Paris Shopping Tips: Treat Yourself to a (Mindful) Shopping Spree

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Paris Shopping Tips: Treat Yourself to a (Mindful) Shopping Spree

If you’re traveling to the City of Light, perhaps it’s prime time to re-think the word “souvenir.” In French, it means “memory,” but too often, globe trekkers associate the word solely with “trinket.” Not that there’s a thing wrong with that, says this card-carrying souvenir hunter. It’s Paris after all, where the wooing stops for no one.

But why not consider crafting the kind of magic retail moment that really will leave a lasting memory? Like, for example, booking a front row seat at a Galeries Lafayette fashion show? Or buying a pair of gold bellbottoms directly from an indie designer in the shadow of Sacré-Cœur? Or like recharging your inner-boogie with the purchase of a Marie Antoinette bougie at Trudon, the oldest candle company in Paris?

The mind squeals at the possibilities.

With planning

What’s on my wish list? I’ve been infatuated with this blue tutu ensemble for months. Paris-based Maison Repetto, rue de la Paix (Photo by Theadora Brack)

It is possible to have it all: to get that “Made in Paris” treasure you’ve coveted and come home with a story to tell. Focusing not so much on the thing as on the journey, i.e., on the experience of the visit itself, here are a few basic tips for some mindful shopping. And with all budgets covered, no one gets left behind.

Note, though: I feature what I, myself, fancy. If I haven’t included your favorite shop, do let me know. I’ll check it out and may keep it in mind for a future piece like this. Feel free to ask questions, too. I’m always happy to help.

Now, let’s tally forth. 

1. Be prepared

Don’t forget to forget to pack moleskin and moisture-wicking socks, because when your feet aren’t happy, nobody’s happy. Bon Marché (Photo by Theadora Brack)

First, consider your basic shopping tool kit: fancy day-to-night sneakers, water bottle, pre-cut moleskin, chocolate (for energy), gum, eye drops, Métro tickets, maps with targeted shops circled, and coins for WCs. And don’t forget an oversized bag for your treasures. Most French grocery store chains and department stores sell them for just a few cents. Lightweight and good-looking, they make perfect souvenirs, too.

2. Plan of Action

Mind the gaps: What’s missing from your closet? Ballet slippers? Trench coat? Lingerie? Paris-based Maison Repetto, rue de la Paix (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Having a “quest” in mind always helps, since visualization helps narrow your hunt while increasing your chances of actually finding the object of your desire. What’s missing from your closet? Repetto ballet slippers? Trench coat? Both are timeless French classics, and quite souvenir-worthy. Covet nautical wear? Lingerie? Longchamp? Parapluies?

Grab a pen, and create a wish list.

My two cents

My 2¢: Shop local, and support both up-and-coming and well-established indie designers. Paperdolls Boutique, Abbesses-Montmartre (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Now, during your actual shopping excursion, instead of lots of cheaper items I recommend splurging on a just a few high quality statement pieces (though stay within your budget!) that will last for years. Keep your eyes wide open for those “Made in France” or “Made in Paris” tags. Yes, shop local, and support both up-and-coming and well-established indie designers. I’ll show you how.

In fact, this is exactly how I now roll. Recently at Le BHV Marais, I found the love of my life: an over-sized khaki-colored canvas trench coat by designer Quynh Bui and century-old La Redoute. The collaboration was inspired by the 1849 Gold Rush in San Francisco—a city once dubbed the “Paris of the Pacific” due to its large French population.

Price? Fifty euros. A lifetime of compliments and boasting? Priceless.

3. Where to start?

I’d launch my hunt at one of the grand magasins. Here you’ll find architectural traces from the past, free Wi-Fi, cafés, loos, and rooftops with views. Galeries Lafayette (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Shake those jetlag blues away with a gentle browse through one of the 19th century grand magasins. Here you’ll not only find architectural traces from the past, but also comfort lounges, free Wi-Fi, and beaucoup cafés, loos, and rooftops with views. Holly Golightly may have had her breakfast at Tiffany’s, but whenever I need an mood lift, nothing else will do quite like a shiny Paris department store.

Here’s the deal: Paris still has four flagship department stores (these in fact, were among the world’s first). Le Bon Marché, Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette are located along the Métro 12 line, while Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (Le BHV Marais) sits next to the Hôtel de Ville (naturally). While it’s possible to visit all four on one day, try to resist; I insist. It’s better to pick one or two and savor the experience. Remember what I said about enjoying the journey vs. acquiring the thing?

Hives of activity

Visiting Paris? Don’t miss Galeries Lafayette’s weekly in-store fashion shows held in the Opéra Salon. Arrive early to snag that Anna Wintour-worthy spot. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Besides being crammed with nearly every desirable object a shopper could possibly want, these palaces offer behind-the-scene tours, art exhibitions, window displays, fitness challenges, cooking classes, DYI workshops, and interactive pop-up ateliers throughout the year. Tip: The events are extremely popular, so register before you leave home. For available program dates and times, visit the store websites.

I recommend Galeries Lafayette’s weekly in-store fashion shows held in the Opéra Salon. Whenever my sister Wendy is in the city, we make time for the spectacle. For 14 euros, you’ll get a mini-swag bag with beauty product samples, a bottle of water, and a show program, along with seasonal OOTD inspo and a front row seat. Arrive early to snag that Anna Wintour-worthy spot. Again, try to register prior to your trip.

Tourist discount cards

Don’t shop hangry! After scoring your “Client International” discount card on the ground level at BHV, create a cheese plate up in the 5th floor café (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Both BHV and Galeries Lafayette offer “International Customer” cards, which knock 10 per cent off on selected items. To score G.L.’s “Exceptional 10% Discount” card, present your passport at the information desk on the store’s ground floor near the rue Mogador entrance.

You’ll find BHV’s “-10% offer*” discount voucher on their website. Print it before leaving home and then present it at the welcome desk, along with your passport.

It’s just that easy. If you forget, don’t fret. The cards are also available on the ground level at the welcome center near the rue de Rivoli door.

Never underestimate the power of a wish list or an OOTD mood board: My recent acquisitions include a red vinyl rain slicker and matching hat by Galeries Lafayette (Photo by Theadora Brack)

House brands

Don’t overlook the house brands. Affordable, durable, and sporting souvenir-worthy labels, the collections feature bags, scarves, and sweaters. I’m still obsessed with the trench coats by designer Laëtitia Ivanez, the founder of Les Prairies de Paris. My recent acquisitions include a red vinyl rain slicker and matching hat, one fitted black trench coat (okay, I have a coat fetish!) a velvet tracksuit, along with a pair of silky honeycomb-like anklets—spotted at Galeries Lafayette’s in-house fashion show.

Also, BHV now stocks Galeries Lafayette’s reasonable in-house brand. This includes G.L.’s collection of scarves and handbags, located on BHV’s ground level. #Lifeisgood

What’s new?

What’s new? The department store I didn’t know I needed. Back in March 20i9, Galeries Lafayette opened a shop on the Champs. Vibe? #Allthatglitters (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Most of the Paris department stores are now championing new designers. Often with reasonable prices, the collections are typically located by near the escalators. The store websites list their featured designers. It’s a win-grin, because after making your purchase, you’ll be able to support the designer on social media. This is also an excellent way to find out about their new collections.

After Galeries Lafayette featured the “Make Fashion Big Again” collection by Ester Manas, I started following her news on Instagram. Celebrities worldwide are now wearing Ester’s edgy “one-size-fits-all” capsule. Brava!

4. Indie designer boutiques

Maybe it’s because of the close proximity to the textile district, but the designers in Abbesses-Montmartre play with the entire spectrum of fabrics like there’s no tomorrow. Paperdolls Boutique (Photo by Theadora Brack)

After beating jetlag, it’s time to make the indie scene. Possess a penchant for collecting one-of-kind or limited edition confections? Step by step, I’m with you.

Throughout Paris, you’ll find pockets of shops that promote independent designers, but especially in Abbesses. Maybe it’s because of the close proximity to the textile district (at the foot of the Sacré-Cœur steps), but the designers here play with the entire spectrum of fabrics in ways you wouldn’t imagine. I once saw a wedding gown made of cat head-patterned fabric in the window at Zélia’s boutique.

Start your quest at the tip of the rue des Abbesses and rue des Martyrs intersection, and then cross over to rue d’Orsel, followed by rue des Trois Frères. Here’s where Saint-Denis lost his head, so don’t lose yours. Wait for your price point. You’ll find it.

My pick: Lab 30

How much is that dapper-looking wolf in the window? Bag created by Meg Sérigraphie, Lab 30 Boutique, Abbesses-Montmartre (Photo by Theadora Brack)

I’ve always felt a “Groovitational” pull at Lab 30, located in Abbesses-Montmartre at 30 rue Durantin. Their kitschy, candied-colored vitrines always stop me in my tracks.  Curated by designers Guillaume and Laurent, here you’ll find mellow yellow felt berets, Twiggy-inspired dresses, and retro-rocking handbags and wallets. Look for favorite brands like Des Habits Tués and Yaanbath. And don’t ask me how many irresistible vinyl cat bags and wallets by silkscreen artist Meg Sérigraphie I’ve purchased down through the years for friends. Too many to count, I must confess.

Tip: Customer service shines here. The team will not only gift wrap your treasures, but also give additional information about the designers, taking the experience to the next level—even on rainy days when your umbrella has made a mess. #Guiltyyetagain

Sister Wen’s pick

Candy Miller is nearly always in the shop, so it’s possible to get some one-on-one styling assistance. Paperdolls Boutique, Abbesses-Montmartre (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Also located in Abbesses on rue Houdon since 2011, Candy Miller’s shop rocks an over-oversized dollhouse vibe, possessing retro floral razzle-dazzle from floor to ceiling. The one-of-a-kind garb is bright, eclectic, and hand-stitched in France by Candy’s favorite indie designers, including Hân Nguyen, Lisa Pearl, and Gaëlle Barré. Showcased in flying kitchen sinks, bathtubs, and a gigantic chest of drawers, Alice of Wonderland fame would have lost her head here, I’m certain.

Tip: Candy is nearly always in the shop (open Monday through Sunday), so it’s possible to get some one-on-one styling assistance from her.

Two more addresses:

La Boulangerie, 30 rue des Trois Frères, Abbesses-Montmartre

Le Studio 14, 14 Rue Chappe, Abbesses-Montmartre

Then, with your purchase hand

Do you have a favorite boutique or department store in Paris? If so, do shop and tell! Croqu’Minute Creperie, Abbesses-Montmartre (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Enjoy a glass of beer or wine at one of the cafés along rue des Abbesses—preferably at sunset. Do take the time to peek at your new finds more than a dozen times, most definitely, while sipping and committing the surrounding beauty to memory.

Again, feel free to ask questions. If I’ve neglected to mention your favorite Paris shop, just say the word. Meanwhile, happy hunting!

Love Paris as much as we do? Get some more Paris inspiration by following our Instagram page. 

Galeries Lafayette’s 30-foot glass walkway is still tempting daredevils. Installed 53 feet off the ground, I haven’t still found the courage to attempt the stroll. (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Lead photo credit : Why not craft the kind of 24-karat magic retail moment that really will leave a lasting memory? Rooftop at Galeries Lafayette at sunset (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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  • Anne
    2020-02-08 06:09:05
    Hello Theadora - I hope you have found my favourite restaurant in Montmartre, Le Progres. It was featured in the film "Before Sunset' with the wonderful Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. I go there whenever I'm in Montmartre and their pumpkin soup is the best although not always on the menu. Everything else is also tasty modern/traditional French food. Bon apitite, Anne


  • Shilo
    2020-02-01 18:31:34
    Love this! Great inspiration for my trip in March!


  • Ellen A.
    2020-02-01 04:12:28
    Ellen A.
    What a great article! I'm sending a link to all friends who will be visiting Paris this year. Especially appreciate the Montmartre suggestions for smaller boutiques with something special.


  • Hazel Smith
    2020-01-31 16:11:13
    Hazel Smith
    Great ideas. I bought a pair of pink satin sneakers last time I was there. I also like that the model in the top photo is not teeny-tiny.


  • Carrie
    2020-01-31 05:04:37
    Thank you for all this wonderful information. I get stuck at BHV and Galleries. I have loved them for years. I want to support independent designers. And the tips on extracurricular activities is so helpful. I live in England and have many friends who come to visit. I spend as much time in Paris as I can, and so it will be lovely to treat my friends to your finds. I very much like Sept Cinque outside of Les Halles. Small, but Parisian artistes. The customer service is wonderful, especially for a long time customer. I so enjoy your magazine, and if I can’t in the moment be in Paris, besides talking daily on the phone with my friends in Paris, you’re the next best thing. Merci ☮️