Helena Frith Powell is the author of the witty and engaging Two Lipsticks and a Lover (published in the US as How to Be Impossibly French). Powell spent seven years in France observing just what makes French women so, well, French, and shared it with the rest of us via her French Mistress column for the Sunday Times. For more info on Helena, her books and columns, visit her blog.
I’m planning some serious shopping today. Where do I fortify myself first?
Have a coffee at Les Deux Magots. (6, Place St.-Germain des Prés, in the 6th Arrondissement; 01 45 48 55 25). This is where Sartre and de Beauvoir came every day to write and discuss. It was also a favorite of Hemingway’s. Now you’re more likely to spot fashionistas like Karl Lagerfeld among the American tourists. If it is a sunny day, try to grab a seat outside so you can watch all the Parisians wandering about.
Hmm. They do look good. I’d better get started.
If you’re going to shop like a French woman, the first thing you need to think about is underwear. St.-Germain is also home to Sabbia Rosa (73, rue des Sts.-Pères, in the 6th; 01 45 48 88 37). Sabbia opened her shop in the 1970s, when French women were burning bras as opposed to buying them. Her shop is gorgeous, as is her underwear—mainly silk slips and French knickers—but it’s expensive. You’ll pay around 350 euros for a slip.
There are cheaper underwear options in Paris. For example, head just down the road to Princesse Tam Tam (52, blvd St.-Michel; 01 42 34 99 31). Here you can pick up several ensembles for the price of one of Sabbia’s slips. The underwear is good quality and trendy. If it’s choice you’re after, you need to go to the Galeries Lafayette (40, blvd Haussmann, in the 9th; 01 42 82 30 25). This is home to the biggest underwear space in Europe. You’ll find everything from their own brand (very reasonably priced) to designers like Chantal Thomass, where a set of bra and knickers will cost you around 200 euros. While you’re on the boulevard Haussmann, head to one of Paris’s other great department stores, Printemps, at number 64.
Armed with silk self-confidence boosters and suspenders (Et pourquoi pas?), I need some outer layers . . .
If you’re looking to spend some serious dosh, walk over the bridge to the 1st. Even if you’re just going to have a look, you must check out Hermès (24, rue du Faubourg-St.-Honoré, in the 8th; 01 40 17 46 00). It is truly amazing, and just about the most Parisian place you can go. Also a must-see is the new LVMH store on the Champs-Elysées (101, ave des Champs-Elysées, in the 8th). When I went there, about three weeks after it opened, there was a half-hour queue to get in. Once in, you have a choice of horribly overpriced and fairly naff Louis Vuitton [designs], but just the building makes it worth the visit.
Just up the road on the rue Cambon, you can visit the equally hallowed ground of Chanel (29, rue Cambon, in the 1st; 01 42 86 28 00). This is where Coco Chanel—still known as Mademoiselle by the people who work there—started out in 1910. The shop is stunning, and if you can scam a visit to the haute couture showroom, do. But be warned, a suit there starts at 20,000 euros. Downstairs in the prêt-à-porter they are slightly less, but you won’t get much change out of 2,000 euros.
If only! Are there other designers for the more budget-bound?
Staying with French designers, you can head to Agnès B (6, rue du Jour, in the 1st; 01 45 08 56 56). Her clothes won’t cost you a fortune—tops start at around 60 euros and trousers at 90 euros. Her style is classic and wearable; her preferred fabrics, cotton, merino wool and silk. In the same arrondissement, you can go for a bit of vintage style at Didier Ludot (125, Galerie de Valois, in the 1st; 01 40 15 01 04). Not cheap, but some amazing pieces—for example, 1920s Chanel.
Head back to St.-Germain, where there is plenty of choice. For those of you with a baggy jumper fetish, try Blanc Bleu (28, rue Bonaparte, in the 6th). They have lovely sporty but stylish clothes. A jumper will cost around 150 euros and a pair of trousers around 90 euros.
While you’re still in St.-Germain, check out Maje (48, rue du Four). It is trendy, fun and reasonably priced. A top will cost you 45 euros, Bermuda trousers 85 euros, and dresses start at 99 euros. Close by you have Bijoux Burma (26, rue du Four), a great place to stock up on costume jewelry. It’s not cheap, though; bracelets start at 200 euros and rings at 150 euros. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, head to nearby Monoprix (136, rue de Rennes; 01 49 54 30 00), where you can buy great jewels for the price of a coffee.
Any tips for shoe fetishists?
For shoes head to Roger Vivier (29, rue du Faubourg-St.-Honoré, in the 8th; 01 53 43 00 00). You might even catch sight of former supermodel and Lagerfeld muse Inès de la Fressange, who now runs Vivier. The shop sells signature vintage models as well as new designs. If you’ve never heard of Roger Vivier, imagine a Manolo Blahnik from the 1920s. They start at about 250 euros. A cheaper option is Lobato (6, rue Malher, in the 4th; 01 48 87 68 14). This boutique is run by the charming Miguel Lobato and sells accessories by a variety of designers. Here you can stock up on shoes by Rodolphe Menudier and Michel Vivien, bags by Jamin Puech and beaded bracelets by Azuni. It’s not a steal, but the stuff is good quality.
This is hard work. I think I need to unwind.
The trendy place the locals go to for a gorgeous treatment is the Doux Me beauty room at Spa Hôtel Costes (239, rue St.-Honoré, in the 1st; 01 43 26 34 67). Run by the lovely Caroline, Doux Me offers treatments including massages, facials and wraps. She uses all her own natural products, but she’s not the cheapest option. An hour-and-a-half facial will cost you 100 euros, but this includes a full back, arms, neck and scalp massage along with a consultation, tea and relaxation.
If you happen to be in St.-Germain, pop into Les Thermes St.-Germain (5, Passage de la Petite-Boucherie; 01 56 81 31 11). It is even open on Sundays (very unusual for Paris). An hour-and-a-half exfoliating and massage treatment will cost you 65 euros.
For something a little more unusual, head to Liz Hurley’s favorite masseur in Paris, John Odel, at the Ritz Health Club (15, Place Vendôme, in the 1st; 01 43 16 30 60). He offers a Kiradjee massage, inspired by his roots in Australia. It is one of the most luxurious experiences you can have—all rose petals and candles. The masseur works on your stress points to relax your whole body. It costs 150 euros for an hour and a half.
Any other little secrets?
If you want to visit a traditional French pharmacy, you should pop into the Selas Pharmacie de l’Epoque (49, rue du Four, in the 6th; 01 45 48 53 58). This is such a lovely place, with antique wooden counters and lovely staff. Last time I was there I had a streaming cold and they gave me drugs as well as water to wash them down. Old-fashioned service in old-fashioned surroundings.
Every French woman I’ve met has perfect nails. How do they do it?
If you’re a French woman, you will of course need to have perfectly manicured nails (feet and hands) before you go anywhere. In the 15th the place to visit for perfect feet is Isabelle Perruquetti (94, ave Émile Zola; 01 45 78 21 66). A 45-minute pedicure will cost you 28 euros. Another favorite among Parisians is Chez Alexandre (3, ave Matignon, in the 8th, just off the Champs-Elysées; 01 42 25 57 90). A normal manicure will cost you 28 euros and a French manicure 35 euros.
OK, so I’m gorgeous top to toe and dressed to kill—what now?
A great bar to meet people is Le Fumoir (6, rue de l’Amiral de Coligny, in the 1st. 01 42 92 00 24). It is across the road from the Louvre and is famous as a good after-work drinks spot. It also has a good restaurant.
Helena Frith Powell’s Two Lipsticks and a Lover is published by Gibson Square Books and is available from Amazon, along with her other titles, among them, To Hell in High Heels and More France Please, We’re British.