Insight Guide: Paris

Travel Books: France

A portrait of a romantic, spellbinding capital which some Parisians seem to believe holds a monopoly on thinking, talking and philosophising.


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Shopping around in Paris

“All that remained was the sense of an enormous Paris – one so enormous that it would always have enough to provide for shoppers” – Emile Zola

In the capital of chic, even window-shopping is a more sensuous experience than elsewhere. The French call it léche-vitrines, literally “window-licking” and despite the city dwellers’ Metro-boulot-dodo (commute, work, sleep) idiom, Parisians still find time for “le shopping slow.”

Dripping with designer style, from monumental boulevards to manicured parks, from minimalist bedrooms to monogrammed boxer shorts (even Bohemianism is cultivated rather than simple born), Paris is the market leader in all that is tasteful, with tourist tackiness restricted to Eiffel Tower statuettes, Mona Lisa socks and rubber can-can dancers. As Coco Chanel said of her city, “Fashions come and go but style survives.”

The French benchmarks are quality and authenticity: la marque, la griffe – the label, the stamp of authenticity and status. Certainly, snob appeal is part of the picture. As a rule, Parisians err on the side of conservatism, choosing a single classic item in preference to several less expensive options. This sense of conservative chic and innate good taste extends to the home. America invented the `total designer look’ from co-ordinated bathrobes to bed linen and crockery, but France does it more stylishly.

Paris à la carte – by quarters

Luxury goods are a potent Parisian cultural symbol and are what the French do best. Such was the renown of Cartier in the 1930s that American designer Elsie de Wolfe dyed her hair blue at the age of 70 to match her new aquamarine tiara.

Perfumes, belts, bags, leather goods and fashionable clothes make sensible Parisian purchases. By the same token, seek out gourmet goodies such as chocolate, truffles or foie gras. Equally tempting are the quirky or classical objets d’art, from crystal and ceramics to prints and paintings. Although potential gifts are scattered throughout the arrondissements, there are geographical distinctions. The Right Bank, being the province of commerce and luxury, is the obvious area to shop for luxuries and status symbols, while the Left Bank, with a spirit of culture, education and the arts, has an artistic soul and pocket. Haute Couture is concentrated on Rue  du Faubourg St-Honore and Avenue Montaigne.  As the consummate shopping experience, stray no further than St-Germain-des-Pres  quarter, a gorgeous patchwork of galleries, bookshops, chic boutiques and twee tearooms. Even non-shoppers will be converted, or at least find  a cafe suitable for  amember of the shopaphobic intelligentsia.

Extract from The Insight Guide to Paris by Lisa Gerard-Sharp (copyright © APA Publications (UK) Ltd)
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