It’s a well-known fact that if you come from the Merseyside area and are in possession of XX chromosomes then you are more likely to treat shopping as an Olympic sport than the rest of the world combined. This being said I was slightly intimidated by the great department stores of Paris when I first arrived in FrogLand. The buildings are so beautiful and the clientele so well dressed it can be hard to feel at ease on first glance if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into hence this a cheeky guide to navigating all things glam and fabulous all under one roof in a city prided on its fashion heritage.
Let’s start with the one everyone knows – Galeries Lafayette. This mainstay of French culture has been going for over 100 years and offers everything from designer bags to your weekly food shop. It is usually chock-a-block full of foreign tourists queuing to get into the Chanel concession before they make their way up to the below average cafeteria style restaurant on the top floor. It isn’t my favourite shop because it has a slight stack them high sell them not so cheaply approach which tends to put me off. That being said the Food Hall is rather good but it has nothing on the next one…
Le Bon Marche is superb. It was the first ever department store and was founded in 1852 which proves they must be doing something right. The interior oozes elegance and the staff are so charming it is hard to leave without a smile on your face. Le Grand Epicerie next door is the holy grail of food shopping. If you want luxury and obscure food produce then this is the place for you. From Parisian honey to kale crisps they have it all but the section you should really check out is all the booze in the basement. There a bottles of red wine so big I don’t think I could lift them up let alone pour them. Le Bon Marche currently has an exhibition from Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei, throughout the store which adds to the magical feeling you get from the place.
Printemps has to be the complete opposite. Situated right next to Gal Laf it reeks of a pretentious odour I can only describe as people who have too much money. In my humble opinion it lacks the sophistication of Bon Marche and the Frenchness of Gal Laf. I went into Printemps just to browse a few things during the sales and walked out feeling really rather sick due to the snootiness of the staff. They don’t even have the decency to have a Food Hall.
BHV or Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville as it is also known has to be my absolute favourite of the four classic department stores of Paris. A hop, skip and a jump from Notre Dame it also happens to be the closest to me! I do most of my present shopping there which made Christmas a whole lot easier this year, which is kind of the point of department stores isn’t it?! The Bag for Life from BHV has a gorgeous drawing of a map of the surrounding area in the standout orange that is synonymous with the store. You can literally buy everything there. Bleach? Tick. Obscure Belgian beer? Tick. Outfit for the weekend? Tick again. They even have their own little shop purely for pet supplies somewhere I shall definitely be taking the Corgis.
There we have it. Two and a half years of intensive research into some of the most expensive places to spend weekends in Paris but when you’re spending time in the fashion capital of the world what else would you do?