Save Me from What I Want: Shopping in Paris for Everything Else
Hi there! What a slacker I’ve been about updating! I’m currently hanging out in my mountain hometown in Colorado, getting drunk in the middle of the afternoon and seeing movies with my parents like three delinquent teenagers. It’s been delightful. I have so many things to tell you about, dear reader, including a pretty killer birthday dinner I had in Paris with my lovelies and a slew of down-home restaurants in Denver where I’ve been gleefully gorging. Get ready for your cholesterol to hit an all time high when you see the pictures.
But first things first, I want to finish this damn shopping guide. I’ll admit I’m doing this for one person and one person alone, my dear friend S who is currently in Paris. He’s crashing at our apartment and finishing up some dissertation research at the Pompidou during the holidays. If his last week in Paris this past spring was any indication, he is also going to be hitting the pavement and looking for a gift for his oh-so-ravishing girlfriend H. The poor kid probably spent a week walking the streets of Paris searching for a gift for her in the spring and ended up purchasing a candle. Is there anything worse that the massively overdetermined gift? The gift to which you want to attach a map of all of the miles you walked, the stores you scoured, the headaches you incurred, all out of your desire to buy your favorite person something perfect?
I’ll admit that S has his work cut out for him. I wouldn’t want to buy a gift for H. She’s one of those maddeningly pulled-together gals that manage to always make slightly quirky and off-kilter things look impossibly chic. The kind of woman that makes those of us who wear a veritable uniform of American Apparel and Uniqlo separates feel, well, a bit sheepish. H isn’t alone of course – somehow I manage to attract a lot of überstylish friends, my besties M, MT, and J among them. If I was a rich lady and could buy presents for everyone, I’d probably hit some of the following locations in Paris. I’ll move from the “what a lovely thought” ideas to the “wow you really shouldn’t have!” categories.
Soap! Everybody knows about soap from Marseille! Before I headed back to the States, I went to La Maison du Savon de Marseille (17 rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris, Métro Hôtel de Ville) and seriously stocked up on their beautiful 200 gram bars of scented soap. I especially like that some of their floral and herbal varieties are loaded up with actual dried plants (I find a winning combinations to include fleur de lavande, rose, anise, rosmarin, and herbes de provence). Best yet, at 10 bars for 25€, you can seriously bang out some gifts. Feel free to select the perfumes of your choice and then tell the cashier which ones you want wrapped together – it’s gratis and they do a pretty job with ribbon and such.
Candy! Everyone likes candy! My favorite stop for sweet stuff is the beautiful Les Bonbons au Palais (19 rue Monge, 75005 Paris, Métro Jussieu). Georges the proprietor is a veritable expert on the artisanal sweets of France and he brings together an amazingly curated collection of treats in his gorgeous store, which is lined with memorabilia from his schoolboy days. His fare, which includes a host of bizarre candied fruits, flavored marshmallows, and herbal hard candies, are housed in beautiful glass jars. It’s worth a stop even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. One thing I will mention, however, is that Georges does not want you to touch his candy. Seriously. Don’t even let your finger graze the lid of a jar, or you will receive a sharp rebuke. Instead, indicate to Georges what you are interested in and he will likely give you a sample. He will also create a lovely gift bag of your selected treats, which are sold by weight and are (cough) expensive but worth the bones, as you aren’t going to be seeing many of these candies anywhere else in Paris (and certainly not aux États-Unis).
For intriguing home decor, head to De Bouche à Oreille (26 rue Roi de Sicile, 75004 Paris, Métro Hôtel de Ville). While the space is filled with everything from ceramic phrenological heads and antique marionettes to a wide-variety of taxidermied animals and insects, there is also a great selection of candles, quirky picture frames, and beautiful glass and hammered tin Christmas ornaments (I stocked up on the latter for my mother this year). They also sell handsome paperweights and vintage letter openers and magnifying glasses, a trio that might make a lovely gift for anyone who spends a lot of time at their desk.
For true paper junkies, a visit to rue Pont Louis Philippe is a must, with the handsome store Mélodies Graphiques (10 rue Pont Louis Philippe, 75004, Métro Pont Marie) at the top of my list. I seriously can’t get B out of this store and avoid this block if we have anywhere we need to be at a particular time. The store has an incredible selection of hand-marbled paper, sold both by the sheet and covering handsome leather-bound journals. There are also amazing handmade cards and stationary sets, fountain pens, and an assortment of seals (maybe a handsome H and some wax, S?). While you are on the block, make sure to spend a moment gawking at the rare musical instruments at Orphée (8 rue Pont Louis Philippe, 75004, Métro Pont Marie). Obviously, not everyone is searching for the perfect baroque bassoon, but this would be the location if you were looking for rare or antique musical instruments. A violinist of sorts myself, I get a tingly feeling in my fingers when I see the collection exquisitely crafted string instruments, many of which are from the 17th and 18th centuries. Swoon.
For the vrai or would-be artist in your life, cross the Seine and visit the venerable Magasin Sennelier (3 Quai Voltaire, 75007 Paris, Métro Palais Royal). Oh man, is this place cool, even to someone like me that couldn’t render a figure to save her life (or a game of Pictionary). Opened in 1887 by Gustave Sennelier, the store is four rickety floors jam-packed with every art supply under the sun, including a legendary selection of oil pastels, which were actually developed as a medium by Henri Sennelier (Gustave’s son) for Pablo Picasso.
I mean, seriously, do you think that you are going to find a better art store in Paris than Cezanne did? I didn’t think so. As a feel-good bonus, the century-old business is still family-run. I’d suggest buying a handsome palate or artist’s smock for the painter in your life. Or, check out their beautiful selection of Japanese watercolors (Neon and metallic watercolors? Be still my heart!) and house-bound artist paper tablets for a variety of media. B, a newly-formed calligraphy junkie, swears by Sennelier-brand inks, which happen to come in beautiful jars that are themselves worth showing off. If you’re curious about the history of the store itself, here is a great piece from NPR’s Morning Edition on Sennelier’s relationship with the world of Parisian art making.
Everyone thinks of perfume when they think of Paris, but it’s trickier than ever to find something special and uniquely Parisian in a world full of Sephoras. Never fear! We here at Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background would never send you back to your girlfriend with a bottle of perfume she could buy at the local mall! I’d instead recommend a trip to the Annick Goutal counter at Merci (111 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, Métro Saint-Sébastien-Froissart), a laboratory-style setup where you can pick and choose the perfect scent from an apothecary-worthy selection of glass beakers.
You also couldn’t go wrong with a piece of jewelry from one of Merci’s well-curated cases, or a featherweight scarf by Epice in the ladies’ clothing section to your right when you enter the store (I’m imagining here my little Marxist friend S freezing like a deer in headlights when he enters this “concept store”).
Or, if you want to dig a bit deeper into the history of Parisian perfume making, trek across town to the eighth arrondissement and visit the House of Creed (38 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 75008 Paris, Métro Georges V). A family business since 1760, the Creeds have been supplying perfume to the royal houses of Europe (and commoner schlubs like me) for centuries. Using a traditional infusion technique that has been abandoned by most commercial perfume manufacturers because it is so expensive and labor-intensive, Creed produces a wide variety of perfumes that smell like nothing else I’ve ever encountered. I’m a positive slut for their Royal Scottish Lavender (for men, but who really cares about these things) and their unisex Virgin Island Water, which is effectively sex distilled in a bottle. I discovered Creed because MT showed up in Paris wearing Virgin Island Water and I literally couldn’t stop hugging her. It became totally inappropriate, and she told me to leave her alone and get my own damn bottle.
When in doubt, everyone wants (and looks excellent in) a classic striped marin shirt from Saint James (locations all over Paris). I’ll save you the legwork: Saint James is only place in Paris where you can actually find the iconic Picasso shirt (which is solid white at the top and has three-quarter length sleeves, if historical veracity is your bag). Their knits are exquisite, and their wool sweaters (while spendy) are the kind of thing that I can see both men and women wearing for decades.
Finally, for a great selection of oh-so-achingly-hip Parisian clothes, jewelry, and handbags, take the métro to Ledru-Rollin and head to the intersection of avenue Ledru-Rollin and rue de Charonne. From there, you can pop in to Les Fleurs (6 passage Josset, 75011 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin), a clusterfuck of all things feminine and twee. If you can avoid the brain-hemorrhage that inevitably results from this much pink in one small space, you will find that their bijoux are well-priced and their selection of Nat et Nin handbags are spot-on, making it a good stop for the younger women in your life. On rue de Charonne, you can hit Sessun (30 rue de Charonne) for Liberty of London print fabric dresses and deceptively nice but surprisingly inexpensive leather bags. I recently got stuck in a dress there and can never return from the sheer shame of this event, but their clothes are always pitch-perfect. Next door is French Trotters (also 30 rue de Charonne), a concept store that hosts an up-to-the minute selection of the coolest French brand of clothing and accessories, including buttery driving gloves and drool-worthy purses in brightly colored hues by Jerome Dreyfuss. French Trotters also have an excellent children’s store down the block, if you are the type of person who doesn’t squirm at spending fifty bucks on a child’s dress.
Finally, Oxyde (28 rue de Charonne) has offbeat modern, but utterly wearable clothes and a yummy selection of Spring Court sneakers (the preferred brand of John Lennon and the comfiest shoes I’ve ever owned). I especially covet the weird and Meret Oppenheim-esque fur-lined ones they have been hawking as of late. Because whose toes don’t deserve rabbit fur?
So that’s it for my Paris shopping guide, dear reader, as this is all the conspicuous consumption I can muster for this month. Ironically, I’ve been doing most of my Christmas shopping at the local Target, where I act like a slack jawed idiot marveling at the vast selection of American consumer goods I can’t get in France. Be prepared, my Paris-denizen loves, everyone is unapologetically getting organic dryer sheets and habenero salsa as gifts this year. As for the blarg, we’ll be returning to our regularly scheduled programming (food, kvetching, and more food) now.
To gift-hunting S, courage! Feel free to polish off our bourbon if it will take the edge off of all this shopping.