After my recent post about Paris, I received a few requests from readers for tips in navigating the City of Lights from a shopping perspective of a newbie. So when I had a free day to pop into the city for its annual winter sales (unlike the US when sales abound year round, European countries follow a preset period of time for winter and summer sales), I thought I’d try to document my trip with some helpful hints. Even if you are a seasoned shopper, I hope you’ll still come along for the ride and enjoy the photos!
So my day began with a nonstop train ride from Belgium to Paris du Nord on Thalys. If you have to train it into Paris, I would splurge a few euros more for an assigned seat in first class. Free wifi, reading materials, and a warm breakfast make a good combination to start a very early and long day…
Funnily enough, an article in the Financial Times features a photo of Christine Lagarde–a woman I wish to be when I grow up–in a Chanel dress (!)…
from the Paris Byzance collection (photo courtesy of Style.com):
I know, if my memory bank weren’t wasted on (useless) information like that I would know Mandarin by now. I’ll just take this as a good sign of things I may find on sale in Paris! But anyway, as I was saying… a few hours later with emails responded and what not, I arrive at the Paris du Nord station. As soon as I get off the platform,
I join the masses downstairs as they zoom around for other modes of local transportation. Down here is where you can find an information desk or machine to buy your metro pass:
There are numerous options depending on the duration of your stay. As I’m only here for the day, I opt for the Mobilis Pass which allows unlimited metro rides within specific zones of the city. My shopping destinations are all within central Paris and covered by the least expensive ticket (6,80euros) for Zones 1-2:
Just don’t lose your ticket! If you are here for consecutive days, you can also get the Paris Visite card. Check this online before your trip so that you don’t get flustered once you are at the station. The last thing you want to look like at a busy train station is a lost tourist. Preparedness, in my opinion, is a good way to counter pickpockets. Especially at the large stations, the people behind the ticket counter do speak good English and are very helpful in pointing you in the right direction.
Paris has one of the most efficient subway systems in the world so do not let its many (helpfully color-coded on maps) lines intimidate you. The entire metro system is available on-line for you to preview especially if you are not proficient with public transportation, and you can always ask for a metro map at your hotel or at the stations.
A helpful tip is also to make a list of places you intend to visit then use Google to map your itinerary either via subway or on foot. Google even tells you which exit (sortie) from the Metro to use:
I get lost leaving my front door so trust me when I tell you that if I cannot get lost in Paris (albeit with some homework done prior to my visit), you will also not get lost. And when I finally get above ground, breathing a huge sigh of relief,
I look for a large landmark to center my whole day. For me and Paris, it’s always been the magnificent Madeleine,
notably because it is near both the Chanel and Hermès motherships,
or the grand Opéra (Palais Garnier) because it is near the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores:
The Madeleine and Opera metro stops are within walking distance to each other, and since they are well known stops, if I ever get lost I can always find someone who can tell me which line to take to get back to either stop to get myself back on track.
So those are some very basic tips in managing Paris, and as big of a city as it seems, if you have a good visual of how the city is laid out, you can get to all the shopping/tourist hot spots with very little trouble. On this particular day, I begin at the Madeleine because I am a creature of habit. Before the stores are open I like to have a tea (and sweet) here…
to warm myself up before facing the traffic, and by traffic I mean other fiercely competitive tourist shoppers,…
to make my pilgrimage here–BTW, if you are a fan of Hermès, I have a special treat for you in the next post!–
But before I cross the street, I make a final sweep of my surroundings. See the Madeleine? If I get all turned around, I just have to be sure I get back here and I’ll be fine:
After my visit at H,
it’s a whirlwind of fashion fantasy…
including no less than five Chanel boutiques within a square mile:
Paris is a wonderful walking city, so be sure to take your time and enjoy all the creative visuals along the way:
Unfortunately I strike out at every single store. It’s only the second day of sales but there are slim pickings left in my size. RTW and accessories are 30% off retail for current season items and 50% off older collections at Chanel. There are no miracles chez Hermès, and I pass on the bags they do offer to me since I do not want to settle just for the sake of buying Hermès. It is now after 1pm and I’ve not bought a single item. I wonder if I should press forward or spend the rest of my afternoon at the Cartier exhibit at the Grand Palais. Like a glutton for punishment I press onward to the Chanel boutique at Galeries Lafayette, which turns up nothing again,
but I finally find a few options a few doors down at Printemps:
None of the above items come home with me for one reason or another but I do not leave empty-handed:
I’m quite happy I manage to exercise some restraint because from Printemps I still have to trek to the other H boutique at George V,
where I also strike out. From here I walk over to the Champs-Élysées, take a quick break at Starbucks, and rush toward Chanel on Avenue Montaigne as the sun begins to set. This boutique is actually my favorite one; I love it even more than the flagship on Rue Cambon. If I have to describe to someone how my mind’s eye interprets “Parisian style,” I would just tell them to walk around this particular store. I am never disappointed by the inventory here. It is here that I finally, finally see the dress from the Paris Bombay collection (circa 2012) in person, dripping with pearls:
I weep in my head because it is a work of art, because it is as stunning as I always imagined it to be, and because even on sale it is 17,000 euros. Yes, with three zeros after the 17. I want to try it on anyway because it’s probably the only time I’ll ever get to put it on without owning it, but I must pass because I am running out of time and because temptations like these can only lead to disaster. If I loiter too long here in fantasy land, my ride will turn into a pumpkin.
It’s a relatively quick jump from Ave Montaigne to the Gare du Nord, but at rush hour it takes me three tries before I can squeeze myself on to the packed subway. I make it just in time to catch my train back to Belgium:
So, that’s basically my nutshell of a Paris break, in under 24 hours. If you are efficient (and walk fast), you can cover a lot of shopping ground in one day. In between all the above highlights I do manage to hit quite a few other boutiques, including Prada, Saint Laurent, Uniqlo, COS, etc. I can’t say I’m disappointed that I didn’t find anything at H since I had very low expectations going in. I also can’t say I found enough to warrant coming back to Paris during sale season again.
The maddening crowds and lack of inventory in my size do not equate a worthwhile shopping expedition. But honestly, does there ever have to be a good excuse or reason to be in Paris?
I’d go just for a good baguette :D.
PS: yes, dear readers, those of you with a good memory will note that those ankle boots are quite similar to the oxfords I bought on the last trip to Paris. Like I said, I am a creature of habit.