I love Paris, as I feel Parisians and French people as a whole have a love for life and all the things that make it beautiful: art, food, music, love, and style. When it comes to shopping, especially for clothes and fashion, Paris is the center of the universe.
Paris has three main department stores, and they are all self-contained fashion malls with many famous designers represented inside. Each is a total shopping experience, and Paris shoppers with limited time can do very well just visiting the three big ones. For an all-inclusive shopping experience, including beautiful designer clothes, home accessories, great food, and even personal shoppers and stylists, here’s a guide to the Paris department stores:
Le Bon Marche
Le Bon Marche (24 Rue de Sevres, Seventh) first opened in 1848 and is still offering the finest fashions from top designers, along with accessories, personal shoppers, and other luxury touches. To me, Le Bon Marche is the grand dame of Paris stores: elegant, sophisticated, and a little bit snobbish. For example, the website is only in French. That stuck-up attitude is what I love about the store and about Paris, because it’s a facade. Get to know the real Paris and real Parisians, and you’ll find they’re not stuck up. Spend some time shopping in Le Bon Marche trying out your bad French, and as long as your credit card is valid, you’ll be surprised at how friendly the salespeople are.
One of my favorite parts of Le Bon Marche is their La Grande Epicerie de Paris, the enormous gourmet food market. Great meals can be created here, then boxed up to eat at the tourist sights in Paris. This is also a great place to buy souvenirs; they have all kinds of wonderful cookies, candies, and other boxed and bottled exotic food items.
Printemps (64 Boulevard Haussmann, Ninth) is a huge temple of fashion filled with all the top designer brands. Every major designer is here — just the youth department has over 250 different designers and brands. Everything here is super-sized and over the top, and it’s awesome. Printemps opened in 1865 and continues to offer shoppers the finest goods anywhere. Shoppers who sign up for their mailing list get a card good for a 10-percent discount. Of the three department stores, I think Printemps is the most modern and current, striving to offer the newest and most cutting-edge styles. Like the other two, Printemps holds a lot of unique and original exhibitions and sales. Currently, they have a Louis Vuitton pop-up store in collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama offering unique, one-of-a-kind items designed by the artist. This fall, there’s also a exhibition called Manolo Blahnik, 40 Years of Glamour, celebrating the famous shoe brand.
Printemps has eight restaurants, and my favorite is Laduree, a classic French pastry shop or “patisserie” that should not be missed for a sugar break. It’s home to an amazing selection of macarons, small domed cookies with filling in the middle, like a super French Oreo.
Galeries Lafayette (40 Boulevard Haussmann, Ninth) is another classic department store filled with fashion, cosmetics, jewelry, home items, and a great food market. Galeries Lafayette is my favorite. It’s the most lavish, over-the-top of the three and takes me back to what it must have been like for wealthy Parisians to shop in the 19th century. The store was founded in 1893, and the current building opened in 1912. It has a similar vibe to Harrod’s in London but much more fashionable and modern. For a great meal, the store offers five daily cooking classes in their Lafayette Maison home store chef’s kitchen. They are all lunchtime classes, and you get to eat the assignment after class.
Some of the department stores carry some brands exclusively. If shoppers are seeking a specific perfume brand or designer’s clothes, it’s best to check the store’s website to ensure they stock it. All three store websites offer detailed lists of the brands and designers they carry.
Almost all items purchased in Paris are subject to the VAT, or value added tax, which is similar to a sales tax. For American shoppers who spend at least 175.01 euros in the same location on the same day, you can get the 12-percent tax refunded to you. Ask the store for a VAT refund form. Travelers fill in the form, mail it in with receipts, and receive a refund later by mail. You must also get the paperwork stamped by customs when leaving the country. All three department stores have customer service departments where you can file all the paperwork immediately.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. He travels frequently to Paris and hopes to someday retire to Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. You can follow him on Twitter @thefredsherman.