Oh mon Dieu! Not all of us visiting Paris have the wherewithal to spend $1000 on this irresistible couture blouse, or the all-time favorite little black dress. Let us be realistic: going on a shopping spree in Paris can be hard on our finance. Fashionistas of the world, let's sin no more, and shop smartly from now on!
Expensive? A matter of area, mostly
Those of you who visited Paris already know that from a shopper's perspective, the city is divided in broad sections where stores of the same trade tend to congregate.
There is a mosaic of many colors, tastes, and price ranges.
Say you are on the Boulevard Saint Germain, in the upper part of the Saint Germain des Prés district. Designer clothing stores, sidewalk cafés and restaurants abound in this area. Draw nearer the river Seine and you'll get to where the art galleries cluster together. Walk to the east, towards rue de Buci, the clothing stores become less expensive.
From Saint-Germain, walk up the Rue de Rennes, towards the Montparnasse area. You'll be crossing the Rue du Four, where even more expensive clothiers line up the facades. But continue on to the Saint Sulpice metro station, around which many clothing stores offer cheaper garments and accessories.
Sales season in Paris
In another area of the city, not too far from the old Opera house, the Boulevard Haussmann became the homestead of the department stores over a century ago. The Printemps store was built there in 1865, followed closely by the Galeries Lafayette, in 1893.
Department stores are not unlike Ali Baba's treasure cave: clothes, shoes, jewelry, watches, accessories, perfumes spread on a five-story high, gigantic floor space.
Department stores offer a convenient way of shopping for fashion. Thousands of upscale items can be found over acres of floor space, including apparel, accessories, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, shoes, and other goodies.
A great selection, but bargains are far and between except during the sales seasons.
Sales are tightly regulated in France. There are two sales seasons, winter and summer. Their starting dates are a matter of administrative decrees, and each of the two seasons last six weeks only. The Parisian winter sales season starts at the end of January, the summer one begins in late June.
Designer depot bargains
Outside the sales seasons, shoppers looking for bargain-basement prices and irresistible clearances must look elsewhere. It is my experience that the best bargain prices on clothing offered in Paris are found at designer depots.
Though it has become a brand name in North America, a designer depot is in fact a form of commerce. People like you and me bring in clothes we don't want to wear anymore, and get a little money from the shop owner who will resell our garments for a little more money to other people.
I can hear your blasé comments: "Tcha! Consignment stores! Thrift shops!..." Well, in Paris, designer depots aren't exactly your regular Salvation Army-type stores. Not at all.
Parisian designer depots are usually owned and managed by ladies with a flair for fashion. A number of them have professional experience in the fashion industry and, if invited to do so, most of them can tell you right away which dress fits you well....
and which skirt makes you look like you dressed with a potato bag.
In designer depot, there is the magic word designer. Parisian designer depots offer designer and couture clothes at deep, deep, deep discounts. And mind you, these clothes are in quasi-perfect condition. Clothes worn only once. Well, maybe twice.
If you come to them with your regular hoodies, or your last season tennis shoes, or your mall-shopped polo shirt for that matter, do not expect to be welcomed. Expect rejection with a disapproving stare instead.
Shopping Bargains outside Paris
Now not all designer depots were created equal, and where you go shopping for practically-perfect-in-every-way designer clothes is the true measure of your inside knowledge of the city.
I recommend three petites adresses (the French for 'best-kept-secret places') I selected amongst a host of others:
- For those of you ladies who like the classic look, Priscilla Depot-Vente is the shop for you. Priscilla is the lady who owns the place. She reveres such signature names as Yves Saint Laurent, Max Mara, Kenzo, Christian Dior and Sonya Rykiel.
Her prices range from €60 for a skirt, to €75 for a jacket, to €130 for a lady's suit. Priscilla advises you to rummage around, and come to her place with an open mind. The shop is located at 4 rue Mouton- Duvernet, in the 14th district. The nearest metro station is Mouton-Duvernet. Its opening hours are between 4pm and 7pm on Monday, and between 11am and 7pm from Tuesday to Saturday with a one-hour break at 1:30 pm. 4 Rue Mouton-Duvernet, 75014 Paris, Tel.: +33 1 45 39 30 03.
My next address, Le Jupon Rouge, is situated at 9 rue de Rochechouart in the 9th district. The owner, Tania, describes her designer depot as 'colorful, ethnic but not hippy, and certainly not classical in style.' Tania offers a selection of up and coming French designers which you may or may not know: Bali Barret (a fencing-style vest for €45, cashmere blend cardigans for €45 to €100) and Vanessa Bruno (wool jackets, €90). She also carries more established signatures such as Agnès B (her signature black jacket is offered at €50), and vintage Ungaro blouses for €45. Ladies looking for shoes can fall for pairs of Stephane Kelian low-cut Cuban boots (€100), Repetto ballerina shoes (€40), or vintage low-heel horse-riding boots (€40-70). Tania opens her doors from Monday to Saturday, from 11am to 7pm with a one-hour lunch break at 1:30 pm.
- In a totally different style, Griff-Troc is the designer depot you need to lose yourself into when you want to go chic-chic-chic. The owner, Beatrice, chose to specialize in perennial, classic basics in perfect condition.
Chic has a heftier price tag, of course, but on the upside Griff-Troc offers brand names for 15-30% of boutique prices. Shop for the likes of Chanel, Chloe, Dior, D&G, Valentino and Hermès.
Beatrice maintains a full selection of bags, jewels, and fragrances. Chic classic never dies. Who cares about whether your Chanel suit is this season's or not? The busy boutique is located in the posh section of the 17th arrondissement, at 119 Boulevard Malesherbes. The nearest metro stations are Villiers and Monceau. Its opening hours are between 10.30am and 7pm, from Monday to Saturday.
The Joy of Paris Shopping
I personally enjoy shopping these boutiques, and based on the number of smartly dressed women I spot there, I am not alone in the belief that such bargains cannot be let pass.