Guy Hibbert leafs through a new book which takes us on a charming tour of Paris’s finest traditional purveyors of everything from buttons and pastels to wood panelling.
As we regret the loss of our favourite neighbourhood shops which are so often swept away by rising rents and global brands, it is truly heartening to discover that Paris is still clinging onto to the dearest and the best of its heritage emporia. In Marin Montagut’s book Timeless Paris, we get to dive into 19 of his favourite shops and museums. And the 20th? Well that would be the ‘purveyor of all kinds of objects’, the author’s own eponymous treasure chest on Rue Madame. More on that later – first, a quick tour around this charming book.
At La Maison du Pastel in Rue Rambuteau, Isabelle Roché and her American colleague, the artist Margaret Zayer, tend to a family business that dates back to 1870, and was once frequented by legendary pastel masters Degas and Quentin de la Tour. In their tucked-away boutique are pastels in every shade and texture imaginable. Nothing has changed here for more than 150 years. The shelves are lovingly stacked with hand-labelled boxes containing more than 1,600 subtly graded shades of pastels. In the Galerie Vivienne, one of Paris’s famous glass-covered ‘passages’ you will find the Librairie Jousseaume, a bookseller that has been on the same site since the Galerie was inaugurated in 1826. The covered passages were once home to families of publishers, printers, engravers and bookshops. Here is a browser’s paradise of used and antique volumes where you can tread in the footsteps of Colette and Cocteau.
A visit to Bouclerie Poursin is living proof that traditional niche manufacturing skills can survive a century of modernisation and mass production. Here on the Rue des Vinaigriers, in one of the oldest workshops in Paris, can be found the craftsmen and women who create saddlery accessories. These handmade, finely fashioned buckles, belts and brass accessories have been the premier choice for the pride of the French cavalry regiments, for the grand equestrian breeding centres and, later, for design houses such as Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton.
On a visit to any grand French hôtel particulier or château, you will be sure to encounter ornate woodwork, panelling and plasterwork. Much of the finest work came from Féau & Cie on Rue Laugier in the 17th arrondissement. The entire history of French décor from the 17th to 20th centuries is represented here in the nooks and crannies of a vast labyrinth. Three generations of the Féau family have created what is in effect a living museum of French decorative heritage. No wonder some of the world’s foremost designers come here for inspiration for their interior design projects.
STEP BACK IN TIME
The next time you are in Paris and feeling under the weather or suffering from a surfeit of good food and wine, you might try the remedies available at the Herboristerie de la Place Clichy. Established in 1880 this charming shop embodies the survival of historic Paris and still serves customers requiring natural plant-based tisanes, infusions and remedies for all kinds of ailments. Complete with the original wood panelling, apothecary jars and copper scales, this is truly a trip back in time. Another wonderful emporium of traditional household items is Produits d’Antan on Rue Saint-Bernard in Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Amid original wood-lined shelves and antique signage, Nathalie Lefebvre (who bought the store “out of passion” in 2014) takes pride in stocking thousands of products to maintain, restore, strip, polish, buff and bring a shine to materials including wood, marble, leather, stone and metals.
Few compilations of wonderful Parisian shops could fail to mention Ultramod on the Rue de Choiseul. It’s actually two shops which face each other: a haberdashery on one side and a milliner and passementerie on the other (think fabric trimmings and curtain tiebacks). There have been milliners at this address for more than 200 years. Whether customers come to buy exquisite silk and velvet ribbons, felt fashioned from rabbit hair or veiling of the highest quality, they will discover that the inventory has continually expanded; for example, stocks include around 40,000 buttons in every shade imaginable, all beautifully arranged by colour.
OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Timeless Paris brings to life 19 of these fascinating boutiques and places of wonder. But special mention must go to the author’s own contribution. Committed to traditional arts and craftsmanship, Marin Montagut opened his own store on Rue Madame near the Luxembourg Gardens. He has reconfigured the former upholsterer’s workshop to create a curio shop, a boudoir and a studio. Spend some time in the beautifully restored and authentically styled shop and you might find yourself tempted by an antique or object d’art that caught the author’s eye on his travels. Or perhaps one of his own unique creations will take your fancy: stationery, tableware, boxes, pillows, silk scarves – all inspired by his passion for the unique retail heritage that Paris still has to offer.
From France Today Magazine
Lead photo credit : Author Marin Montagut's shop on Rue Madame, in Paris's 6th arrondissement, is packed with beautiful objects, from tableware to silk scarves © Romain Ricard