Galeries Lafayette Cheat Sheet: Top Tips for Exploring the Department Store

Galeries Lafayette Cheat Sheet: Top Tips for Exploring the Department Store

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Holly Golightly may have had breakfast at Tiffany’s, but whenever I get the mean reds, nothing else will do quite like rooftop at Galeries Lafayette (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Jet setting to Paris? Cuckoo for old-school department stores? Join the club! Nothing gives me more pleasure than browsing in one of Paris’s great 19th-century retail palaces. For years, I’ve celebrated shopping at the City of Light’s grand magasins like there’s no tomorrow.

Based on my experience, here are a few tips to help spark a spree and the kind of magic moments that will leave a lasting memory. Crank up the printer. I’ve created a cheat sheet, perfect for stashing away in your luggage. And feel free to ask questions.

The grand magasins have always offered much more than shopping experiences. In 1954, the Grands Magasins du Louvre even staged a fashion show by extraterrestrials. (Theadora Brack’s collection)

Here’s the deal

Paris boasts four flagship department stores (in fact, among the world’s first). Bon Marché, Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette are located along the Métro 12 line, while Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (Le BHV Marais) holds court next to the Hôtel de Ville (naturally).

Besides being crammed with nearly every desirable object a shopper could possibly want, these fab four offer art exhibitions, window displays, fitness challenges, cooking classes, DYI workshops, and interactive pop-up ateliers throughout the year. With planning, it is possible to have it all: That bauble you’ve eyeballed and a story to tell.

Here are a few tips to help spark a spree and the kind of magic moments that will leave a lasting memory, G.L.’s rooftop with the dome in view (Photo by Theadora Brack)

So where to start?

They say a kid will eat the inside of an Oreo first. Me? I head to Boulevard Haussmann first. Holly Golightly may have had breakfast at Tiffany’s, but whenever I get the mean reds, nothing else will do quite like Galeries Lafayette.

There are three G.L. buildings on Boulevard Haussmann. Today we’re visiting the Magasin Principal, a.k.a. Galeries Lafayette Coupole (Photo by Theadora Brack)

1. Getting there

40 Boulevard Haussmann (Métro station: Saint-Lazare)

2. Layout of the Land

There are three G.L. buildings on Boulevard Haussmann: Magasin Homme (48), Magasin Principal (40), and Magasin Maison & Gourmet (35). Today we’re visiting the Magasin Principal, a.k.a. Galeries Lafayette Coupole.

After window-shopping, make your entrance at the corner of Boulevard Haussmann and rue de Mogador (Photo by Theadora Brack)

3. Make your entrance

At the corner of Boulevard Haussmann and rue de Mogador. Look both ways before crossing the parking garage side street. I almost lost my dear friend Beth to a speeding Peugeot. She was talking and gawking. #Stayfocused

Even if you’re not a retail zealot, soon your wide eye will spy the original elevators and floral plaster and metal work (Photo by Theadora Brack)

4. Vibe

Over-sized jewelry box, or a glittery birdcage. Swinging with gigantic Dior Sauvage advertising posters of Johnny Depp. A heartbreaker since the nineties! The Gay Nineties, that is. Galeries Lafayette was founded in 1895, and even if you’re not a retail zealot, the Belle Époque flower power here will sway you. In a flâneur-tastique sort of way, soon your wide eye will spy the original elevators and floral plaster and metal work, along with the surviving piece from the grand staircase, sadly demolished during the 1970s.

Located on the ground level, G.L.’s information desk is stocked with maps and tourist discount cards (Photo by Theadora Brack)

5. First stop

The information desk. Located on the ground level, it’s stocked with maps and tourist discount cards. G.L. still offers its “Client International” card, which knocks 10 per cent off selected items. To score one, flash your passport at the info desk. The process takes just a few minutes. As my grandmother put it, “It all adds up.”

Don’t forget to ask for perfume samples! This is your chance to try fragrances that are difficult to find outside of France (Photo by Theadora Brack)

6. Then, aim straight for the heart

Don’t be daunted by the throngs of people. Follow the crowd to the maze of beauty products in the center of the store, and then look up. A Belle Époque showstopper with a Byzantine twist, the fabulous stained glass dome (la coupole) was installed by architect Ferdinand Chanut and master glassmaker Jacques Grüber in 1912. But don’t forget to ask for perfume samples. Don’t be shy about testing the waters. This is your chance to try fragrances that are difficult to find outside of France.

IMO: Take your shot of the dome next to the Chanel beauty booth. Even after all these years, I still weep. So pack your camera and a hankie.

During the warmer months, Galeries Lafayette often adds “Wellness Classes” like yoga, dance, and aerobics to its events calendar (Photo by Theadora Brack)

7. More love on top

Hold on to those Spanx leggings! Fitting like a dream: During the warmer months, G.L. often adds “Wellness Classes” to its events calendar: Dance and aerobics in the Opéra Salon, and yoga up on the rooftop. Like the class, the view of the Tour Eiffel, the Opéra, and Sacré Coeur will leave you breathless but yearning for more. Just don’t topple over the edge! Regarding rooftop selfies: #Holdontotheledge

Tip: Schedules often change, so visit the website for the current timetable.

Whenever my sister Wendy is in the city, we hotfoot it on over to Galeries Lafayette’s weekly in-store fashion shows held in the Opéra Salon (Photo by Wendy Brack-Fritz)

8. Got passion for fashion?

Well then, I also recommend Galeries Lafayette’s weekly in-store fashion shows held in the Opéra Salon, located on the 4th Floor (nestled in the lingerie department). Whenever my sister Wendy is in the city, we hotfoot it on over to the spectacle. For 12 euros, you’ll get a mini-swag bag with beauty product samples, a bottle of water, and a show program, along with plenty of seasonal OOTD inspo and a front row seat. Do arrive early to snag that Anna Wintour-worthy spot.

Tip: It’s a popular event, so register for the 30-minute show before your trip.

Also, Galeries Lafayette is still a champion of new designers. With reasonable price tags wooing, the exclusive collections typically sit pretty near the escalators. “Make Fashion Big Again” by Ester Manas is currently tempting in G.L.’s spotlight. For months, I’ve been waiting for Ester’s edgy “one-size-fits-all” capsule to drop. #Womensupportingwomen

Affordable, durable, and sporting souvenir-worthy labels, Galeries Lafayette’s house brands feature bags, scarves, sweaters, dresses, jumpsuits, and trench coats (Photo by Theadora Brack)

9. House Brands

Don’t overlook the G.L.’s house brand. Affordable, durable, and sporting souvenir-worthy labels, the collections feature bags, scarves, and sweaters. I’ve got my eye on the trench coats by designer Laëtitia Ivanez, the founder of Les Prairies de Paris. Recent acquisitions include a velvet tracksuit in black and blue, along with a pair of silky honeycomb-like anklets—spotted at the in-house fashion show.

Got a Pliage fetish? Galeries Lafayette has two Longchamp boutiques. So skip the crowded ground level shop, and giddy-up to the luggage department on the 4th floor. On most days, there’s nary a soul in sight. Some call it crazy luck. I call it heaven.

A 30-foot glass walkway, that’s what’s new! Dare devils: this perfect picture photo-op is located on the 3rd floor (Photo by Theadora Brack)

10. What’s new?

A 30-foot glass walkway, that’s what’s new. Installed some 53 feet off the ground, I haven’t found the courage to attempt the stroll. Dare devils: this perfect picture photo-op is located on the 3rd floor. If you attempt this feat, do let me know.

Galeries Lafayette’s springtime theme is “Funorama.” Through May 2019, see an art exhibition in its Galerie de Galeries. Located on the first floor, sculptors Sabrina Lang and Daniel Baumann pay homage to G.L.’s architecture. Not in Paris? There will be more to come! Before your trip, check out the store’s website and social media feed.

If you are not able to secure one of the coveted perches under the dome, backtrack it up to the Lafayette Café on the sixth floor for the mini-cheese platter and a glass of wine, Galeries Lafayette (Photo by Theadora Brack)

11. Don’t shop hangry

Feeling peckish? Zip on down to G.L.’s Vue sur Coupole café, and indulge in a sugar rush. Under the big dome, salute your revived bliss with a macaron in photogenic yellow. Wine and champagne are also available for the popping. Beer, too! Perfect for an encore or two. Because one is never enough, especially when you’re seated in a tall catbird perch at balcony side with a view of the crystal clear glass walkway.

Photo: Theadora Brack

12. Plan B

If you are not able to secure one of the coveted perches under the dome, don’t fret. Instead, backtrack it up to the Lafayette Café on the sixth floor. What to order? I recommend the mini-cheese platter and a glass of wine, of course. Piping hot coffee and tiny rose-colored baguettes are also available, along with a view of the Opéra and Eiffel Tower. So commandeer a table with a window, and get to pic snapping.

My favorite loos with views are located up on the 5th and 6th floors. Both rock an old-fashioned vibe, outfitted with flattering lighting and magnifying mirrors. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

13. What not to miss

My favorite loos with views are located up on the 5th and 6th floors. Both rock an old-fashioned vibe, outfitted with flattering lighting and magnifying mirrors. Never a line and always sparkling clean, I tell you. Giddy, this place makes me feel. Did I mention the view of the Sacré Coeur, the vertical floor-to-ceiling mirrors, the comfortable old-school benches, and natural light, perfect for primping?

Gushing to the chase: Add the G.L.’s restrooms to your bucket list.

Never a line and always sparkling clean, I tell you. Giddy, this place makes me feel. Did I mention the view of the Sacré Coeur (Photo by Theadora Brack)

14. Up on the roof

It’s still free and fabulous—especially at sunset. Pack the camera and sketchbook because this nook of paradise is also the perfect spot to mull over art’s function in the urban street planning down below. The Art Nouveau street furniture blends so well with the trees that the eye can’t always separate the organic from the man-made.

Power dressing right on point, the city’s attention to harmonious detail and its resulting beauty will definitely give you the energy for one final browse through the G.L.’s great hall of beauty products before you exit. Is it really possible to sample Guerlain’s new rose-scented fragrance too many times? I don’t think so.

The rooftop at Galeries Lafayette is still free and fabulous—especially at sunset (Photo by Wendy Brack-Fritz)

Happy Hunting!   

More grand magasins to come. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a favorite department store in your corner of the world, please do share. Tag us on Instagram: @bonjourparis_guide and @theadorabrack

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