French Dressing: Paris

It’s hard to think of a city more aesthetically pleasing than Paris.

Glorious monuments such as Le Louvre, avenue upon avenue of well-preserved Haussmannian buildings and public spaces like the Tuileries and Place des Vosges have yielded a cityscape so beautiful that it almost demands its inhabitants dress well. And they do: from pouting, perfectly coiffed mademoiselles to silver foxes with voluminous hair and finely cut suits. Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent... Parisians take their clothes very seriously. Little wonder then that when the world goes shopping, it heads to the City of Light, where retail therapy is an eminently enjoyable pastime.

So Fashionable

It’s all about concept stores in Paris right now — mini-department stores that bring together an eclectic mix of the coolest clothes and homewares. It started with Colette, but now there are pretenders to the concept-store crown.

One such is The Broken Arm in the increasingly groovy Haut-Marais area. It’s a light, airy boutique-cum-cafe where clothes from some of Europe’s cutting-edge designers compete for space with limited-edition artworks, books and music.

Not far away, towards Bastille, you’ll find the grand-daddy of Paris concept stores, Merci. Here, across three sprawling floors, is an emporium of seriously fine fashion, original homewares, a bespoke perfume bar and no less than three cafes (for when the onslaught of hip demands a caffeine hit).

To be really properly dressed in Paris, a signature scent is essential. If money is no object (or you just want to pop along for the experience), visit JAR in the 11th arrondissement. There’s no sign on the door. You must ring to enter and, once admitted, you will be seated before a solemnly lit bank of glass domes, each containing a cloth soaked in jeweller-to-the-stars Joel Arthur Rosenthal’s signature perfumes. With names such as Bolt of Lightning and Ferme Tes Yeux (Close Your Eyes), originality is guaranteed.

Bon Appetit

Even the most committed fashionista has to occasionally stop to eat. Luckily, Paris has as many superb restaurants as it has divine boutiques. And because we’re talking all things fashion, these three local favourites will not only sate your hunger, but ensure you look stylish while you’re doing so.

Frenchie Wine Bar. These days, the cool kids eschew five-course feasts in favour of a few plates of inventive tapas at their favourite wine bar. Chef Gregory Marchand has them queuing down the rue for a taste of his smoked trout with avocado and pickled cucumber. The charcuterie (especially the jamón ibérico) is heaven on a chopping board and the desserts are a temptation in themselves.

Terroir Parisien. Direct from the kitchen of hotel Le Meurice, Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno has created a sleek, modern bistro serving French classics using locally sourced produce, all at eminently affordable prices. It opened in 2011 and quickly established itself as the dining destination de choix in the Latin Quarter.

Le Dauphin. In the heart of bohemian Paris, this sleek, white-marble-encased eatery is so achingly hip it hurts. The food, from renowned chef Iñaki Aizpitarte, borders on the pretentious but the crowd is cool and the collection of (cheap) organic wines is second to none.

Do It In a Day...

All that shopping and eating can give you a mean thirst. You’re in France, so quench it with champagne. As luck would have it, Reims, the largest city in the Champagne region, is but a day-trip away. A 45-minute fast-train journey from Paris will deposit you there and, as you’ve come all this way, it would be a shame not to visit two of the world’s most famous champagne houses.

La Maison Veuve Clicquot offers guided tours of its cellars, taking you deep underground and teaching you the finer points of champagne production. And yes, there are tastings.

A short cab ride through a nearby forest takes you to the village of Epernay and the house of Möet et Chandon. It offers visitors a similar glimpse into the history and art of bubbles.

In the event you can drag yourself away from the temple of wine for a moment or two, visit the most impressive temple of religion. Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims is a World Heritage-listed building and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Dating back to the 13th century, it was, until 1825, the exalted venue in which successive French kings were crowned.

Staying Over

If you want to conserve your cash for a little haute couture or hunting down bargains in the flea markets, skimping on accommodation is an option.

Petit Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc is an old favourite. The rooms may be small and spartan, but the hotel is in a top location and it won’t break the bank.

Stylish On the subject of tiny rooms, Le Bourg Tibourg in the beating heart of the trendy Marais district is all muted lighting and sophistication. As is often the case in Paris, the rooms are small but the hotel is perfectly formed.

tres chic True fashionistas can continue the French-style theme by booking in at the Christian Lacroix-designed Hôtel du Petit Moulin. It’s not exactly a budget option but the decor is divine and the hotel is superbly located in the fashionable 3rd arrondissement.

Rocking If you fancy having the Left Bank beneath you as you slumber, rest your weary head at the Hôtel de Buci in the 6th arrondissement. It has the added charm of being within crawling distance of the hottest club in Paris right now, Le Montana.

Famous Unlimited funds? Then treat yourself to the full rock-star luxury experience at the Hôtel Costes. It’s the place to see and be seen: every stay at this glamorous establishment comes with a complimentary celebrity encounter.

Don’t Leave Without

A visit to the Canal St-Martin area serves the dual purpose of exposing you to some of the city’s best little fashion boutiques and introducing you to the hippest pocket in all Paree. There are plenty of happening cafes and bars here, too, should you need the distraction.

On the subject of shopping and strolling, be sure to get yourself to the Marais on Sunday. It’s the picturesque part of Paris that takes in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, and the only area of the city that allows its fabulous collection of shops — everything from old-fashioned bakeries to high-end jewellers and trendy designers — to trade on Sundays. Concentrate your retail efforts on the axes of rues des Francs-Bourgeois, Vieille du Temple and des Rosiers, and you can’t go wrong.

And when your poor feet can walk no more and your credit card is in meltdown, finish off your day at La Palette, a wonderful wine bar/bistro that has become a magnet for beautiful people.

Hidden cultural gem

By now, your suitcases should be bulging with new fashion looks and magnums of champagne. But have you ever stopped to wonder why you wear the clothes you wear? The Musée Galliera was formerly the Musée de la Mode (museum of fashion). It reopens in its new incarnation this month and is a shrine to all things textile. Its comprehensive collection of French fashion design has everything from Marie Antoinette’s ball gowns to the Givenchy-designed dress that Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. From Chanel to Dior, Gaultier to Yves Saint Laurent, if it’s French and was ever fashionable, you’ll find it here.

Chic order

Dutch-born Esther Loonen lives in Paris, next to the Musée du Louvre. Formerly head designer of Isabel Marant, she now creates children’s label Lili & the Funky Boys.

What is it about Paris that inspires great fashion design? The light, the incredible heritage of years and years of savoir faire, tradition and history. And the sparkling promise of encountering something exciting every day.

What is the essence of French style? It’s an effortless kind of chic. French women are especially good at going to a lot of effort behind the scenes to make it look like they haven’t gone to any effort at all.

What is the one wardrobe essential that every French woman has? Every Parisian worth her salt will own a pair of white jeans, a leather jacket, an old T-shirt and a pair of stilettos.

Do French women have a better sense of style than other women? I think they do. It’s cultural, it’s in their DNA. It (almost) comes naturally to them. That’s probably what makes them different from other women around the world.

Words by Bryce Corbett - Published in Voyeur November 2013
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 2,193,031
Time Zone UTC +1
Languages French (official)
Currency Euro €
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