Rachel Kaplan is a graduate of the Lyçée Français de New York and
a permanent resident of Paris. She is the author of six guide books
including "Best Buys to French Chic in Paris." We asked Rachel to
share her shopping expertise with our readers around the world.
I bet there
are a lot of people who still believe that Paris is the most
expensive city in the world (not true!) and that there is
little or next to nothing that they can afford to bring home,
apart from an Eiffel Tower key chain and a bottle of Chanel
I can prove to you that
by taking tips from the French themselves, visitors to Paris
can come home feeling both chic and happy knowing their checking
accounts haven't gone into the red.
While it's certainly true
that you can limit your shopping to the posh streets of Paris
and stick to such global brands as Hermes, Vuitton and Dior,
you will only end up buying what you find in other major financial
capitals, and you certainly won't have the kind of fun that
comes from venturing off the beaten track.
Location and timing are
crucial aspects of shopping for the best deals in Paris. Some
of the best deals are in the least expected
places. For instance, if you shop at an open-air food market,
it's a good idea to go mid-week, when it is less crowded and
the prices are lower. Make a point of shopping a half-hour
before the market shuts down (12:30 p.m. instead of 1p.m.),
because the stall keepers will often offer some great bargains
to unload leftover merchandise.
My favorite food market
is the Marché Richard-Lenoir,
near the place de la Bastille, the most lively and animated
market in Paris. If you love mushrooms, they have the widest
array in the city including wild cepes and chanterelles. They
also have a little United Nations of takeout food, including
specialities from North and West Africa. Yum!
Paris Flea Market...
you shop the Paris Flea Market,
go early in the morning when you get the pick of the best
merchandise. (This is when the dealers tend to go as well).
The best day of the week to shop is on Monday, when dealers
want to unload all the weekend's unsold merchandise. If you
don't speak French and don't know your way around the Flea
Market (the largest in the world), it's a good idea to go
with a professional shopper who will negotiate and later help
ship your treasures home.
The Paris Flea Market
remains the best place to buy antiques in Paris. It is virtually
a "free-trade zone" at the gates of Paris, in a
working-class district, where the rents are low, and the merchants
manage to avoid paying lots of taxes. This is because they
run a primarily cash-driven business. Don't want to walk around
with a wad of cash? Have no fear -- you can go to various
change outlets, and obtain cash against your bank card.
P.S. Do bring a tape measure
to the market, as well as swatches of material from home that
will help. This way, if you decide on a wonderful find, you'll
know that when it arrives at your house, it fits into your
decor and doesn't overwhelm the room.
When it comes to small
items that you've purchased, it's a good idea to carry them
on the plane with you. Always remember to pack a smaller suitcase
within a suitcase - so you have room to carry your treasures
wine for less...
open-minded when you shop in Paris. You never know when a
bargain will turn up, much less where. For instance, you don't
have to buy your wines at the most expensive shops in Paris
-- you can easily find delicious Bordeaux
wines in the Monoprix chain,
or at the Carrefour or
Auchan hypermarkets at
the gates of Paris. There are also wonderful market streets
in the city, such as the Rue Mouffetard
and the Rue Montorgueil,
where you can find specialist wine shops with wonderful vintages.
I know of one, where the merchant has a lovely poem tagging
each vintage that he has tasted! The name of the wine store
is the Repaire de Bacchus
(literally, the retreat of Bacchus) and it's right on the
finds at food markets...
markets are not just for selling food -- they also have merchants
that sell wonderful fashion accessories, including handbags
and carry-on luggage, as well as scarves and even cashmere pashminas.
Last year, I purchased a lovely lined raw silk turquoise tunic
and a shocking pink cashmere and silk pashmina at my local market
on the Boulevard de Grenelle,
for less than half of what I might have paid in a department
store. Many of these merchants import directly from India and
Nepal, bring back the merchandise in a suitcase, and sell it
in an open-air market, thus saving on a middleman or two. Okay,
so it isn't the Galeries Lafayette -- but isn't this more fun?