Whoever said that Paris was the city of lights must have been talking about that particular glint in a woman’s eye when she first encounters the area around rue Saint-Honoré, with its seductive shop windows lined up like so many see-through giftboxes. This is where chic Paris shops, and this is where, minutes from the Louvre, the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smirk is likely to be reproduced by the saleswomen in any number of Parisian boutiques.
At Colette (No. 213), the fairy godmother of concept stores, find yourself in the unexpected mix of fashion à la française. While tops and trousers by Luella and Proenza hang out upstairs, a hundred different kinds of water chill out in the sleek lower-ground water-bar – though salads and coffees are listed on the menu, sometimes all you need’s a little eau-là-là.
Up the street from the wittily updated classics at Paule Ka (No. 223) is the eclectic, electric collection at Michel Perry (No. 243), where lemon yellow fun-times shoes share space with sophisticated heels in tasty caramel. And around the corner, decorated with antique silk ribbons from the designer’s archive, the House of Chanel (31, rue Cambon) is filled with the exquisite “quiet things” Coco herself extolled.
The major fashion houses are represented, too, along the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – this gracious extension of the rue Saint-Honoré – from the brass button outside Bottega Veneta (No. 16) to the glossy red chill-out zone at Comme des Garçons (No. 54), from Roger Vivier’s (No. 29) iconic buckle pumps and silver-heeled shoes to the modern romantic fashions at Chloé (No. 56). The Hermès flagship store (No. 24), home of that orange box, requires a visit, ideally with the posture of an equestrian. It was here, in 1878, that the saddlery was situated, and it is here, after le relooking in 2007, that the gorgeous antique mosaics anchor a refreshed and inviting space today. Next door, Givenchy (No. 28) would have given Tiffany a run for its money if Audrey Hepburn had seen the recently renovated flagship – here, clothes are hung in six huge walk-in boxes made of a subtle charred oak, melding art gallery and every girl’s dream closet.
Treasures nestle in the pockets of Paris. North of Les Halles, rue Étienne Marcel is packed with more of la mode – Barbara Bui 111 (No. 23), Paul & Joe (No. 46) and Anne Fontaine (No. 50) have stores here – while smaller boutiques lay out their prize wares elsewhere in the area. The red-heeled shoes at Christian Louboutin (19, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau) are irresistible, as are the fun, stripy totes at Jack Gomme (6, rue Montmartre) – just right for swanning along the Esplanade back home, or in Cannes! Make time, too, for Rue du Mail (5, rue du Mail), an intimate boutique of swooshy summer frocks and lust-worthy shift dresses in the shades of the night.
Further east, poking around in the sweet, irregular streets of the hip Marais neighbourhood, fall for the breezy, feminine designs of Isabel Marant (47, rue de Saintonge) and the elegant, finely tailored creations of Vanessa Bruno (100, rue Vieille du Temple), then mix and match with the understated basics at A.P.C. (112, rue Vieille du Temple). In the Marais, too, the period shop windows and flea-market furnishings of bag boutique Jamin Puech (68, rue Vieille du Temple) contrast freely with the bright white of Diptyque (8, rue des Francs Bourgeois) and its line of nature-inspired fragrances that conjure up summer days along the Mediterranean.
Unable to catch a whiff of a real sea breeze just yet, head down a narrow street to find gifts, treats and well-deserved refreshment at the venerable tea salon, Mariage Frères (30, rue du Bourg-Tibourg). In between the sober black canisters and the fanciful teapots for sale, have the linen-clad store assistants find you a table for your shopping bags, a dainty slice of cake, and daydreams scented of tea and the city.