Paris Paradise: A Window-Shopping Spree

Got the Mean Reds? Let’s Hotfoot it on over to Bon Marché (Photos by Theadora Brack)

Handsome Devil at Bon Marché (2013)

I’m Waiting for the Man at Bon Marché

By Theadora Brack

Celebrating the launch of the “Les Soldes d’Eté” (Summer Sales) on Wednesday, June 26th, I’ve decided to hit the streets of Paris for some window-shopping. Like Holly Golightly, whenever I get the mean reds, I foxtrot it on over to the grand magasins along Boulevard Haussmann. It’s my favorite nook of paradise in the city. Here the lights are much brighter and the rooftop views are always free.

Meet Frances Waxman

At the flea market, I recently scored Frances Waxman’s illustrated 1912 slim gem: “A Shopping Guide in Paris and London.” Feeling groovy, let’s take a spin around Paris with her handy-dandy of a shopping guide. I think you’ll dig her tips.

For instance, back in the day, globe-trekking, yet frugal, fashionistas flocked to the department stores to feed their bargain basement blues. On Fridays, the shops lured passersby inside with fantastical displays of discounted silk remnants (a.k.a. “coupons”)—”things which can be combined into a French creation.” Someone get Martha Stewart on the horn! She’d approve.

Rebel, Rebel Tip: For walking, Madame Waxman recommends sporting a skirt short rather than with a train that must be held up in “French fashion.” I second that motion. All the better to carry beaucoup shopping bags, I’d say. Grab the leather gants. I’ve got the parasols. Let’s put the hustle in the bustle!

Galeries Lafayette, Big Sales Catalog, 1938

Galeries Lafayette’s Big Sales Catalog, 1938 (T. Brack’s archives)

First Stop: Bon Marché

Waxman sets the scene: “Underclothing of all sorts, stockings, handkerchiefs and gloves are all good and cheap at the Bon Marché! It is a fact that the large balls of darning cotton sold here have a certain renown among frequent visitors to Paris.” Don’t ever underestimate the power of a “Made in Paris” label. Then, now, and hopefully forever!

“The cathedral of modern commerce!” is how Émile Zola neatly described Le Bon Marché in his novel “Le Bonheur des Dames.” The store was the first to launch fixed pricing, welcome stations staffed with English-speaking personal shoppers, and self-service. Even prostitutes were welcomed here with open arms.

Dressed to the Nines: Winding it back to the 1870s, the Paris department stores were the first in the world to install polished plate glass windows because of their close proximity to the France-based Saint-Gobain Glassworks. Ahead of the curve, yes, but it still took awhile for faire du lèche-vitrine (“window licking”) to catch fire. Some shops even hired paid window shoppers to tempt others to do the same.

Soon shoppers were stopping by the new “walk-around” palace on a daily basis. They were hooked. Even as the Prussian army surrounded the city in the war of 1870, American and English fashionistas didn’t flee but kept on shopping at Bon Marché, because a trip to Paris without having shopped would be a “life-long regret.” Now, who hasn’t been there before?

Macaron break at Galeries Lafayette

Macaron break at Galeries Lafayette, second floor, Pistachio

Next Stop: Boulevard Haussmann

After picking up a petit four or five at Bon Marché’s La Grande Epicerie de Paris (one of the world’s largest international food labyrinths), we’ll take the Métro up to Boulevard Haussmann, where Printemps and Galeries Lafayette sit pretty. Along the way, let’s flip once more through Waxman’s 1912 Paris shopping guide, and get still more scoop.

“As the Parisians go to the Bon Marché for their substantial things, they go to Printemps for hat and dress trimmings. Galeries Lafayette is a good place to look for bargain blouses! The lingerie there is often beautiful, and ready-made dresses are to be had in every sort of material and of every degree of elaboration. And its prices are not too high!” Do you hear what I hear? Music to my ears.

Under the looking glass

Tip: While promenading up and down the boulevard, don’t leave without nipping inside Galeries Lafayette for an peek at its glass domed ceiling by architect Ferdinand Chanut. Installed in 1912, this Belle Epoch beauty with a Byzantine twist never fails to dazzle with its razzle. I suggest taking the escalator to the first floor above ground level.

After a quick fly-by through Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s witty garb, lean over the Art Nouveau balcony for a rather spectacular aerial view of the beauty booths below. The logos were installed specifically for this bird’s-eye perspective. Here the phantoms keep time with the fragrance hawkers down below. Squeak to squeak, I’m in heaven.

Snipping yet again from “Bon Marché Weather,” a poem by Gertrude “Lady Dada” Stein: “There are a very great many things everybody is buying. There are a very great many things you are buying. There are a very great many things they are buying. There are a very great many things I am buying.”

As our good chum Virginia over at Bel’ Occhio would say, “A dangerous liaison – this is what Paris is all about. Every woman knows. This frisson of excitement. This bargain well found. This carrying of bags and box. This Paris mine.”

Sigh. Happy hunting!

Catbird Seating at Galeries Lafayette

Catbird Seating at Galeries Lafayette

BRACK Summer Sales 9999

Galeries Lafayette’s glass domed ceiling by architect Ferdinand Chanut

Bon Marché Big Sales Catalog, 1932-1933

Bon Marché’s Big Sales Catalog, Winter 1932-1933 (T. Brack’s archives)

BRACK Summer Sale 16

Zara Shop with Bon Marché’s reflection in view

Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann

BRACK Summer Sale 15

Zara Shop with Bon Marché’s reflection in view

BRACK Summer Sale 4

Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann

Dior at 30 Avenue Montaigne

Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann

BRACK Summer Sale 3

Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann

Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann

Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann

Dior at 30 Avenue Montaigne

BRACK Summer Sale 500

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93 thoughts on “Paris Paradise: A Window-Shopping Spree

  1. Now, that macaron looks delish. Some of they stuff they sell here in the Midwest of the USA – not so much. Croissants too – they just have to come from France. Or at least a good French bakery!! Nothing else will do! I wore a scarf tied around my head recently a la those mannequins. I felt very retro and stylish 🙂

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    • In Cleveland, we’re fortunate to have people making fabulous macarons. That picture grabbed my attention, too, although I like the clothes as well. 🙂

      Nice to have another mini-trip to Paris, Theadora, and so inexpensive.

      janet

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    • YES.
      The macaron at GL was pretty darn fantastic. I was surprised. It was affordable, too. See, I had purchased it for the prime catbird seating. My feet were aching! By the way, Ladurée recently introduced a special “Marie Antoinette” macaron. Dressed in pale blue, it’s a knock-out. Of course, I purchased the limited edition box. It’s now my ring box! 🙂

      So you tried the scarf look? I bet you looked very retro and stylish, too. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me! Did you wear it with a frock or slacks? Maybe I’ll give it another whirl. Thanks for the push? Have you seen “The Great Gatsby” yet? Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan looked very much like a dapper flapper!
      T.
      (Enjoy the weekend!)

      Like

  2. Great post, Theadora! We share the same fondness for Boulevard Haussmann. If I go back to Paris, I’d like to stay in the same little hotel there of Mercure Haussmann because it is pretty much central to everything and just a short walking distance to Champs Elysees. Oh, you’re making me want to pack my bag and head to Paris for the weekend. 😉

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    • Bonjour, Malou! Thank for giving us the great housing tip. I appreciate it. Folks often ask me for hotel recommendations. I’ll have to check out your hotel. Is it the Mercure Paris Haussmann St Augustin at 20 rue Roquépine in the 8th arrondissement. Great location!

      Plus, the Opéra, the Madeleine flower shops and Marie Antoinette’s burial place are also located just a jump and a skip away. YES. Boulevard Haussmann is pretty darn HUB-able!
      Merci!
      T.

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      • I like your blog. It’s also very useful for me as I’m gonna be in Paris soon.
        Keep it up a good writting/journal.
        Cheers,
        Lissa

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      • I’ll be in Paris for a month from Dec20,2013 – Jan 20,2014. Tickets and accomodations already bought and paid;-)
        Do you have any suggestion what and where is the best place to celebrate a New Year Eve?

        Thanks so much, Theadora for willing to help with all the infos, I really appreciate soooooo much.

        xxx

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      • Great question! Post-worthy, too. What a great time to visit the city. So much to do. The department store holiday windows will still be on display. They’re spectacular! You’ll be able to ice skate at the Hôtel de Ville. Plus the Big Winter Sales starts in January. Perfect timing! I’ll create a list for you! T.

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      • Wow, thank you Theadora………atleast now I know I have you in I need more and more infos. Ok that will be great about the list.
        xxxxx

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    • I know! I know! Shopping in Paris is heavenly. I’d still like to create a post about BHV (Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville) . It’s anther beautiful palace with a view! I love the café on the top floor. Soda pops are super affordable! Plus, it’s close to the exhibition halls at Hôtel de Ville! T. (And Bravo on the launch of your new book!! It looks very interesting!)

      Like

  3. You have me drooling at the thought of shopping in Paris – love the Zara outfit with the brown pants and cream top. Interesting facts and tips, a bit of history and great photos as usual – was reading your post as I sat watching the All Blacks beat the French Rugby team 30-0!

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    • Merci! I love the tidbit about the paid window-shoppers! Sign me up for that job. I’m with you! The Zara outfits are pretty darn swell. I also like the mannequin gold eyelashes. Summertime shindig beauty idea?! I’m a big time Zara fan, so I’ve been gearing up for the Big Summer Sales. Of course, I have a plan. There are five Zara shops in the Boulevard Haussmann ’hood. Then, I’ll jump on the “95” bus and hit the one on rue de Rennes. I’m ready. On your mark! Get set! Charge! T. (Enjoy the weekend! 30-0. Boohoo. Boohoo.)

      Like

  4. Wonderful reflections, glamour, charm, nostalgia: tout y est chère amie! 😉 As ever un régal…

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    • Good. Golly. Thank YOU for your charm! T. (Vitrines are always fun to shoot. Mannequins sometimes look so life-like. Perfect material for short fiction, I do believe. Thanks for the brainstorming!)

      Like

  5. Pingback: A short story: From my ‘Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing’ journal: 
 Paris… January 2013 | London Life: rants, politics, family, arts and travels..

  6. A dangerous liaison – this is what Paris is all about. Every woman knows. This frisson of excitement. This bargain well found. This carrying of bags and box. This Paris mine. V.

    Like

  7. Hey, T! A great guide as always (and that’s fascinating about the windows and fake window shoppers), but I LOVE your photographs – mannequins in a state of transcendence!

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    • Thanks, Richard! It’s always fun to photograph mannequins. I especially enjoyed the sequencing this time. They’re great inspiration for short fiction stories, I do believe Perhaps dressed with a soundtrack?! I always love how you mesh your photography with fiction and music. Seamless! T.

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    • Merci, merci, merci! The coffee at Galeries Lafayette was also wonderful. If it had been one-day old and cold, it still would have tasted great, down to the last drop. Sometimes it’s all about location, location, location! T.

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  8. Thank you for this delicious tour of Paris’ best windows and shops (I still remembered how pleasantly surprised I was the 1st time that I saw the magnificent Galeries Lafayette’s glass domed ceiling !).

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    • Thanks for shopping with us! Printemps also has beautiful stainglass. Stay tuned for more tours of the Paris grand magasins. Do you have a favorite in the city? I’d like to shine the spotlight on BHV (Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville)! T. (Enjoy the week!)

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      • Actually my fave is the Printemps Haussmann (because of the magnificent stainglass that you mentioned !). Have a beautiful week too !

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    • AH, thank you! I feel the same way about your photography. The feeling is mutual! Good, golly. Your recent shots of the Casa Batlló by Gaudi were spectacular!! Really. T.

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  9. That macaroon looks like something a Martian would eat–and then see stars! No one photographs them the way you do. I loved this whole series–feel like I went on a window-shopping trip myself!

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    • Merci, Martino! Feeling the sugar rush, I always see stars after eating a macaron. It’s true. Gérard Mulot is another favorite. His shops are located in Saint-Germain des Prés and the Marais, but the main bakery and flagship shop are located at 93 Rue Glacière in the 13th arrondissement. Tours of the workshop are sometimes offered. Imagine. I’d have dreams about the tour for days, I’m certain. Oh, la la. T.

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    • Well, thank you for strolling up and down the boulevards with us! By the way, I thoroughly enjoy your whirlwind tours of flea markets, antique shops, and vintage clothing boutiques! You have such a great eye. It’s always great fun to see your treasures! T.

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  10. Yes the pistachio macaron would be good with a scratch and sniff feature! Love all the windows and reflections too.

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    • YES. Where is smell-o-vision when you need it?! Printemps also has a café view of its atrium. I think I prefer the bird’s eye view at GL! T. (Thanks for your sweet words!)

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    • Well, goodness. Your swell words made my weekend! Have you been to Paris? Any tips for us? Do you have a favorite shopping neighborhood, shop or department store? Do spill! T.

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      • Been 3 times. Always love the way Paris celebrates its art. Love flea markets and just being in Montmartre makes my heart swell.

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      • Not sure if you got my reply already …Wordpress keeps playing up…sorry if I am repeating myself…..I love how Paris celebrates its art,the flea markets and just being in and around Montmartre makes my heart swell. I have been twice as a student and once with my daughter. Hoping to go back soon as……

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      • I agree! Montmartre and the Paris flea markets are wonderful, wonderful! The Montmartre-Abbesses area now has quite a few vintage clothing shops, along with one affordable and very interesting brocante. Located on rue des Martyrs, it’s a favorite shop. Tiny but packed with treasures. Start planning another trip! T. (Enjoy the week!)

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      • Ooo la la….thanks for that. Have to make do with your blog for while I think but that’s really usefull info for future.

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  11. ..and once again I ask myself why it has been so long since my last trip to Paris. There’s also a Galeries Lafayette in Dubai, but let’s face it; it’s not the real thing:)

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    • YES. Start planning another trip to Paris! The holiday windows are always great fun to see. What does the Galeries Lafayette in Dubai look like? I’m now off to Goggle Images! T.

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      • Galeries Lafayette in Dubai is actually inside another mall, Dubai Mall. There’s a really good food section:)

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      • I just spotted your recent nod to the London department stores! Beautiful and dangerous. I jotted down the addresses for an upcoming trip. Merci! T.

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  12. Dearest Theadora, I so enjoyed the shopping trip! So glad Madame Waxman suggested the short skirt, as is did make for easier scouting. I especially love Galeries Lafayette. Our favorite hotel in Mexico City so reminds me of Galeries Lafayette, here are some pics, see if you don’t agree: https://www.google.com/search?q=gran+hotel+de+mexico&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Exa_UcHnI4HGqQHu1YCYCQ&ved=0CGAQsAQ&biw=2021&bih=979 XXXOOO Tinny

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    • Dear Tinny! Madame Waxman is very wise! I also followed her advice. No problems with mud at the end of the day!

      I am in love. Your Gran Hotel Ciudad de México is a stunner! I’ve been enjoying reading about the palace. According to its website, the Tiffany stained glass ceiling was installed in 1908, designed by the French artist Jacques Gruber. Gorgeous. Are the giant birdcages still there?

      Have you created a post about the hotel? Please share the link!

      Big hugs,
      T.

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  13. Theadora,

    I continue to enjoy “Paris Windows”. In this blog you really were able to photograph the buildings in the glass reflections. I must confess that I enjoyed looking at these iconic buildings as much as my wife enjoyed the fashions.
    Happy Summer
    Tom

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    • Thanks, Tom! It was a fun post to create. I especially enjoyed the sequencing. Perfect for a “Brady Bunch” or a “Hollywood Squares” post! YES. The duds and the buildings are beautiful. I plan to create a nod to Samaritaine’s exterior. Gorgeous! T. (As you know, I love how you capture New York City architecture and store windows. More please!)

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  14. Exquisite images, Mlle B.!!! Loving all the reflections!!!

    I guess wiggery for mannequins is quite passe’ in Paris–same/same in Chicago! But, at least Parisian designers deign to place a scarf here and there!

    Le macaron? To die for–I can almost taste the ‘greenness’ of the pistachios…and no busywork, shelling to get that marvelous flavor!

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    • Merci!!

      YES. To wig or not to wig, that is the window display question of the day. Bon Marché embraces the wig. I took many photographs of the vitrines, and now all of them made the post cut. Bon Marché’s mannequins were also sporting beehives and hairdos from the 1940s and 1950s. Great-looking windows! I enjoyed their comic book approach. The dandy in the hat is a favorite. My new boyfriend!

      Have you recently shot any storefronts in Chicago? Did I miss any posts? Any links? What is happening on the Magnificent Mile?!
      B.

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      • Haven’t been downtown for a while, so the answer is no, Mlle B.!

        Love it–beehives were ‘oh, so much the thing!’, weren’t they? Any ‘poodle cuts’ on any of the mannequins? or, ‘pixie cuts’, which were also very popular back then?

        I am wondering though, if it just ‘style’ to have them un-wigged (peculiar!), or if there is a grave shortage of wiggery across the world (Haha!)?

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  15. Greetings Theadora! yet another superb post. i love your photography. Wonderful angles, reflections, colours and subjects. I so wish I was in Paris with my iPad and following your wonderful blog/shopping tours. Take Care, Thea

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    • Thanks, Thea! I totally had fun with this post. Out of curiosity, do you now travel and tour with actual books or books on your iPad or eReader? Or both? Our relationship with guidebooks is changing! T.

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      • Hi Theadora, I much prefer the iPad and will use it if I am touring in my own country. But it is too expensive to use when traveling abroad. I got a $900.00 bill from my provider when I returned home from Australia last summer. I have traveled with tour books and just leave them in the hotel room after I am finished with it. That being said, I much prefer the intuitiveness of the iPad for travel. ~Thea

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      • Hi Thea! $900.00 bill? Ouch! Poor you. We’ve all been there. Using a mobile in another country is sometimes tricky and expensive. Do you ever travel with a Kindle or a Nook? Again, thanks for giving me your two cents on trekking with a travel guide! T.

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  16. I recently came across your fabulous blog and am slowly reading my way through all the previous posts. as I fall in love with Paris all over again.
    Je nage dans le bonheur
    🙂

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    • Merci for sweet words! I feel the same way about retro-rocking site. I love it. I’m still daydreaming about the 1930s black satin dancing shoes by Harrods. Perfect for putting on the Ritz and dancing cheek to cheek! T. (Enjoy the week!)

      Like

  17. I’m not sure if I ever asked, but was photography your first artistic passion? As always your photos are absolutely inspired. I love how the outfits on the mannequins play off the color of the backgrounds.

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  18. You have no idea how much I want to be there snapping photos and sampling the bakery fare. *sigh* Thanks for the reminders about why I need to save for my ticket.

    Like

  19. Oh, my, Theadora, you have outdone yourself! The information is fascinating, the archives intriguing, and the photos (cum reflections) are breathtaking.
    Next best thing to being there —

    Like

  20. Pingback: Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing… to Paris (Mid-winter 2012/ 2013) | London Life: rants, politics, family, arts and travels..

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