November 3, 2019

Paris Department Stores: The Big Three

As you know, the whole ethos behind The Curated Shopper is to find stores that you may not typically find if you were casually strolling through a city.  But if you know me, then you know I have to see it ALL wherever I am! During the course of my research, I always visit the main stores to see what’s up. You can really tell a lot about a city and its style from the “grand magasins.” (That’s department store in French… and yes, I had to look it up.)

Paris is home to three main big stores: Le Bon Marche (1852), Printemps (1865) and Galeries Lafayette (1895).  (Note: the edgy Galeries Lafayette concept store on Champs-Elysees, which opened in 2019, is a whole different story.) While I may not recommend spending most of your shopping time in these stores (because it’s PARIS!), it’s highly likely you’ll visit at least one of them.  And I must say…one of the afore mentioned stores is on my must-shop list whenever I’m in town. Surprised?? Well, it happens.

While I may not recommend spending most of your shopping time in these stores (because it’s PARIS!), it’s highly likely you’ll visit at least one of them.

Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are both located mere steps from each other near the Opera House. You’re likely to see huge buses outside and lines of tourists waiting to enter various in-shop boutiques. In fact, some statistics I’ve read cite that over 70% of the visitors to these stores are tourists. Take from this what you may.

Today I went to check out what’s new and exciting at Galeries Lafayette. (Granted it’s a Sunday, so most other stores are closed – perfect excuse.)  The world-famous stained-glass dome ceiling is still magnificent. They now have a glass walkway situated sixteen meters above ground where you can take two minutes (yes, they time you) to enjoy a fabulous view of the dome above and the store below. If you’re wary of heights, don’t look down.

Perusing the women’s wear floors, I notice it hasn’t changed much – one designer floor with all the main players (Balenciaga, Valentino, etc.) and two floors crammed with contemporary designers. The best floor? Definitely the basement, which is entirely dedicated to shoes, and each brand has its own clearly designated area or boutique.

I did encounter a tunnel that leads to a multi-screen theater with loads of stools to sit on. It has a very modern art museum vibe. It celebrates the history of fashion, and you can see all sorts of runway shows from previous years. I was the only one in the entire room…but…they are trying.

Next, I bolted through the downpour to Printemps.  Finally, a breath of calm compared to the last stop. I don’t know why it’s not typically as crowded, as I think it’s a much more pleasant experience in many ways. As you ascend the escalator up to the first floor, they have an entire floor dedicated to fine jewelry and luxury watches – so easy to navigate! Then continuing on up, there’s the main brands and a couple contemporary floors. (Though the latter are more pleasantly displayed and not as crowded as the previous stop.)

My favorite part of the store is on level two, the Maria Luisa in-store boutique. It’s where you’ll find a myriad of hip, fashion forward lines including Christopher Kane, Faith Connexion, Junya Watanabe, and Monse. I think it’s a fabulous idea to have this dead center on the designer floor, as it makes it easy to mix and match pieces from established and progressive brands to create a really personal look. Why not mix a blouse from Sies Marjan with trousers from Marc Jacobs runway? I sure would!

Realizing that it’s way past my lunch time, I headed to floor six to enjoy a scrumptious lunch under their own fabulous stained-glass dome.  (Why doesn’t their dome get as much press as Galeries Lafayette?!) I had the Scottish salmon and mashed potatoes while enjoying the view of the bedazzled Christmas tree. Although the restaurant was quite full, people spoke in quiet voices, as they wonderfully do in France, and it was thoroughly lovely.

Now, I apparently am going to give away one of my exclusive shop recommendations, but j’adore Le Bon Marche. In fact, on my visit this week I spent three hours in the store, and French was definitely the language I heard the most. (Hello, locals!) I suppose it was a gift that it was a national holiday and not much else was open. It gave me the time to truly explore every nook and cranny that I may not have regularly spent, knowing I had to get on with the agenda.

While I did peruse the bags, scarves and jewelry on floor zero (what we’d refer to as the first floor in the US), I made my way up to the first floor, which has an extensive range of contemporary designers. Although many of the brands were familiar to me, I was delighted to see little red “exclusivement” signs on various racks, ensuring I’d see garments I hadn’t previously seen from said designer.

paris department store shopping

Another unique service found on this floor, in the middle of the denim department, is “Atelier Notify” where they will embellish your denim (or other item).  It can be something you purchase there, or something you already own. There are patches, embroidery, studs, hand-painting—the options are endless!  How I wish I had brought a particular denim jacket from home and had a fab metallic evil eye design embroidered on the back! The only thing to be aware of is that you need to pick the item up in person, as they do not ship completed items, even to Europe.  Turnaround time can be anything from a week to a month, depending on the complexity of the job. If you opt to do this, it’s a perfect reason to plan a return trip to Paris!

How I wish I had brought a particular denim jacket from home and had a fab metallic evil eye design embroidered on the back!

The second floor is home to designer women’s wear and shoes. This floor really tugs at my fashionista heart – most notably the central section as you exit the escalator, where you’re instantly immersed in the land of lesser-known, yet absolutely fabulous designers. On my most recent visit I discovered Biyan, an Indonesian designer. I could NOT leave without a robe/coat with incredible applique and use of color. I will wear it from everything from jeans to a cocktail outfit. As you know, finding unique items is a true passion of mine. This goes to show that even in a department store, it can sometimes happen. I can guarantee that no one will be wearing this to the holiday party I’m attending in Austin, Texas.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a vast library, cases and cases of fine writing instruments, Dior for your children, and a spaceship filled with picture books – four places to eat, a music studio. I can go on and on, but I’ll stop myself. Just go. Oh, and did you know across the street is the Le Grande Epicerie? This is a food market meets grocery store on steroids. Eat your way through it. You know you’ll walk off all the calories on your trip, right? And if not, who cares?

Bon voyage and happy travels.


P.S If you want to see my exclusive list of Paris shops, become a member of The Curated Shopper!

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