The Parisians not only take their food and wine seriously but also their shopping. Shopping in Paris is an art. Once you know a few secrets, Paris can the best place in the world to buy discounted designer items. Fashion online sometimes gives lot of discounts on designer and branded clothes.
I've also observed how the French shop. They buy quality rather than quantity. Two or three classic pieces each year, normally bought during their favourite shopping time "Les Soldes".
Twice a year, the French do some serious shopping. Summer Sales in August and Winter Sales in February. These are government controlled and while there's a lot of dissatisfaction among retailers about these restrictions, I believe it works well for consumers.
But what if you can't shop in sale time? You have several choices. Warehouses (entrepôt); second hand stores specialising in designer brands only (dépot-ventes) or private sales (held for a short specified period and online). If you are a Paris resident, ‘ventes privées' offer great bargains (see below for three of the best sites).
But back to retail shopping.
Not far from the popular rue de Rennes (home to the big brand ZARA, H&M & GAP) is rue Placide. For designer labels, head to ‘Mouton a Cinq Pattes' (Sheep with five Paws) This Parisian institution has every imaginable designer label on sale; although some items have been there so long they've made a comeback. They have three stores in this small street, which is a bit of a mystery. Lots of bargain bins to search deep and wide while I can't guarantee a ‘Hermes Scarf' you may find a Louis Vuitton or a Chanel, lots of Gucci belts and other surprises.
Word of warning; finding your size can be disappointing. Anything under a European 40 or US 10 should be fine with skirts, shirts and little tees. Anything over might be limited to their choice of jackets, coats (fur and leather) and other accessories. I guess there's some truth in ‘French women don't get fat'.
In the same street you will find the outlets for Carroll and ETAM which offer good classic work suits and tops as well as numerous children's boutiques and shoe shops. It's a small street and well worth the detour. At the end of the street, it's back to luxury shopping at the Bon Marche or a spot of lunch in their recently renovated "Le Grande Epicerie Paris'.
At the opposite end of town is rue D'Alésia. My Parisian friends tell me they don't shop there as it's just not chic enough but I don't believe them. Its only a short metro ride away from high street shopping and well worth a visit, particularly if you like Cacharel and Sonia Rykiel. There are lots of small stores stocking Armani, Dolce & Gabbanna, American Retro and numerous French labels. It's quite a long street so you could easily spend a full day shopping there.
At Cacharel I couldn't resist a hip length woollen jacket, with a rabbit-fur lapel (Ř660 reduced to Ř120) and a frilly, high-neck silk blouse (reduced from Ř320 to Ř90). There's also a great selection of clothes for children; girls' embroidered cardigans at Ř30, boys suits from Ř100 as well as lots of cashmere twin sets around Ř80-120. The ground floor is dedicated to Monsieur: Suits, shirts and sweaters at great prices.
Also impressive are the two Sonia Rykiel stores. As France's queen of ‘knits' you can be assured of quality and there's plenty of her trademark bright coloured wool tops and skirts for under Ř100. Both stores had last winter's stock greatly reduced and some new season items, albeit some with flaws. The larger of the SR stores has a section dedicated to the under 2s. You can image how cute this is.
Lastly, shoes, glorious shoes. Head to rue Meslay; the entire street is dedicated to our ‘pieds'. I would recommend going straight to No 13. This store specialises in Charles Jourdan (should have more stock after the liquidation) Valentino and Langerfeld. Prices range between Ř80-200 and there's lot of classic styles and colours.
Afterwards, there are over 50 stores to browse. Many offer ‘copy' designs in Chanel and Prada but the quality often matches the prices. I saw lots of the Italian brand Superga from Ř25, Converse and Todds. When I visited in winter there was an extensive range of leather boots from Ř150.
To diverge a little, minutes away from rue Mesley is the rue Temple. This district is famous for its wholesale jewellery supplies: Beads, chains, tools as well as costume jewellery. It's a great street as there's always a frenzy of activity. Retailers bargaining with wholesalers. Large garbage bags of costume jewellery being dragged back to the 5th and ready for a mark-ups of 70-100%. These stores usually only sell to retailers but you are free to wonder around and you can always ask if you see something you like. If you can buy in quantities, they will almost certainly turn a blind eye in demanding the necessary retail registration details. I've never had problems buying semi-precious stones and chains.
Now, back to shoes, for all fans of the ‘stiletto'. I am going to recommend a store on the outskirts of Paris, "Mini-Prix'. It look more like a 7/11 but you will find designs by Jill Sanders, Ralph Lauren, Blackberry Neal Alexandra, Patrick Cox and Gianfranco Ferre - sorry no Manolo Blahnik - all for less than Ř200.
Surprisingly, some new season stock. They also have a small range of designer label handbags but I wasn't too impressed with the collection. It's not far from the Porte de Versailles, the major trade exhibition hall in Paris. There's really nothing else in this area, a couple of stores promoting clothes, but not a great collection. However if you like heels, you'll love this place.
Of course, this is only a tiny selection of the many places in Paris. Everyone has their favourite and I'll certainly be back to Cacharel when time and budget permit
Creator of a new website allowing travellers to create their own itinerary of events, locals restaurants, shopping and beauty tips and ideas for travelling with children in Paris, London and Loire Valley. The author is a former Public Relations consultant in Australia but now living in France.
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