Printemps has pulled out all the stops this year, offering shoppers a cosmic vision of Christmas with glittering window displays by Karl Lagerfeld, Hannah MacGibbon of Chloé, Hervé Van der Straeten and architects Jakob + MacFarlane. Down on the lower level, the immense Boutique Noire-a dark, magical gallery glittering with silver mirrors, spinning spheres and black lacquered shelves-showcases a sumptuous seasonal gift selection. In keeping with the cosmic theme, there are robots galore, from self-functioning vacuum cleaners and electronic books to robo-reptiles, digital puppies and your very own R2-D2, straight from Star Wars.
Great gifts for men include an XXL silver penknife designed for Forges de Laguiole by Philippe Starck; a chic black-and-white backgammon set; trendy trilby hats and the sharpest ties created specially for Printemps by avant-garde Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf (a steal at €39) For her: slinky black lace underwear, a store exclusive by designer Stella McCartney; Eric Bompard cashmere sweaters decorated with tiny rhinestone sparkles and-another store exclusive- an ultra-glamorous black alligator handbag by Jérôme Dreyfuss. 64 blvd Haussmann, 9th, 01.42.82.50.00.
Galeries Lafayette has also called in big designer guns for its Très Grande Boutique Cadeaux, offering crisp white Nina Ricci shirts and De Fursac cashmere overcoats for fashion-conscious males, and a big-on-bling silver signet ring set with Swarovski crystal, an exclusive by Vivienne Westwood. Luxury gifts for girls include a white fox stole by Yves Salomon; Crème de la Mer moisturizing cream and gold-sequined mules by René Caovilla. If you really can’t afford the Kazakh Kavia salmon smoked in gold leaf this year, treat the gourmet in your life to a set of very reasonably priced Lafayette Maison porcelain plates with silver reindeer motifs. 40 blvd Haussmann, 9th, 01.42.82.34.56.
Far from the madding boulevards, the 18th-century arcades of the Palais Royal are one of the city’s more tranquil shopping hotspots. Maison Fabre, one of the newest arrivals, is a family-run glove-making business founded in 1924. The luxury brand’s first Paris boutique showcases a rainbow array of 180 models, from snazzy snakeskin driving mitts for men to Grace Kelly-style high-wristed gants in taupe calfskin. All the gloves, including the adorable gold-bow-bedecked pairs for kids, are handcrafted in the traditional glove-making town of Millau. At La Petite Robe Noire, French vintage king Didier Ludot runs up his own modern reworkings of Little Black Dress classics and accessorizes his retro looks with ultra-chic wraps made of recycled fur. A few steps away cult shoe designer Pierre Hardy shows off his open-toed boots and vertiginous heels in an arty boutique lit by a wall of neon tubes. Hardy’s capsule collection for men proved such a hit that he has expanded into limited-edition sneakers and stylish bags for men. Intoxicating fragrances by master parfumeur Serge Lutens are available at the lavish Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. And don’t leave the arcades without a visit to Anna Joliet, a quaint little store selling old-fashioned wind-up music boxes that play scores of melodies including La Marseillaise and La Vie en Rose.
The city’s oldest toy store, Au Nain Bleu has been delighting children of all ages since 1836. Now run by the eighth generation, this family firm is the only French toyshop that sells its own French-made stuffed animals, including some mounted on rockers-a fuzzy rocking horse but also an adorable white rocking swan. Custom-made teddy bears come in your choice of fur and eye color and can be embroidered with the child’s name. Their high-end jouets include custom-made dolls’ clothes, miniature sports cars and hand-painted puppet theaters, but you’ll also find more reasonably priced gifts such as the classic wooden bateaux that French kids traditionally sail with sticks in the Luxembourg gardens. 5 blvd Malesherbes, 8th.
Home design store Habitat is an excellent place to pick up stocking-stuffers and original children’s gifts ranging from bags of glass marbles and buckets of giant chalk sticks to wooden dinosaur rockers and silver Hippity-Hop balls to ride. Little princesses will love the starlet-style dressing-table mirrors surrounded with lightbulbs. 8 rue du Pont Neuf, 1st; 42 rue du Faubourg St-Antoine, 12th; 11 rue de l’Arrivée, 15th.
If your little darlings are into hi-tech a visit to Paris’s leading robot and cyborg specialist Robopolis is a must (107 blvd Beaumarchais, 3rd). Those who prefer to give more old-fashioned cadeaux should check out La Maison du Cerf Volant, an enchanting boutique offering every imaginable kind of kite, from colorful birds-of-paradise and butterflies to aerial octopi with long trailing tentacle tails (7 rue de Prague, 12th). And L’Ours du Marais is entirely devoted to teddy bears, many dressed up in every conceivable costume (18 rue Pavée, 4th).
If you prefer to treat your stylish offspring to clothes instead, wrap up a pair of pearl-grey velours pajamas or star-studded boxer shorts from kids’ sleepwear specialist Le Marchand d’Etoiles (3 rue Chomel, 7th) or a sweet little petticoat skirt with tulle and taffeta ruffles from the cult French dancewear shop Repetto (22 rue de la Paix, 2nd). At the luxe end of the scale, Bonpoint has the most adorable rabbit-skin vests and tartan miniskirts in town this season (6 rue de Tournon, 6th).
For more affordable children’s fashion, don’t forget Monoprix, the low-priced chain that all Parisians look to for great quality kids’ clothes. On a recent trawl I discovered cashmere romper suits, mini Converse-style boots and Petit Bateau underwear designed exclusively for the store. 52 ave des Champs-Elysées, 8th; 50 rue de Rennes, 6th; many others.
Alternatively, check out the new organic babywear line at the appropriately-named Victoria Christmas (41 galerie Vivienne, 2nd), just one of the children’s design shops featured on www.littlefashiongallery.com, a kids’ fashion website that ships worldwide. The pint-sized fashion site also carries such cool French kids’ favorites as Paul & Joe Little, Antik Batik and Wowo, which has a funky little store on the Canal Saint Martin (11 rue de Marseille, 10th).
Fashionistas will love the 2009 edition of the French illustrated dictionary Larousse, this year “dressed” by über-designer Karl Lagerfeld. The dictionary is available on line and on sale at 107 Rivoli, the design boutique of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs where you can also pick up sumptuous coffee-table tomes on art, fashion, photography and the history of calligraphy along with designer tableware and Sigikid toys. 107 rue de Rivoli, 1st.
If you’re shopping for a design addict, there’s also Lieu Commun, a trendy boutique in the Marais district showcasing cutting-edge CDs by Blonde Music, sport shoes by Veja and design objects by Mattali Crasset. Cool cadeaux include a mirror in the shape of aviator sunglasses and alternative pop diva Camille’s latest album, Music Hole. 5 rue des Filles du Calvaire, 3rd.
For gourmets and bookworms, try beautifully packaged teas from Le Thé des Ecrivains, designed to be sipped while reading specific authors. Tea of the American Authors-a heady tribute to Margaret Mitchell, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain- features “the subtle taste of orange and bergamot fused with wisps of refreshing lime” while Tea of the Chinese Philosophers is “a blend of green and black teas enlivened by poppy and lotus aromas”-obviously perfect for getting steeped in the works of Lao Zi and Confucius. 16 rue des Minimes, 3rd.
Guilt-free giving is a hot concept this season, focused on gifts that make minimum impact on the environment. French eco-design label Ekobo manages to combine aesthetics and ethics, specializing in handmade home accessories that are “100% bamboo, 200% design.” The eye-catching array of salad bowls, knife blocks and kitchen containers feature a lustrous lacquered finish in nature’s colors, including mandarin, kiwi and aubergine. Ekobo products are available from their own showroom (4 rue Hérold, 1st) and at Alter Mundi , a chain of fair-trade boutiques promoting green fashion, beauty products and design. Trendy techies will love the Bilum laptop computer bag, made from recycled advertising posters and old seatbelt straps, while deco fans will adore black earthenware ceramics from Bogota and ethnic jewelry fashioned out of Tagua nuts-a vegetal substitute for ivory. 41 rue du Chemin Vert, 11th.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of France Today.
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