Paris: The Marais

Paris: The Marais

Famous for its 17th-century mansions, its Jewish heritage, a vibrant contemporary gay scene and edgy art galleries, the Marais district is also filled with quirky, unique boutiques specializing in the coolest fashion, the hottest design and the trendiest organic beauty products.

The Fashion Trail

The haut Marais, the labyrinth of streets stretching south from Boulevard du Temple in the 3rd arrondissement, is a hotbed of independent young designers specializing in laidback luxe. Recently, there has been a major buzz around Erotokritos (99 rue Vieille du Temple), the Paris-based Greek Cypriot designer who counts Kirsten Dunst amongst his fans. His colorful collections include eye-catching two-tone dresses and snazzy geometric-patterned men’s sweaters. Across the street Vanessa Bruno is a Parisian designer with her finger firmly on the bobo (bohemian bourgeois) fashion pulse. Her elegant, ultra-wearable women’s collections revolve around sassy little dresses, pleat-and-drape pants and flatteringly cut tops, and she also does a great line in slouchy leather bags. Award-winning Australian designer Martin Grant has a tiny showroom tucked away at the back of a 17th-century cobbled courtyard (10 rue Charlot). This is the place to snap up brocade cocktail dresses, timeless daywear and the impeccably tailored coats that play a key role in Grant’s collections even in the spring and summer. Urban dandies will find stylish menswear with a rock’n’roll twist at Christophe Lemaire, creative director for Lacoste, who showcases his own solo line in a three-room shop decked out like a trendy private apartment (28 rue du Poitou). Men in search of a more formal look should check out Pierre Talamon‘s pin-striped shirts and made-to-measure suits (15 rue du Temple), while bargain hunters will love the loud prints and eye-catching patterns at Coton Doux, one of a small chain of Paris shops offering an array of men’s cotton shirts, boxer shorts and pajamas in bright colors and prints at wallet-friendly prices (37 rue de Turenne).

Design and Decor

Cutting-edge art galleries abound in the Marais and an increasing number of design shops have sprung up catering to the art crowd. The Collection (33 rue du Poitou), a branché boutique run by British owner Alison Grant, offers works by upcoming and established European designers, including witty ceramics and sculptural lampshades. Fashion designer Christian Lacroix was so impresse by the trompe-l’oeil wallpaper here that he snapped up several rolls to use in decorating the Hôtel du Petit Moulin next door. Dominique Picquier (10 rue Charlot), who trained as an architect but reinvented herself as a textile designer, creates beautiful floral and vegetal prints. If you can’t afford to reupholster your living room in gingko leaves and twirling vines, Ms. Picquier also produces charming purses, evening bags and carry-ons in the season’s best-selling fabrics. Robert le Héros (13 rue de Saintonge) is not a gallant knight in shining armor but a leading design collective set up by four art school friends who reproduce their bold graphic designs on everything from cushions, curtains and wallpaper to funky bags and desk diaries. The luxuriant shop windows at Hervé Gambs (9 bis rue des Blancs Manteaux) look like a grand Parisian florist shop until you take a few steps closer and realize that the delicate orchids, calla lilies and magnificent sprays of wisteria are actually made of silk. Once you have chosen your artificial bouquet, the blooms can be sprayed with one of the enticing home perfumes that imitate natural fragrances like the smell of freshly cut grass.

Potions and Scents

Patyka (14 rue Rambuteau), a little gem of a boutique with the ambiance of an old-fashioned apothecary, offers a luxurious range of 100 percent organic beauty products and perfumes in retro glass bottles and simple but stylish packaging. The Huile Absolut Organic Serum here-made from a secret blend of geranium, rose, sandalwood and muscatel-works brilliantly as a moisturizer for women or an aftershave balm for men. Senteurs de Fée (10 rue de Sévigné) is, just as its name suggests, a tiny olfactory haven filled with “fairy fragrances”-or at least magical elixirs and sensual potions with poetic names. This bijou boutique carries a wonderfully aromatic range of room perfumes, scented candles, bath salts and body creams all made with essential oils. At Canzi (2 rue Ferdinand Duval) skincare fanatics can perch at the beauty bar and watch Stéphane Mottay whip up their own personalized organic face cream as they select the ingredients. Mottay trained as a perfumer so, as a bonus, everything in his sleek, brightly lit store smells divine. A few steps away (at No. 10) The Different Company is the high-end niche perfume company created by the famous French “nose” Jean-Claude Ellena and his daughter, Céline. Customers are encouraged to take an intense hit of the elegant floral Osmanthus or Céline’s modern chypre Sublime Balkiss by swilling a few precious drops around in the bottom of a brandy snifter. If money is no object, treat yourself to a leather travel case for your perfume, available in a range of exotic skins.

(Although the boutiques on Rue des Francs Bourgeois, the main street of the Marais, are almost all open on Sunday, many of these unique little shops are not.)

See our complete Paris shopping guide

Originally published in the February 2009 issue of France Today.

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