The Ultimate Shopping Guide to Le Bon Marché in Paris

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The Ultimate Shopping Guide to Le Bon Marché in Paris
Giddy up, my fellow shopping show ponies. Paris history bugs, too. That’s right. This week nobody gets left behind in the City of Light. Not when the “Soldes d’été” (the big summer sales) are just around the hairpin curve. Launching on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, let’s grab the saddles and throw caution to the sin, shall we? To recap I’m no diva, but I do like to shop-hop without a lot of hassle. Le 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). Paris not only still has four of its original flagship department stores, but it’s also possible to visit the whole fancy lot of them in one day. But it might be a shame to speed through them like that. Besides being packed with nearly every desirable object a shopper could possibly want, these fab four offer art exhibitions, window displays, fitness challenges, cooking classes, DIY workshops, and pop-up ateliers throughout the year. With planning, it is possible to have it all: That bauble you’ve eyeballed and a tale to tell. So today Let’s mosey on over to Le Bon Marché for a whiff of old-school Parisian glamour. Based on my many years of browsing there, here are a few pointers to help spur on an unforgettable window-shopping spree or tag-popping jamboree. Because as Gertrude Stein wrote in her “Bon Marché Weather” poem:  “There are a very great many things everybody is buying. There are a very great many things you are buying. There are a very great many things they are buying. There are a very great many things I am buying.” She lived just a few blocks away, so I’m sure she was speaking from experience. 1. Getting there  24 Rue de Sèvres, 7th arrondissement (Métro station: Sèvres–Babylone)  2. Lay of the Land There are two B.M. buildings on Rue de Sèvres: Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche (24) and its sister store, the Grande Épicerie de Paris (38). The latter, open since 1923, was once a time-out zone for ladies who lunch but is now one of the world’s largest international food markets with everything from rare gourmet delicacies to pantry staples like Lucky Charms cereal to satisfy every taste bud. Tip: Wine tastings are often held on the basement level. Take heed though: a tiny glass of Brut Rosé Imperial recently wooed me. Did I buy one? No, I bought nearly the entire case, not thinking of the weight. It was a long Métro ride back home. 3. Make your entrance At the corner of rue de Sèvres and rue Velpeau. Watch your step when exiting the Métro, because the mere sight of the “Le Bon Marché” sign atop the shop has never failed to make my knees buckle. Also, there’s an underground car garage to the right of the station, so do look before you leap. 4. Vibe Like an oversized Lucite jewelry box, really. This 20th-century foxhound-toting fashion fanatic has always felt nostalgically at home here—even whilst just eye browsing. 5. First stop Follow the crowd to the maze of beauty products in the center of the store, and then look up. Another department store Belle Époque showstopper, but this time with iron-clad, hair-raising checkmate appeal. Glowing, still. Created with the new-fangled (at the time) combination of glass and iron, the central skylights were designed by architects Louis-Charles, Louis-Auguste Bolieau, and Gustave Eiffel. Yes, that Eiffel. Let there be light The dream team also installed flying footbridges, a Baroque-inspired staircase, and a series of glass atriums on the entire upper level. During the 1980s, designer Andrée Putman (also credited with the redo of Guerlain’s flagship on the Champs) updated the store with sets of crisscrossing escalators. Surrounded by slender columns, the moving stairs’ geometric patterns smartly echo the skylight’s square glass panes. The revel is always in the details, I say. 5. Winding it back Never a thumping bore since the nifty fifties. The 1850s, that is. Dig the bi-annual sales? We have marketing gurus Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut to thank. According to my 1889 Bon Marché guidebook, the philanthropists also gave their staff higher wages, a reduction in work hours, language classes, music and fencing lessons, a library, dining halls,…
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Lead photo credit : Let’s take our scooters to the old Bon Marché and window-shop hop till we can’t no more (Photo by Theadora Brack)

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Theadora is a Paris-based writer who has a regular column, called “My Life in Paris," in France Today magazine.

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  • STEPHEN M HAGATA
    2019-07-01 12:12:48
    STEPHEN M HAGATA
    A very enjoyable article!

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