His perfumes are also divine; even if you buy nothing, just look around and breathe deeply. The Jardin du Palais Royal is another terrific shopping experience, so check it out while you're here. Plan to spend several hours in this little piece of hidden Paris, a shopping heaven.
Best Duty-Free Perfume Shop
7 rue Castiglione, 1er (Métro: Tuileries or Concorde)
This small, intimate shop is family-run and can get crowded because it's very popular (good news travels fast). Catherine has an excellent selection of scents and specializes in hard-to-find perfumes. The salespeople will also help you to choose a new fragrance based on your skin type and lifestyle, or they'll help you pick a fragrance for a gift. There are also makeup and beauty goods by Chanel, Dior, Lancôme, and Sisley -- which are the steal of the century at French prices. Also note the excellent handbags, watches, and souvenirs.
Best Mass-Market Perfume Shop
70 av. des Champs-Elysées, 8e (Métro: Franklin D. Roosevelt)
I don't care if you have Sephora at your local mall. The French stores are different, partly because Sephora is a large French chain and the flagship is right smack on the Champs-Elysées. This branch is even open on Sunday. Everything in the large shop is color-coordinated. Fragrances have their own section, with scads of testers and lots of scent strips. There's far more than perfume; in fact, you're better off not buying perfume here, since you'll get a better price from a discounter or duty-free shop. Sephora is good for bath and beauty products (an enormous selection, including its own line of shampoos and body lotions, makeup, and hair accessories).
This is a great place for girls, preteens, and women of all ages. The inexpensive sample-size products make fabulous gifts. You'll also find books, a mix-your-own perfume counter, and a computer to teach you everything you need (or want) to know. There's also a good détaxe rebate here (14%).
Best Store for Teenage Girls
Etam, Cite de la Femme
73 rue de Rivoli, 1er (Métro: Pont Neuf)
An entire department store of style: fashion, beauty, even home touches and a cafe. It occupies a makeover of one of La Samaritaine's landmark buildings.
44 av. Etienne Marcel, 1er (Métro: Etienne Marcel)
Gas has been around for years: It's a teeny-tiny jewelry shop that sells colorful, creative whimsies. Now, Mr. Gas has added a clothing store next door that's funky, exotic and hip. Large sizes need not apply.
Best Arts & Crafts
55 rue St-Placide, 6e (Métro: St-Placide)
If you think Arts and Crafts is a design period, you are not a do-it-yourself (DIY) kind of person. The crafty ones will fall into fits of glee when they step inside Crea.
Best One-Trick Ponies
The trick is the very French look of black and white teamed together for casual or dress-up. Both of these brands sell only white or black shirts, blouses, and tops.
64 rue des Sts-Pères, 6e (Métro: Sèvres-Babylone) 50 rue Etienne Marcel, 2e (Métro: Etienne Marcel) 12 rue Francs-Bourgeois, 3e (Métro: St-Paul)
Ms. Anne has shops all over town and boutiques in the major department stores. She sells only two things: white blouses and black blouses. She also has shops in select U.S. cities and an outlet store at La Vallée.
8 rue Francs-Bourgeois, 3e (Métro: St-Paul)
Rayure is not as expensive as Anne Fontaine, and doesn't have as many stores (though the line is also sold in department stores). It carries more white shirts than black, but is competitive with Anne Fontaine in terms of styling.
Best New Department Store
35 bd. Haussmann, 9e (Métro: Opéra or Havre Caumartin)
You don't come across many new department stores anywhere in the world, so it's a great pleasure to welcome Lafayette Maison, in the space once occupied by Marks & Spencer, right across the street from the flagship Galeries Lafayette. This home store offers five floors of home style -- I think the most interesting ones are the ground floor, which resembles a snazzy Target, and the lower level, for cooking demos.
Best New Retail Block
Get a look at the corner of boulevard Malesherbes and rue Royale -- not the part that indents, but the real street part at the beginning of Malesherbes, in the 8e. Here you'll find three totally new buildings filled with wonderful things to see, sniff and touch. The stores are Sia (home style), Résonances (gifts and novelties) and Shiseido (the Japanese beauty maven). The whole new energy that's come to this corner of Paris makes you think that U.S. marketing concepts can work on other shores. (Métro: Madeleine or Concorde.)
Best Ethnic Fashion Store
4 rue Caumartin, 9e (Métro: Havre Caumartin)
Lest you forget that many parts of the U.S. were once French colonies, note that numerous stores throughout Paris reflect French roots in other parts of the world. Mia Zia sells clothes and home style with a touch of North Africa, which makes them great for resort wear without being costume-y. (tel. 01-44-51-94-45; www.miazia.com)
Most Hyped Old Store in Paris
233 rue St-Honoré, 1er (Métro: Tuileries)
Older than Louis Vuitton, Groyard has long been the insider's preferred brand of luggage, steamer trunks, and travel gear. It, too, has a specific logo, but unlike Vuitton, it has remained a hidden source. Few people even knew of its store right behind the Hotel Meurice and near the famed boutique Colette. Although Groyard was first known for its luggage, the company now suddenly makes the must-have handbag or tote bag of the decade.
The venerable firm was bought in 1998 and old traditions were maintained while a new design team moved in. Suddenly, a small gimmick has been added and the skies turn bright, the sun shines, the band plays, and the waiting list is 6 months long. All that Groyard has done is to offer its regular pattern in bright colors, along with the additional service of monogramming its canvas in contrasting hues. You can also get a crown emblazoned. The result is so hot that you not only have to fork over a movie star's ransom, but you also must wait a long time. But, honey, ooh-la-la.
Insider's tip: Buy your bag in France, but have the monogram or printing done in the U.S. where the waiting list is only 3 months long. The line is sold at Bergdorf's and Neiman-Marcus; free-standing stores are opening in the U.S., including a new one just opened on Union Square in San Francisco. Expect to pay over 1,000€ ($1,300) for the tote bag and another 350€ ($450) for the monogram.
Note: This was excerpted from Suzy Gershman's Born to Shop Paris, 11th Edition. Suzy is currently hard at work on Where to Buy The Best of Everything: A Guide for Online Shoppers & World Travelers, available September 2007. To hear our latest podcast interview with Suzy, click here.
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