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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.