Paris Tips: Lingerie Shopping in Montmartre

Parlez-moi d’amour at the Moulin Rouge Photos by Theadora Brack

Mural on rue des Abbesses and Lepic (near the Moulin Rouge)

By Theadora Brack

Get to stepping because we’re going lingerie shopping in hilly Montmartre. Lightweight and affordable, they’re my favorite souvenirs. If buying dozens of French slips is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

But first, for the love of petticoat inspiration, let’s kick off our quest at the Moulin Rouge. You know the thrill! Grab your bag, cocktail, and Kodak camera.

Topped with a 40-ft high cylinder-shaped beacon with spinning wings, she emits a deep reddish glow. Shining like a superstar, liquid neon signs and bright floodlights bounce up against her façade, spilling out onto the street in an illusion of a soft red sea. This strange effect has never failed to make my heart swell and knees buckle.

Wind it back, girl

“Life is beautiful; here comes the French Cancan!” artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec would shout out before the highly charged show within the Moulin Rouge’s pulsating walls.

Built in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller (founder of the Nouveau Cirque—the first venue in Paris to offer the comfort of reclining seats!), the Moulin Rouge has remained the undisputed queen of cabaret dance halls and monarch of her neighborhood, Montmartre—where at one time as many as 30 windmills turned “as swiftly as the Parisians’ heads,” as one Italian poet wrote.

French Spice 24 Colors by Coty, 1958

Back in the day

The eager crowd would rush the stage, forming a tight circle around the cancaneuses. Hemmed in by their aggressively courted fan base—sometimes six-deep, the dancers performed the quadrille naturaliste, always competing to see who could kick the highest with (but often without) pantaloons underneath their multiple layers of frothy petticoats, before climaxing with a final exuberant high split in mid-air!

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

“Naked feet, and thighs, and arms, and breasts were being flung on me from bloody-red foam of translucent clothes,” wrote Andrey Bely in his 1906 letter to Alexander Blok about the “Tavern of Hell” at the Moulin Rouge, where lackeys dressed as devils and dancers whirled demonically. Talk about a show-stopper!

On the flip side

Dancer Jane Avril’s description of the scene reads like a poem or an inventory list: “The dancer’s petticoats, twelve meters long, and the knickers, lace inserts, black stockings in the midst of the snowy white highlighted the shape of the leg.”

Always ahead of the curve, Toulouse-Lautrec’s favorite red-haired muse was the first to wear vibrant-colored undergarments and ruby red lipstick!

Bargain Bin Bliss at Sympa

Fast forward: If anything, the show is even more spectacular today. On a typical evening dancers now go through 1,000 costumes, 800 pairs of shoes, and 60 kilos of jewelry and glitter—for just one show. Heads-up: The Moulin Rouge is not a cheap date!

I see London, I see France

Now let’s hotfoot it to the bargain bins of Sympa, located just a cobblestone’s throw away from the steps of la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre. Here you’ll find lingerie, dresses, blouses, skirts, and coats–all trendy chain seconds from previous collections, but for only a tiny fraction of their original cost.

Tips: The best deals are always in the exterior bins on the sidewalks. Hang tough. Own your corner of the bargain bin! Inventory rotates. Etam, Petit Bateau, and Unzies sit pretty on the outside, while Chantelle and Huit hold court inside. Keep your head during the panty raid.

It’s not difficult to walk away with armfuls of delicacies, trimmed with ribbons and bows, and each possessing a provocative names like “Extravagante,” “Hypnotique,” “Promesse,” “Amourette,” “Faveur,”  and finally, yes, yes, “Bliss.”

My favorite Sympa hotspot is at 60 rue de Steinkerque, a street once notorious for its prostitutes and dance halls. Yes, Pablo Picasso also shopped here. Imagine the surreal charm of shopping for your “unmentionables” in the former brothel that Picasso actually frequented during his “blue period!”

Feeling all pin-uppity at Le Boudoir de Marie

Hey Sister, Go Sister

Here also is where the famed terpsichorean, La Goulue (Another muse of Toulouse-Lautrec), made her debut before defecting to the Moulin Rouge. In this ‘hood, she earned her moniker for nipping drinks from her audience while distracting them with her pantaloons and little pet goat. Nab your own knickers in the very room where she once flashed hers so fetchingly at the absinthe-quaffing crowds. Strike up the band!

“When I see my behind in these paintings, I find it quite beautiful!” La Goulue told Toulouse-Lautrec when she saw his drawings of her.


Check out Marie’s Le Boudoir de Marie at 47 rue d’Orsel. Marie spins handmade lingerie like no other. The retro-rocking shop carries baby doll sets, chemises and gowns, along with bras, corsets and turbans. Man Man fans, your curvacious day has come!

Also, let’s not forget to mention the shops of Pigalle. I’d kick off my hunt at either Secrets Pigalle at 62 Boulevard de Clichy or Rebecca Rils at 76 Boulevard de Clichy.

Whether you’re in the market for false eyelashes,  fluorescent wigs, custom-made corsets, or Nancy Sinatra-worthy latex go-go boots, they’ve got you covered both night and day!

More Retro-Active Shopping at Le Boudoir de Marie

Tip: Both shops are kitty corner to the Moulin Rouge, another perfect photo-op for your social media profile portraits. I’d recommend arriving around l’heure bleu (twilight). Also, keep your eyes peeled for the spirit of writer Henry Valentine Miller on the literary prowl. An avid and competitive cyclist, he’d be quite happy with the new bike lanes!

In the Mood for Art after your spree?

Espace Dalí
11 rue Poulbot (Métro: Anvers, Pigalle Abbesses, or Blanche)Dive into the convoluted imagination of the surrealist master. Here is one of my “happy” spots in the city. There’s also a gift shop!

Le Halle Saint Pierre
2 rue Ronsard (Métro: Anvers, Pigalle Abbesses, or Blanche)Visionaries, naives and outsiders—and a cozy café and bookshop with wine, homemade quiche, and a killer view of Sacré Coeur.

Musée de Montmartre
12 rue Cortot (Métro: Anvers, Pigalle Abbesses, or Blanche)
Here is where Impressionism began. After visiting the museum, pop by the nearby vineyard. For the love of Steinlen, cats still guard the grapes!

Musée de l’érotisme
72 boulevard de Clichy (Métro: Anvers, Pigalle Abbesses, or Blanche)
The jumping joint is usually open until 2 AM. Check out their permanent exhibition on famous brothels in Paris. And yes, there’s a gift shop here, too!

Clipping from dancer Jane Avril, “”One more time! One more dance! Maybe this is my last!”

So many options (LEJABY LINGERIE, 1959)

Winding it back at the Moulin Rouge, 1950s

Fast Forward at the Moulin Rouge

Secrets Pigalle at 62 Boulevard de Clichy

Happy Hunting!

77 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Lingerie Shopping in Montmartre

  1. LOL, I’m right smack dab in the middle of writing an article about historic Montmartre (1880-1910) and the Chat Noir expo at the Musée de Monmartre and you posted this! Great minds…

    It also reminds me of my first apartment in Paris, a little garret at 39 rue Pigalle, at the bottom, near Trinité. Thanks for the distraction and the smile and the wonderful photos / text…


    • Thanks, Paul! Perfect timing. The Musée de Montmartre is one of my favorite museums in the world. What did you think of the “Autour du Noir Chat” exposition? It looks sensational. The poster is fantastic, of course. Steinlen’s “Tournee du Chat Noir” has always been a heart breaker in my world! T.

      (Tip: The Musée de Montmartre is located at 12-14 Rue Cortot, 18th arrondissement, Métro: Abbesses or Pigalle). Here’s link: The exhibition is will run from September 13th to January 13th, 2013. It includes works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, and my favorite Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen—just to name a few.)


    • Ah, I’ve always loved the Sympa bargain bins! They even carry clothes from Printemps for just a few euros a pop. Confession: I’ve watched many sunsets (even in the bitter cold) while rummaging through the bins. Also, It’s a great place to people-watch. Enjoy the weekend! T.


    • Yes! Le Boudoir de Marie is a fabulous shop. Did you spot the ruby slippers window?! Perhaps I cropped them out the shot? You must have sensed their commanding stage presence, Monsieur Tin Man!! T.


  2. Dorothy Parker said “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” … especially when they are Lejaby bras at discount prices. My heart is going pit-a-pat at the very idea of naughty, luscious little items to tuck into my lingerie drawer. C’est Magnifique Theadora. V.


    • Virginia, I love the prose. I love the Dorothy Parker wit bit! Say, do you have a favorite lingerie shopping hotspot in Paris? I also love shopping at Galeries Lafayette. It’s entire third floor is dedicated to “Seductive Fashion.” You can’t beat the name. Wise department store! T.


      • My daughter and I would do the mother-daughter shopping thing at Galerie Lafayette. We would tie our Hermes scarves in just the right way and hope that others would think we were sophisticated French women. Virginia


      • I have a book that Hermes gives you when you buy a scarf and I’m still in the dark. But then the dark can be a nice place. V.


  3. Ou La la! My heart is a flutter and my nickers are in the gutter! What a great post. I know this area of Paris and fist saw Pig Alley in a freezing spring rain. It was Heaven in garters and leather bustier. And I know exactly where that vinyard is…just across the street from Professor Emile Flostre salon. You know him..the inventor of Empathicalism. (from Funny Face 1957)


    • OH. NO! For the love of black skinny leggings, I’m now dancing and singing “Bonjour, Paris” at the top of my lungs. Gosh, where’s my trench coat? Whenever I’m blue, I watch “Funny Face.”

      I want to see the den of thinking men
      like Jean-Paul Sartre
      I must philosophise with all the guys
      around Montmartre and Montparnasse!

      And Professor Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair). Sigh. Here’s a cinematic tidbit: Monsieur Auclair also played Belle’s wheeling-dealing brother in Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bête (1946). Another great film.

      Here’s a fragrance question for you. (WWPEFW?) What would Professor Emile Flostre wear?

      Enjoy the weekend!


    • Thank YOU. I do! The “Autour du Noir Chat” exhibition at the Musée de Montmartre looks very interesting. The poster is pretty darn terrific. You can’t go wrong with a Steinlen cat! Yesterday or today. I think you’ll agree! T.


  4. I must pay a visit soon! Evidently I won’t find anything my size ;-P Flâner à Montmartre 🙂


  5. Bra and panties with a domestic kitchen scene straight out of I Love Lucy! Great gift idea! I love T!


    • I know! I know! They’re cute, eh? I’m digging the red checkered gingham pattern. By the way, designer Marie is often at the shop. I dig her sense of design and humor. She’s super friendly and accessible. Also, there are a few other funky designer boutiques along rue d’orsel. Great ‘hood! T.


  6. Another great article! I do so love Paris, and Montmartre is my special place – such character, warmth, ambience, and a wonderful treat for the senses. I’ve never been to Moulin Rouge, and your article brings it to life for me. I love the thought, too, of shopping in the “bargain bins of Sympa”. I love all things Parisien. I think I must have lived there in a past life!! Thank you, Theadora. You have made my day. Bless you.


    • What thoughtful words—as always! You made my week. Thank you! You’d love Montmartre and its cobblestone streets and bargain bins. Are you planning a trip to city? T. (I’ve been enjoying your “Pins,” by the way. You have quite the eye.)


      • Thank you, Theadora. I would like to return soon but not sure when yet. Maybe next year. Glad you like the pins. I’m getting quite addicted!! Blessings.


    • Yes, Tammy! Jane had a way with words. Here’s what she said about her cancan rival, Louise Weber (La Goulue): “It was tough to please Louise, but always easy to make her happy. Just tell her she is the Queen of France and everything will be fine!” Smart cookie! T.


  7. “Topped with a 40-ft high cylinder-shaped beacon with spinning wings, she emits a deep reddish glow. Shining like a superstar, liquid neon signs and bright floodlights bounce up against her façade, spilling out onto the street in an illusion of a soft red sea. This strange effect has never failed to make my heart swell and knees buckle.”

    OK T…you got me on this one…..good. I had never fully conceived of the underlying phallic metaphor/symbolism that the design of ‘la tour rouge ‘ might represent. That a lingerie market has sprung up on this ancient site of debauchery is entirely apropos in the strange cosmic context of humanity that is Paris. Keep up the good work.


    • Your words always make me smile! Thanks for that. I’m now obsessed with the area, so expect a “part two” story. I recently found a few old images of Pigalle corset shops. Perhaps the lingerie market has been there for ages? Stay tuned! Here’s a tidbit for the road. Toulouse-Lautrec lived on rue Pierre-Fontaine, located kitty-corner to the Moulin Rouge. Talk about an easy, breezy commute! T. (Enjoy the weekend and weekend writing!)


    • Merci! I also love the mural. I’ve been trying to dig up info about the artist. I’ll keep you posted. It’s fetching, I do believe. Here’s the exact address: Café Nazir at 56 rue des Abbesses and rue Tholozé (Métro Abbesses or Blanche). It’s located next to Studio 28 movie house. This is where Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel premiered one of the first surrealist films there: “L’Age d’Or” (The Golden Age)! T.


  8. You’re a great writer! I love phrases like “a cobblestone’s throw away” and “Always ahead of the curve” clever! But I can’t read these posts because they make me green with envy. My latest knickers are blue leopard print on white with blue lace trim – they were the only half decent ones in the Peruvian supermarket. And they’re man-made fabrics!!!! Sigh. One day I’ll have beautiful underwear. But not while I’m trekking South America. Thanks for liking my posts btw, it means a lot.


    • Ah, what sweet words. Thank YOU. I loved your “knicker” story and fab description: leopard print on white with blue lace trim! And hand-made? Very cool. I think you already possess beautiful lingerie. Hands-down, you win! T. (And yes, I’ve been enjoying your travel reports.)


  9. What a fine and perfect tour of Montmartre for a tired Friday evening in Chicago, Mlle B.! You’ve just lifted my spirits to about 9 miles high! Love your archives…and so longing to visit Paris…maybe, just maybe…someday! Merci beaucoup!!!


    • Merci. Merci!! Now I’m thinking of Picasso’s sculpture in Chicago on Washington Street. What a great place to people-watch. Have you photographed it? It’s a beauty! B.


      • Haven’t been on Washington St. for quite awhile…last year, I had ‘blue screen’ and lost 180+ folders of Nikon Transfers…among them were shots of the Picasso…guess I’ll have to get downtown this weekend and shoot!


  10. Best Paris shopping post ever, and you’ve written some great ones. But I have thing for lingerie and this is the perfect post for me. Great tips. I need to go to every place you mentioned in this post. I think it’s time to start saving up for my next trip to Paris!


    • Thank YOU. Yes, Rue d’Orsel is definitely worth the trek. I love this string of funky designer shops and studios in Montmartre. Here are two more rue d’Orsel shops to add to the list. Next to Le Boudoir de Marie, you’ll find Zélia’s Sur la Terre Comme au Ciel. She creates custom-made gowns and wedding dresses. Ask to see the “cat head” dress. Paws-down, it’s my favorite gown on the planet. Then stop by Kitty’s Killy Grind
 47 rue d’Orsel. She carries hand-made rockabilly couture, along with accessories and vintage clothing. Again, thanks for your kind words!! T.


    • Thanks, Krista! Montmartre IS amazing! Shifting gears to bread and sweets, let’s not forget to mention Coquelicot on 24 rue des Abbesses. It’s the perfect spot for a post-shopping and touring break. I think you stopped there during your recent jaunt to Paris. Heaven! T.


      • I sure did, Coquelicot is THE BEST. Breakfasting amongst Parisians as they were starting their day is one of my favourite memories from my recent trip. I will definitely go back next time!


  11. Fantastic story and piccies! I saw a film about Toulouse L. and this has the same atmosphere! Hugs


    • OH. Thank you, Patti! I feel the same way about your recent New York City shots!! Gorgeous. T. (I lived there for a few years. I miss it. Especially this time of the year with its blue skies, chilly temps, and golden leaves.)


  12. Hi Theadora, what a brilliant idea to purchase lingerie from different places that one travels to. I will keep that in mind. I also wish I had discovered your blog before my trip to Paris. I could have enjoyed the city at a much deeper level first through your wonderful writing and then by actually hunting down the locations. I will probably return but i am not sure when. Take Care, Thea!


    • YES. Lingerie is the perfect souvenir. They’re lightweight and oh-so-affordable. The problem? I’m hooked. The solution? Buy, buy, buy. Wink. It’s also interesting to compare styles and colors. From city to city, they vary. Plus, you can’t wear a postcard! T. (As always, thanks for your thoughtful words. Congratulations on the recent awards. Well-deserved! And yes, you’ll have to return to Paris. Enjoy the weekend! T.


  13. Hey, I’m hoping to stay in Paris for a couple months in the new year and reading this post has made me want to go now! It sounds like such an interesting find and would be a perfect excuse to explore the city. Thanks for the tips 🙂


  14. Thanks so much for this post- I am visiting Paris right now and took your advice- I got some great deals at the Sympa!


  15. Speaking of Toulouse Lautrec, have you been to his museum in Albi? It’s fascinating. I think you’d LOVE it. Plenty of can can girls and ladies of the night, but also interesting early works and life story, and a lovely setting.


  16. Fabulous post Theadora – having posted recently that Monmartre is a “must see”, you have this convinced me even more. I think I am a bit past the age of rummaging in bins for alluring lingerie but I can surely live vicariously!


      • No you didn’t miss it, I just referred to Monmartre as an obvious “must-see” in my post “Meanwhile back in Paris” ……


      • Bonjour from a beautiful sunny Auckland, NZ… no, you didnt’t miss a post, I just referred to Monmartre as an obvious “must see” in my post “Meanwhile back in Paris”. I shall out for Abesses too.


  17. Just discovered this! I was in Monmartre in September visiting the Fabric District, I’ve posted a few pics great place cannot wait to go back making it a biannual visit!


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