Is Paris a Good Place to Shop?

Is Paris a good place to shop? It depends on what you seek. If you are looking for best value, there are many places in the world where you will get more for your money, such as in the USA. That there are often more choices in Paris (size, color, model, etc.) does not alter the fact that French-made products are often cheaper to buy abroad than they are in France, as odd as that may seem. It has to do with the cost of doing business in France, and the high cost of French social legislation. If, however, you want to indulge yourself in the sheer luxury of upscale shopping, then Paris is a definite contender. It is one of the true originators of luxury shopping, and that has been refined over the centuries. Few places are as enjoyable in which to shop, and nowhere in the world matches its shopping infrastructure. I am not referring to sheer numbers of shops, but to the variety of settings in which shops are presented. The western world’s first fashion center emerged in Paris, partly a result of Marie Antoinette’s patronage of Rose Bertin’s dress shop near the Palais Royale in the 18th century. That gave birth to the rue St. Honoré as the very first fashion street, where purveyors of fashion products competed with each other in the fine art of separating passers-by from their money. They are still honing their craft, with due diligence. The Palais Royale expanded that by creating a quadrangle of shops (intermingled with gambling houses, brothels, cafes and restaurants). The unique architectural feature was an arcade that allowed shoppers to peruse shop windows, no longer concerned with the elements. Today it is home to such icons of fashion as Stella McCartney. Under Napoleon’s reign, the rue de Rivoli, with its own arcades, complemented the near-by and parallel rue St. Honoré. During the 19th century, when England’s influence in France waxed, it became a fashion mecca especially for British visitors in the City of Light. Paris as a center for shopping expanded further with the development of its covered passageways, the fore-runner of the modern shopping mall. It acquired many kilometers of them between 1800 and 1925. Typically, they were galleries with glass ceilings that perpendicularly connected two parallel streets, running through the middle of a block. Most of them were built in the 2nd and 9th districts, just north of the Palais Royale, and some survive even today. Several of the covered passageways are architectural gems, and many are filled with interesting shops offering unusual and long-forgotten wares (quills, astrolabes, music boxes, etc.). Others are very fashionable, such as Vero-Dodat passageway that houses one of Christian Louboutin’s shops. Near-by, the avenue Etienne Marcel has evolved as the most recent fashion street in Paris, with its accent on youth and hip fashion. Simultaneous with the development of its covered passageways in the 19th century, Paris gave birth to the department store, the first of which was Le Bon Marché, born in 1853. Samaritaine followed later in 1869. Bon Marché is still going strong as a chic, up-market left bank department store. Its right bank competitors, Printemps and the Galerie Lafayette, do not lag, and their location behind the Garnier Opera house continued the evolution and expansion of the right bank as the main shopping area of Paris. There are, of course, other worthy shopping areas: the St. Germain district in the Left Bank, and, to a lesser degree, the avenue Victor Hugo near the Arc de Triomphe. If you are ready for ruin, today’s killer fashion street in Paris is the avenue Montaigne. It is where to go when you are ready to drop thirty thousand euros on a gown—or more. I recall a wedding dress being readied at Christian Dior with a price tag over three hundred and fifty thousand euros. You do not need to be a billionaire to enjoy a shopping tour of Paris. You only need to have the energy to explore its fascinating shopping infrastructure. If you would like to be taken in hand and have it shown to you, consider ordering our Paris Shopping Tour:

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