Paris: Les Grands Magasins

Paris: Les Grands Magasins


The model for the fictional shopping emporium that gave its name to Emile Zola’s 19th-century classic Au Bonheur des Dames was Le Bon Marché, the oldest of the major department stores in Paris. Le Bon Marché was created in 1852 by Aristide Boucicaut, a visionary sales clerk who took over a small Left Bank business and transformed it into Paris’s first official department store. It was a revolutionary retail Mecca for its time, offering the latest products from around the world and catering to a vast clientele that ranged from the wives of rich industrialists to the girls who worked in their factories. Today there is little sign of the latter—Le Bon Marché is the smallest of the grands magasins, but now owned by luxury goods group LVMH and catering to an upmarket crowd. Its happening fashion department is stocked with cutting-edge designer labels—think Chloé, Lanvin, Balenciaga and Miu Miu, among others, and it’s a well known resource for great hats. The men’s department includes a custom-made suit service.

The store’s original glass and steel structure, masterminded by engineer Gustave Eiffel and architect Louis-Charles Boileau, has been impeccably restored over the years and the stunning new furniture and design department on the second floor showcases 20th-century classics beneath the 19th-century stained-glass verrières. Le Bon Marché’s freestanding food hall La Grande Epicerie, just across a small street, has become a gourmet institution in its own right. This haute grocery store stocks some 30,000 food products from around the globe and, in a special corner known as La Cuisine, a crack team of in-house chefs whips up all sorts of culinary wonders that can be taken away for picnics or feasted on in-house at le comptoir. Upstairs, there’s the brand new Italian restaurant Primo Piano, run by the team from the long-time BCBG Casa Bini.

24 rue de Sèvres, 7th, Métro: Sèvres-Babylone. website


In 1865, inspired by the construction of architect Charles Garnier’s magnificent Opéra, Jules Jaluzot, a former sales clerk at Le Bon Marché, decided to build his own grand magasin just around the corner. Printemps was a remarkably audacious project from the start, not least in terms of the architecture. Over the years, the grand 1923 Art Nouveau domes, the giant bay windows and the fact that the store’s name was spelled out in multi-colored mosaic tiles over modern swing doors sparked the same kind of controversy as the naked tubes on the Centre Pompidou did more than a century later.

In 1888, Printemps fuelled its reputation for remaining one step ahead of the times when it became the first building in France to be lit by electricity. Jaluzot’s spirit of innovation continues to reign today in a store that now occupies three buildings totaling 27 floors—Printemps de la Mode, Printemps de la Beauté/Maison and Printemps de l’Homme. A major and meticulous $100 million renovation of the historic Belle Epoque facades of the Maison and Mode buildings, by a team of more than 60 artisans, is currently underway, slated for completion in 2010.

Fashion is found in the Mode building, of course, and personal shoppers are ready to offer advice in a private salon/fitting room. The mezzanine of the Mode building is now called Printemps de Luxe—an entire floor of luxury accessories, bringing the best of Avenue Montaigne, Place Vendôme and Faubourg Saint Honoré together under one roof to provide one-stop luxury shopping for limited-edition watches, designer handbags and upscale jewelry by such exclusive brands as Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Chaumet. Newest on the fashion front: a big central boutique on the Luxe floor to be run by Maria Luisa Poumaillou, fashion guru and owner of the fatally trendy Maria Luisa shops near the Place de la Concorde—scheduled to open this summer.

The Beauty Room, on Level 1 of Printemps de la Maison, turns the spotlight on beauty rituals from different cultures, showcasing an impressive range of alternative spa brands and organic beauty products from around the world including Patyka, Dr. Hauschka, Paipuri and Beo,

a line created by a jeweler using extracts of precious stones. The Scent Room (ground floor, Maison) is an olfactory treasure trove presenting rare perfumes and niche fragrances from such brands as Histoire de Parfums, The Different Company, By Kilian and Honoré des Prés, a new line of 100% organic fragrances by the renowned French nose Olivia Giacobetti. Personal shoppers are available (2nd floor, Mode), and for a pause in the shopping spree, there’s a choice of six restaurants including a sushi bar; the World Bar decorated by menswear designer Paul Smith; the contemporary Brasserie beneath a soaring stained-glass dome; and a self-service cafeteria on the roof with a spectacular 360-degree view.

64 blvd Haussmann, 9th, Métro: Havre-Caumartin. website

In addition to a 10 percent discount for individual foreign shoppers (register at the Welcome Service, ground floor, Mode building), Printemps also offers a unique concierge service—at a fee for French clients but free for foreign passport holders. Almost anything within reason can be arranged, from a chauffered car to visit Versailles to a table at a top restaurant or tickets to the Paris Opéra.


By 1893, when cousins Alphonse Kahn and Théoph

ile Bader launched Galeries Lafayette, the area around the Opéra had become a bustling shopping district, attracting both high society and throngs of midinettes (literally “light lunchers”-young shopgirls, dressmakers or office workers who sacrificed their midday meal for shopping). In October 1912, Galeries Lafayette underwent a major interior revamp, highlighted by the construction of a stunning 108-foot-high neo-Byzantine stained-glass cupola, now classified as a historic monument. Today the store attracts some 8 million foreign visitors a year, and claims to outrank the Eiffel Tower as a tourist destination.

Galeries Lafayette is spread through three buildings on Boulevard Haussmann–Lafayette Coupole, Lafayette Homme and Lafayette Maison. The main Coupole building is the store’s fashion central–there are free fashion shows with English commentary every Friday at 3 pm (7th floor), and personal shoppers are available to help clients select their new wardrobe in a private lounge (by appointment, But, true to its history of appealing to all socioeconomic levels, the store also has a policy of showcasing more affordable items alongside upscale goods, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the 5,000-sq-m (54,000-sq-ft) children’s concept store (5th floor, Coupole). The latest pint-size fashions from up-and-coming designers are displayed next to ultra-chic offerings from Bonpoint and Baby Dior, and state-of-the-art strollers share the aisles with party-bag knick-knacks, educational playthings and a fabulous children’s bookstore.

After visiting the city’s biggest souvenir shop, visitors can linger in the almost ridiculously well-stocked lingerie department–more than 80 different brands, and an additional two male staff members to reassure intimidated, gift-shopping hommes. Down on the lower ground level, the vast women’s shoe department, created by top designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, offers some 150 different brands of shoes and boots–half of them exclusive–from sneakers to stilettos, along with a pedicure salon, an in-house cobbler and a Pierre Hermé Macarons & Chocolates boutique for a little energizing nibble.

Home decor fans should nip across the boulevard to Lafayette Maison, a five-story emporium laid out like an ideal home, with each floor devoted to furnishings and fittings for a different room in the house. All budgets are welcome here, too, with prices ranging from a simple €1 candleholder to a €74,000 Baccarat chandelier.

40 blvd Haussmann, 9th, Métro: Chaussée d’Antin. website

BHV The Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville carries fashion, books, electric and electronic goods and an extensive range of home furnishings, but the store is best known for being a DIY and home decorating paradise. The cavernous basement floor stocks an apparently infinite supply of screws, washers, retro light switches and doorknobs. Serious bricoleurs take a two-hour workshop at Les Ateliers du BHV, Wed 6 pm or Sat 10 am. 52 rue de Rivoli, 4th, Métro: Hôtel de Ville. website

BHV Homme Four floors devoted to men’s fashion and accessories showcasing 150 brands ranging from Kenzo, Lagerfeld and agnès b. to hip urban wear from Diesel. Urban dandies can preen themselves at the ISSEO beauty institute or have a quick shave at the in-store barber shop Les Mauvais Garçons. 36 rue de la Verrerie, 4th.
BHV La Cave A newly opened “temple to Bacchus” offers everything from designer corkscrews and professional decanters to free wine tastings and professional advice on building your own cellar. 13 rue des Archives, 4th.

Madelios A spacious men’s store carrying everything from jeans and casuals to international status labels including Paul Smith, YSL and Comme des Garçons, it also offers same-day alterations and a shoeshine service. International clients can book a personal shopper by contacting the Welcome Service at 23 blvd de la Madeleine, 1st, Métro: Madeleine. website

Franck et Fils
Seriously chic shopping in a decor inspired by a Parisian townhouse. Formerly renowned as a Sex & the City-style destination for exclusively female shoppers, F&F opened a men’s department last September. Great for cutting-edge Parisian labels such as Vanessa Bruno, Erotokritos and Zadig & Voltaire. 80 rue de Passy, 16th, Métro: La Muette. website

See our complete Paris shopping guide

Originally published in the April 2009 issue of France Today.

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