Paris has become more expensive over the last three years because of the appreciation of the Euro currency. Die-hard fashionistas have had to wisen up and be smarter in the way they shop. Some best-kept-secret shops offer bargains you cannot decently pass on.
Expensive? A matter of area, mostly
Travelers familiar with Paris notice retail prices paid for similar merchandise vary from one district to the other. This is especially true for restaurants and clothing. As far as the latter goes, discount shops tend to cluster around certain micro-areas which couture designers and upscale clothiers carefully avoid. Paris is a shopping mosaic.
Say, you are on the Boulevard Saint Germain, in the upper part of the Saint Germain des Prés district. Designer clothing stores, sidewalk cafés et restaurants abound in this area. Draw nearer the river Seine and your footsteps lead you where the art galleries cluster together. Walk a bit to the east, towards rue de Buci, the clothing stores become less expensive.
Turn southwards, and from the church of Saint Germain des Prés, take Rue de Rennes, walking towards the Montparnasse Tower. About 200 yards in the Rue de Rennes, your path crosses the upscale Rue Du Four which is lined with more expensive brands. Continue on up the Rue de Rennes, and you will arrive at the Saint Sulpice metro station. On your right side (west of where you are when you face the Montparnasse Tower), the apparel shops in the surrounding streets offer attractive bargains.
Sales, Sales, Sales in Paris!
In yet another district, close to the Madeleine Church and the Opera Garnier, large department stores found a home on Boulevard Haussmann some 110-140 years ago. Le Printemps department store was constructed there in 1865, and the Galeries Lafayette followed suit in 1893.
Department stores offer a very convenient way of shopping for fashion: thousands of upscale items can be found over acres of floor space. This includes apparel, accessories, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, shoes, and other goodies. A great selection, but bargains are far and between except during the sales seasons.
The latter are a tightly regulated business in France. There are two sales seasons, winter and summer. Their starting dates are a matter of administrative decrees, and each of the two seasons last six weeks only. The Parisian winter sales season starts at the end of January, the summer one begins in late June.
Shopping at designer depots
But outside the sales seasons, shoppers looking for bargain-basement prices and irresistible clearances must look elsewhere. It is my experience that the best bargain prices on clothing offered in Paris are found at designer depots.
Though it has become a brand name in North America, a designer depot is in fact a form of commerce. People like you and me bring in clothes we don't want to wear anymore, and get a little money from the shop owner who will resell our garments for a little more money to other people.
I can see already a few eyebrows raised, their rightful owners objecting that designer depots are only glorified thrift shops or consignment stores. Not so in Paris.
Parisian designer depots are usually owned and managed by ladies with a flair for fashion. A number of them have a professional experience in the fashion industry, and if invited to do so, most of them can tell you right away which dress fits you well.... and which skirt makes you look like you dressed with a potato bag.
Parisian fashion retailers have quite an educated eye, and owners of designer depots are no exception to this rule. And so it goes for the quality of the merchandise they buy, though to each owner her own style. They offer items which have seldom been worn more than one season by their original owners, and are in quasi perfect condition.
Style is a keyword here. In 'designer depot', there is 'designer'. Thus the selection of brand names you can find in any of these treasure troves depends on the style the owner prefers: classic, bourgeois, up and coming, ethnic, boho, and so forth. It is a fascinating business to enter a designer depot, and hunt around for a killer little skirt or dressy pants made by A-list designers, and sold for 20% of the regular retail price.
That's the address, silly!
Now not all designer depots were created equal, and where you go shopping for practically-perfect-in-every-way designer clothes is the true measure of your inside knowledge of the city.
I would like to recommend you three 'petites adresses' [the French for 'best-kept-secret places'] I selected amongst a host of others.
For those of you, ladies, who like the classic look, 'Priscilla' is the shop for you. Priscilla is lady who owns the place. She reveres such signature names as Yves Saint Laurent, Max Mara, Kenzo, Chistian Dior, and Sonya Rykiel. Her prices range from €60 for a skirt, to €75 for a jacket, to €130 for a lady's suit. Priscilla advises you to rummage around, and come to her place with an open mind. The shop is located at 4 rue Mouton- Duvernet, in the 14 th district. The nearest metro station is Mouton-Duvernet. Its opening hours are between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm on Monday, and between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm from Tuesday to Saturday with a one-hour break at 1:30 pm.
My next address, 'Le Jupon Rouge', is situated at 9 rue de Rochechouart in the 9th district. The owner, Tania, describes here designer depot as 'colorful, ethnic but not hippie, and certainly not classical in style'. Tania offers a selection of up and coming French designers such as Bali Barret (a fencing-style vest for €45, cashmere blend cardigans for €45 to €100) and Vanessa Bruno (wool jackets, €90). She also carries more established signatures such as Agnès B (her signature black jacket is offered at €50), and vintage Ungaro blouses for €45. Ladies looking for shoes can fall for pairs of Stephane Kelian low-cut Cuban boots (€100), Repetto ballerina shoes (€40), or vintage low-heel horse-riding boots (€40-70). Tania opens her doors from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:30 am to 7:30 pm with a one-hour lunch break at 1:30 pm.
In a totally different style, Griff-Troc is the designer depot you need to lose yourself into when you want to go chic-chic-chic. The owner, Beatrice, chose to specialize in perennial, classic basics in perfect condition. Chic has a heftier price tag, of course, but on the upside Griff-Troc offers brand names for 15-30% of boutique prices. On the shelves at the time I wrote this article, Beatrice had a Chanel suit for €1000 (vs. €5000 at Chanel's), a brand-new Chloe bag for €800 (instead of €1200), several astounding evening dresses priced between €1200 and €1500 (Chloe, Dior, D&G, Valentino), and Hermès silk scarfs on offer for only €150. She maintains a full selection of bags, jewels, and fragrances. Chic classic never dies, who cares about whether your Chanel suit is this season's or not? The busy boutique is located in the posh section of the 17 th district, at 119 Boulevard Malesherbes. The nearest metro stations are Villiers and Monceau. Its opening hours are between 10:30 am and 7:00 pm, from Monday to Saturday.
Opening my address book for you
I will come back to you with other names and addresses in future articles on this topic. I personally enjoy shopping these boutiques, and based on the number of smartly dressed women I spot there, I am not alone in the belief that such bargains cannot be let pass. Till then, I salute all unrepentant fashion shoppers!
About the Author:A known author on Paris, Phil Chavanne has helped many travelers on their way to the French capital. Get useful advices and many exclusive tips on Paris at Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News. a free guide featuring information about Paris hotels, interesting shops, and great sightseeing opportunities.