Enjoy shopping heaven in Paris with my guide to the best areas to shop on the Right Bank
Long a symbol of smart conservative shopping, historic rue St-Honoré, which runs roughly between Concorde and Les Halles north of the Louvre, has been transformed out of all recognition in the past few years as French and glitzy international fashion labels (Miu Miu, Jimmy Choo, Roberto Cavalli, Carlos Miele) have flocked around the magnet-like attraction of pioneering lifestyle store Colette at 213 (www.colette.fr). I drop in here from time to time to see what it has picked out as the latest fashion and accessory trends and for its clever mix of objects, from a limited edition trainer or the latest digital camera or hip magazine.
It's a great destination if you like lèche vitrines (literally window licking, ie window shopping) as much as actually buying. Recent arrivals in the street include affordable, up-and-coming French brands Sandro at 269 and Ba&sh at 215. Another favourite place is Astier de Villatte (www.astierdevillatte.com) at 173, where the handmade white glazed earthenware dinner services have a unique retro aristocratic appeal.
Off the western end of rue St-Honoré, beautiful 17th-century place Vendôme is synonymous with luxury jewellers. Boucheron has been here since 1858, while Chaumet, founded in 1780, made its the name as jeweller to Napoleon and moved into its regal premises in 1907. Its upstairs salons (sometimes open for visits and exhibitions) include a collection of crowns and tiaras made for royalty and the salon where Chopin lived just before his death in 1849.
Further east, Palais Royal has also recently shot into the avant garde. Behind the Palais Royal itself (home to the ministry of culture and conseil constitutionnel), the arcades around a formal garden are a peaceful enclave where you'll find a bizarre mix of antiquarian book, medal and lead soldiers sellers and the cutting-edge showcases of Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Rick Owens and Pierre Hardy, flirty little dresses by Jérôme L'Huillier and the guru of vintage fashion Didier Ludot.
Shopping centres aren't the thing in Paris but the sleek marble-clad Carrousel du Louvre, in the inards of the Louvre's underground complex stands out for the Louvre's own vast art bookshop, a special book and giftshop for kids, museum gifts and reproductions, while I also like the green items and scientific gadgets at Nature et Découvertes and ingenious, space-saving household solutions at Périgot.
Around Opéra and Madeleine
On boulevard Haussmann, the two mega grands magasins or department stores Printemps at No.64 (www.printemps.com) and Galeries Lafayette at No.40 (www.galerieslafayette.com) compete as to who has the biggest floors devoted to fashion, perfumes, lingerie, shoes or kitchenwares. Galeries Lafayette has also just opened the extraordinary Bordeauxthèque – France's largest selection of Bordeaux wines. Grand magasin shopping can be a scrum and feels a bit soulless compared to districts like the Marais or St-Germain but can be useful for a quick overview, as well as all sorts of shopping services, beauty parlours and in-house cafés. Both draw crowds for their windows at Christmas.
Nearby, place de la Madeleine is a magnet for gourmets with the mouthwatering displays at upmarket deli-grocers Fauchon and Hédiard, caviar at Prunier and truffles at La Maison de la Truffe. If you're interested in the art of French living, then classic porcelain, glasswares and silver can be found at Bernardaud, Lalique and Christofle respectively amid Gucci and co on rue Royale.
Around the Champs-Elysées
Avenue Montaigne is Paris's haute-couture heartland. This is shopping for the happy few, and if you don't have the right bank balance or film star looks then even entering these places is an intimidating experience. Here you'll find the Dior (www.dior.com) empire, for its couture, ready to wear, accessories and Baby Dior lines in a pearl-grey and white setting, and other labels like Chloé and Nina Ricci set in palatial residences behind iron railings. Givenchy, Balmain, Bulgari and John Lobb shoes are nearby on rue François 1er and Balenciaga on avenue George V.
The Champs-Elysées itself is much more mainstream, constantly clogged with traffic and photo-snappers, although it is home to the Fnac (www.fnac.com) music, computer, camera and book store, Virgin music and books, Sephora make-up superstore, the Louis Vuitton (www.louisvuitton.com) glitzy five-floor flagship at 101, complete with art gallery on the top, Tara Jarmon for relaxed, stylish womenswer and the Lancel (www.lancel.com) store where chic handbags and luggage are displayed in a converted bank.
Rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré is home to the British embassy and the Elysées Palace (home of the French president) and this realm of chic officialdom is punctuated by a mix of the fusty and upmarket designer brands including Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Ferragamo. Two landmarks are Hermès (www.hermes.com) at 24, where you can still find saddles among the clothes and silk scarves, and the twin boutiques of Lanvin (www.lanvin.com) at 15 and 22, an elegant shrine to Jeanne Lanvin where today's clothes mingle with original Art Deco furnishings.
This is my favourite Right Bank shopping area, where you can find countless unusual boutiques amid beautiful 17th-century stone mansions, and it draws young international set at weekends. Cutting through the district, the rue des Francs-Bourgeois is a typical mix where period facades alternate with trendy fashion stores like Zadig et Voltaire, casual trendy Sandro, funky homewares at Autour du Monde, perfumes and beauty products from Fragonard, Kiehl's and Guerlain.
For the most interesting discoveries though, you should head for the northern end of rue Vieille-du-Temple and adjoining streets such as rue de Poitou, rue de Saintonge and rue Charlot where unusual fashion boutiques have joined the art galleries of the northern or Haut Marais. The cluster on rue Vieille-du-Temple seems to get more fashionable by the day. Vanessa Bruno, Les Petites and the funky shoes of Mi-Mai, and I also like Lostmarc'h's perfumes and skin products made in Brittany with an undeniable whiff of se air. In keeping with its art gallery neighbours some of the boutiques look distinctly like art installations themselves: take a look at L'Eclaireur (40 rue de Sévigné, www.leclaireur.com), where clothes are displayed in an extraordinary wooden structure-cum-sculpture by Arne Quinze, or the conceptual clothing mixed with photo shows at Surface to Air (108 rue Vieille-du-Temple, www.surfacetoair.com), run by a dynamic young design collective. Across the street, Abou d'Abi Bazar (www.aboudabibazar.com) at 125 has a good multibrand selection of feminine fashions and accessories, while Christophe Lemaire (28 rue de Poitou) is great for the male dandy aesthetic.
One of my favourite recent openings was Merci (111 boulevard Beaumarchais). An artfully distressed former industrial space on three levels contains new and secondhand clothes, childrenswear, collectable modern design furniture and items by young designers, kitchenwares and perfumes, as well as a tea room and secondhand bookstore. Sadly it's rather expensive but it really seems to capture the mood of the moment.
Things are quieter in the southern St-Paul district of Marais between rue St-Antoine and the Seine. The core of the area are the antiques and collectors shops of Village St-Paul, occupying a tangle of courtyards off rue St-Paul. Rue Pont Louis-Philippe has some unusual gift and accessory stores: take a look at the costume jewellery at Mi Amor and Sic Amor and the clever bags at Un Sac Un Jour, where numerous different models in canvas, leather, fake croco and even paper, have interchangeable handles.
Montmartre & Pigalle
Shopping in Montmartre has a distinctly boho mood – you might find yourself browsing in a bookshop next to a transvestite – although rue des Abbesses and rue Lepic have lost some of their alternative streetwise edge with the arrival of more mainstream labels, including some interesting clothes at Allison and cult US skin products at Kiehl's.
For more unusual finds try rue d'Orsel, where you'll find original mens clothes and clubwear or16 rue La Vieuville where Spree (www.spree.fr) is a particularly Montmartre-esque and unstuffy take on the lifestyle store with cutting-edge yet streetwise fashion labels, 50s to 80s design classics and art shows. The lower half of rue des Martyrs is packed with great food shops.
Passy & Auteuil
West of Trocadéro, smart residential Passy may look staid at first sight but has some good fashion and food finds, including the covered Passy market. Instantly recognisable with its black and yellow awning, the veteran department store Franck et Fils at 80 rue du Passy has gone through a Harvey Nics style rejuvenation now it's in the Bon Marché (LVMH) fold, introducing young fashion designers and even menswear. There are branches of Apostrophe and Gérard Darel nearby, while Les Folies d'Elodie on avenue Paul Doumer is a place for sultry lingerie.
Where to stay
I've recommended two of my favourite Right Bank hotels, you'll find these in the Make it Happen box above. You can also see my full list of recommendations here - Paris Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Paris.