Cool Canal

Cool Canal

With its arching iron footbridges, cobblestone quays and picturesque barges inching through antiquated locks, the rapidly gentrifying Canal Saint Martin has become a buzzing new tourist destination. Trendy canal-side bars and restaurants have been joined by such big-name fashion stars as agnès b. and A.P.C., stiff competition for the independent designers who were the first to pick up on the neighborhood’s bohemian vibe.

Any shopping trip should kick off on the Quai de Valmy with some long-time favorites. Antoine & Lili (no. 95) was one of the original Saint-Martin fashion hotspots-three adjacent stores with vividly colored façades: hot pink for womenswear, canary yellow for kitsch home decor, lime green for kids’ clothes, toys and gifts. Next door at Stella Cadente (no. 93), Ukrainian-born designer Stanislassia Klein whips up whimsical, ultra-feminine clothes-usually including a hint of beading, sequins, feathers or flashy rhinestones-complemented by fabulous accessories and a new line of vintage-style underwear. On the corner of Rue de Lancry you’ll find ecological/ethical chic at Dupleks, a multibrand store carrying womenswear, shoes and accessories from a cutting-edge mix of French and international brands including Veja, the British-Peruvian Ciel and rising American eco star Anna Cohen. Artazart (no. 83)has become the cult bookstore, where graphic designers and the cool crowd flock for magazines and coffee-table books devoted to fashion, art, photography, calligraphy and interior design.

When you reach the canal’s landmark café-restaurant Chez Prune (36 rue Beaurepaire), turn into the adjacent Rue de Marseille, a formerly shabby street undergoing an amazing fashion and design renaissance. Quintessential Parisian fashion label agnès b. recently opened a women’s and children’s store here at no. 13, housed in a former factory. The men’s branch—thick slick suits and wearable urban styles—is around the corner at 1 rue Dieu. A.P.C., a unisex fashion venue for Parisian hipsters who like their denim dark, industrial-looking and lean, followed suit in June, setting up a canal branch at no. 5 rue de Marseille.

Wowo, one of my all-time favorite children’s and babywear labels, is at 11 rue de Marseille. Designer Elisabeth Relin, who was born in the U.S. but has lived in France since her teens, cut her fashion teeth working at Chantal Thomass and Dorothée Bis before launching her own collection. She describes the Wowo look as “a very personal take on the 1970s”—a quirky retro style that’s perfect for parents who want their kids to look boho cool rather than French chi-chi. In my house, we’re huge fans of Wowo’s bold graphic T-shirts with motifs ranging from electric guitars to snapping crocodiles. At Médecine Douce (no. 10 rue de Marseille), young jewelry designer Marie Montaud showcases her avant-garde work in a trendy boutique-atelier. And don’t miss the corner bakery, Du Pain et des Idées (34 rue Yves Toudic) whose owner Christophe Vasseur was named Baker of the Year by the Guide GaultMillau. A notice on the door notes that “la boulangerie est une affaire d’amour et de poésie“—and Vasseur infuses impressive amounts of both love and poetry into his old-fashioned pastries, breads and imaginative creations such as the saffron-honey-and-nut “Rabelais” inspired by the French Renaissance author.

Head back up Rue Beaurepaire and retrace your steps along the canal until you find the Rue des Vinaigriers. Zoe D (no. 34) is a tiny atelier-boutique where the energetic Zoe can usually be found out back whirring away on her vintage sewing machine, turning her creative hand to everything from made-to-measure silk lampshades to quirky jewelry fashioned from glass beads and precious stones. She’s also just launched her own retro-style childrenswear.

Next door at no. 32, Philippe Le Libraire runs the kind of cozy neighborhood bookstore that’s now an endangered species, a minuscule shop packed floor to ceiling with comics, mangas, illustrated novels and books by independent publishers that might get only a week of shelf life anywhere else. Along with his genuine passion for literature, Philippe enjoys sharing his favorite music, offering hard-to-find CDs from independent record labels. Galerie Végétale, at no. 29, is another newcomer to the neighborhood, a hybrid florist-art gallery-boutique where “nature meets design.” In a vast loft-like space with plants climbing every corner, constantly changing exhibits display vegetal objets d’art complemented by stunning bouquets matched to the current show’s theme. A recent foray here found giant Livingstone pebble cushions by Nice-based designer Stéphanie Marin, flowery rain hats by Isabelle Teste and weird-and-wonderful flowerpots made of recycled car tires. To finish canal-shopping with a relaxing flourish, try a glass of chilled white wine and Italian-style antipasti at the gourmet food shop and restaurant Fuxia, at 15 rue Jean Poulmarch.

View Our Paris Boutique Guide Here

Originally published in the September 2008 issue of France Today. All information is correct and up-to-date.

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