Paris: Secrets to Scoring Big at the Summer Sales
By Theadora Brack
It’s almost that most wonderful time of the year for shoppers in Paris. This year, “Les Soldes d’Eté” launch on Wednesday June 25. So in celebration, I’m not only updating my big summer sales tip sheet, but I’m also shining a bright spotlight on one of my favorite artists, Fifi Flowers.
Inspired by artists like Henri Matisse and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Fifi paints the City of Light in bright hues, bold strokes, and intricate curlicues. Possessing retro whimsy, her signature brand of wit and charm captures Paris’s shapely Art Nouveau street furniture, sleek black iron balustrades and manicured flowerbeds, along with cocktails, poodles, and scooter bikes—all girly, glamorous, and gussied-up to the nines in nifty, fifty shades of pink.
As Coco Chanel once said, “Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening!” Mais oui!
La Vie en Rose
Fifi is also a romance writer. Her Falling in Montmartre will make its debut in October 2014. “My books are a bit racy!” she says with a wink, and before giving the scoop, “The new book is part of a series called ‘Encounters.’ A book collector, Avril Claudette Paulson, has stumbled onto something more than an interesting book. She has stumbled on the cobblestones, and into the arms of the very handsome Parisian Emilé Zola Capet. Book shop owner Emilé has no problem coming to her rescue!”
Sigh. Now who hasn’t dreamed about being THERE before?
Dig her work? Then pop by her online shop. Original art and stationary are available. Through September 30, Fifi is generously offering us a 25 per cent discount. “Paris25” is the magic code! In the world of texts and emoticons, a little handwriting will feel good to the hand, spirit, or paramour!
Now, let’s get down to popping some discount tags. And get the printers cranking!
1. Prior to your trip
I highly recommend having a “quest” in mind, since visualization will help narrow your hunt while increasing your chances of finding the object of your desire. What’s missing from your closet? A trench coat? Ballet slippers? Both are timeless French classics, and quite souvenir-worthy.
Covet nautical wear? Who hasn’t been struck by the bold stripes of the traditional nautical shirts of Brittany? This look not only touched appealingly rugged-types like Picasso, Hemingway, and Gaultier, but also lured Jean Seberg, Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Hepburn. Described by Hemingway as “very stiff and built for hard wear but softened by washings,” you’ll find beaucoup de Breton stripes throughout Paris.
2. Cents and Sensibility
Consider your basic shopping tool kit: water bottle, pre-cut moleskin, chocolate (for energy), gum, eye drops, Métro tickets, maps with targeted shops circled, and a few coins for WCs. And don’t forget an oversized bag for your treasures. Most French grocery store chains sell them for just a few cents. Lightweight and good-looking, they make perfect souvenirs, too.
3. Do your homework
After your arrival, while waiting for a taxi or before jumping on the RER train, pick up a few fashion magazines at Les boutiques Aéroports de Paris. You can’t miss their bright red signs. Getting you coming and going, there’s usually one located just outside of baggage.
Here’s a great way to find out what’s happening on the streets of Paris before actually hitting the cobblestones. Often magazines like Be, Elle, Marie Claire, and Vogue include a free gift with purchase. I recently scored a scarf and cosmetics, along with a chic Édition Limitée Nuisette (nightie) by Princesse Tam Tam in a drop-dead burgundy. Talk about a win-sin.
4. Get smart
I spy. If time permits, visit your favorite shops just before the sale. Memorize the layout. Take note of “rack formations.” Also, try on clothing—you’ll avoid the lines later.
When should you pounce? In France, “smalls” fly out the door first, but “large” and “X-large” stick around a little longer. On the other hand, prices drop as the sales progress, so it’s a gamble. Know your European size numbers.
Tip for the road: Avoid the masses by shopping weekday mornings or early afternoons. My friend Véronique beats the crowds by scooting around by bike. “I’m able to visit at least twenty shops by 10 AM,” she boasts, while installing her new jumbo-sized basket just in time for the sale. Need a bike? Rent a ‘Vélib’!
5. Study the classics
I also recommend kicking off your hunt for garb around Paris’s centuries-old shopping districts like Place Vendôme, Avenue Montaigne, and Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré. Perfect for window-shopping, take note of what’s hot in the high-ticket vitrines, and then commit the designs to memory. Rest assured, you’ll be able to find similar styles in the more affordable “indy” boutiques and trendy chains.
However, if you’ve got the cash to splash, make it rain! If the shoe fits, dear Cendrillon, then I say wear it! Just hold on to your umbrella and necklace while making your entrance at Dior, all you Carrie Bradshaw wannabes.
6. Solid as a rock
Who says money can’t buy you love? Befriend the staff. Throughout the year, my friend Dominique drops off chocolates for the sales team at her favorite shops. Guess who hears about the bargains first? Don’t live in Paris full-time? Send thank-you notes after each visit.
Repeat business is highly valued and often rewarded with a “carte de fidélité” (fidelity card). Restaurants and shops give them out to their patrons as a way of saying thanks and “come again soon.”
Looking very much like a business card, each time you make a purchase, the card gets hand-stamped or punched, soon adding up to super discounts or delicious prizes! Didn’t receive one? Just ask. It will be taken as a compliment, and a signal that you’ll be back. (Tip: Often the cards don’t have expiration dates, and can be used for years.)
7. ”Un carnet, s’il vous plait!”
For the love of sanity, don’t buy your Métro tickets (good for both the bus and Metro) one or two at a time. Purchase a “carnet” (10-pack). With a thick stack of tickets in your hot little hand, you’ll not only save about €3 over the single-ticket price, but you’ll also be able to focus on more pressing matters, like shopping, museums, and most importantly, food!
Tip for the road: When grand touring, time is precious. However, it is possible to visit two fashion-related exhibitions, three historical monuments, four department stores, and five prime (and affordable) shopping districts—all on one day. It’s true! My eyes have seen the glory. What’s my secret? Get on the bus, Gus! Paris’s great mass transit system (a.k.a. the RATP) helps me feed my passion for bargain fashion, especially during big annual winter and summer sales.
For the mere price of a Métro ticket, you’ll not only cruise between the shopping havens with the greatest of ease, but also brag about your first scores of the day while the panorama of Paris rolls by en route to the next shopping district.
There are several shopping meccas long the “95” bus route, to cite just one example: rue de Rennes, rue de Rivoli, Carrousel du Louvre, Montmartre-Abbesses, the grand magasins along Boulevard Haussmann, and the neighborhood surrounding the Opéra. Dear Black Swans, the historic Répetto ballet shop is just a hop, skip and a pirouette from the old Opéra Garnier (of Phantom fame). Sometimes it is possible to have your historical cake and take-away bling, too.
8. Retro active
Vintage shops often reduce prices, too. You’ll find pockets of boutiques scattered through Montmartre (start at La Caverne à Fripes at 25, rue Houdon) and the Marais, where at Vintage Désir (32 rue des Rosiers) you’ll find a vast collection of striped shirts.
Also, don’t miss Paris’s 19th century shopping arcades (a.k.a. “dream houses”). Flooded with natural light, their narrow tiled halls are smartly dressed in glazed roofing, cast iron, mosaics, and marble pillar columns, along with sculptures and frescoes, giving a whiff of old-fashioned Parisian glamour. Hives of activity, here you’ll find art galleries, bookshops, antique stores, shoe cobblers, boutiques, cafés, and bars.
9. Don’t forget the obvious
Discount shops like Sympa in Montmartre and TATI on Boulevard Rochechouart take their already bargain basement prices to new lows. Sympa’s bargain bin shops (which were once dance halls and brothels that Pablo Picasso frequented during his “blue period”) are also where the famed terpsichorean, La Goulue (“The Glutton”), made her debut.
Now you can nab your own knickers in the very room where she once flashed her heart-embroidered bloomers so fetchingly at the absinthe quaffing crowds. “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. Strike up the band!
10. Keep your cool
Pick a handful of boutiques and one or two shopping districts, or you’ll end up overwhelmed before the get-go. For instance, I focus on the Spanish marque, Zara, which slashes prices like almost no other store (I once scored almost 400 euros-worth for under 50 euros!).
My Personal Strategy
You’ll find clusters in busy shopping districts throughout the city. Boulevard Haussmann, for instance, has five Zara’s in a six-block radius. Two are inside Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, and one even has a view of the Opéra! Divine, yes, but their proximity also saves you time.
The Zara location in the Félix Potin building on rue de Rennes is a personal favorite because it usually serves as one of last stops for the chain’s closeout clothing sales. Also, the fair sight of the stunning Art Nouveau dome topping off the bargains inside is heaven. So gaze up, but do look both ways before crossing!
Now, let’s take a breather at the Moulin Rouge! For kicks, I’ve meshed Fifi’s works with some fine vintage art created by Marcel Vertès for designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Love IS in the air.
Clipping from Christian Dior: “In this machine age, which esteems convention and uniformity, fashion is the ultimate refuge of the human, the personal and the inimitable. Even the most outrageous innovations should be welcomed, if only because they shield us against the shabby and the humdrum!”
Or as “Schiap” used to say, “Buy only the best or the cheapest!”
Fifi Appearing at the Moulin Rouge By Fifi Flowers