You can learn big things from a little book. So, I’m discovering from the second book I’ve had the pleasure to review in The Little Bookroom publisher’s Paris series:
Paris Chic & Trendy by Adrienne Ribes Tiphaine with photos by Sandrine Alouf.
Paris Chic and Trendy is a guidebook to 54 Parisian designer studios, hip boutiques and vintage shops with an emphasis on addresses that the average visitor might bypass in their rush to Louis Vuitton megastores and Armani emporiums.
Why should you read this book? By using this as your guidebook to explore some of the hundreds of boutiques in Paris, you’ll have a good benchmark of how to judge a shop’s merit in any neighborhood – even in your hometown.
Even though I consider myself to be very familiar with Paris’s neighborhoods and shopping districts, this little book has enticed me to look beyond surfaces and try to analyze a shop’s fashion choices and design. Although I disagree with the opening premise in the intro – “In Paris, fashion comes naturally.” (Fashion is the antithesis of natural). I definitely agree that Parisian women rule the roost when it comes to ‘a certain allure’ and ‘indefineable chic’.
The first thing I learned (after studying the breakdown of these chic and trendy establishments according to arrondissement) is that my ‘hood’ Montparnasse i.e. the 14th arrondisement didn’t make the cut. Neither did Left Bank neighborhoods in the 5th, 13th and 15th arrondissments.
Meanwhile the 1st arrondissement racks up 13 boutiques – a number of shops clustered along the famous Rue St. Honore. From Rue St. Honore to the Palais Royale gardens, there are more designer boutiques than one could possibly digest in a day. Many a day have I been sidetracked from museum going for that somewhat less admirable pastime of window shopping on this street. The prices defy common sense. Enter a shop at your own risk.
Being somewhat peeved that Montparnasse had been skipped altogether, I decided to venture over to the St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood to explore some of the boutiques mentioned in this equally chic neighborhood, about a brisk half-hour walk from Montparnasse– or an hour’s walk if you stop to look at windows along Rue de Rennes.
March is the ideal time to window shop in Paris because the spring/summer window displays are appearing like blooming crocuses – and quite honestly, this year (2008) something definitely exciting is in the air – graphics. Quite honestly for the past five years, I’ve found the general hippy dippy trend here to be dull and duller. Finally, the tattered skirts and old lace are being traded in for bright, vibrant graphics, waves and bands of color. The question is, are Parisians ready to embrace Paris color? It’s one thing to put color in your shop window and another thing to see whether Parisians decide to go for the bait. I’ve also noticed that some shop windows are sticking to the safe domain of traditional khaki and white ensembles. The clean freshness of white softened with wheat tones . . . everything a neat and tidy spring cleaning trained population is sure to buy . . . Change or the same old same old. Does fashion reflect politics?
So it was in this euphoric mood (mixed with a bit of healthy cynicism) that I made my way toward A.P.C . (that has incidentally moved from the address listed in Chic & Trendy rue de Fleurus to Rue Madame). A.P.C. is the store where “a jacket is a jacket and pair of pants is a pair of pants” i.e a bastion of no frills simplicity. Or the place to go to get your 125 Euros pair of jeans. No sequins, no glitter, just plain unadulterated style. I’ll be honest – I’m not ready to make the bold leap. Rather, let me sneak up on this temple like an inquiring, starved kitten.
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When I discovered that A.P.C. at its new address at 38 Rue Madame, just around the corner from its former Rue Fleurus location, and up the street, past Jamin Puech (Jamin Puech is also highlighted in Chic & Trendy).
I slowly realized that, although I’ve been wandering around the St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood for years, the neighborhood’s ‘Left Bank style’ had totally escaped my eye. A resident breezed past me. His salt and pepper hair fell in wavy locks over his black collar – naturally an extremely well-cut coat of top quality material with the simplest lines.
In order to understand St. Germain-des-Pres, one has to escape the main arteries such as Rue de Rennes and work your way over to Rue du Cherche-Midi (or Rue Madame) before you get to the serious shopping territory (not unlike the relationship between the Champs Elysees vs. Rue St. Honore).
I stole a glance at the Jamin Puech handbags along the way and strengthened my resolve – NEVER TO BUY A HAND BAG that costs more than I earn in a month. And if that gives you some clue as to how much I earn, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing in Paris in the first place.
Why is it that such neatly folded rows of jeans can be so intimidating? The sales staff at APC are incredibly polite. One foreign customer is being assisted when I pop through the door. He is being treated with great respect. The salesclerk gives him directions to his next stop –the conversation goes on in English. At that point, I offer my Plan de Paris to facilitate the directions. The salesclerk cheerfully takes the book, and then asks me, “By the way, how does this book work?” It is very weird being an ‘expert’ regarding directions and totally clueless when it comes to Left Bank style – but that’s why I’m here – to learn.
OK, I’m not ready to succumb to trying on a pair of jeans – yet. But on the other hand, APC also produces some outrageously good CDs (which you can listen to on location). For 16 Euros, I walked out of APC with Ignore the Beat.
After APC, I crossed over Rue de Rennes to pick up Rue du Cherche Midi to explore the Ege sisters’ store Dice Kayek at #10.
Chic and Trendy had described the Dice Kayek silhouette as being ‘modern temple dancer’ plus ‘sophisticated dresses with poise’. I didn’t get a chance to confirm that description The short daylight hours were working against me. Even though shops don’t close until 7 pm, I had gotten a late start and shopkeepers had already begun rolling down their shutters for the day.
What I did see in the boutique windows were dresses that looked perfect for a very stylish twentysomething. So, happily toting my 16 Euro CD back home, my first venture into the ‘chic and trendy’ stratosphere of Paris’s 6th arrondissement – has been ‘sort of a success’ with no major damage to the credit card.
If you would like to try this adventure, don’t leave home without these two books:
Paris Chic & Trendy by Adrienne Ribes Tiphaine, The Little Book Room Publisher
190 compact pages that will fit in your (less than $100) handbag.
Le Plan de Paris, or Paris Classique (which will make you look like you know what you’re doing – even if you’re totally clueless).
New address (since June 07)
38 Rue Madame (6eme)
112 Rue Vieille du Temple (3me)
The people at APC are ‘SUPER SYMPA’ so go in, and don’t be shy!
(This post is Part I of Parisgirl’s Left Bank ‘shopping exploration’. Stay tuned for the upcoming: Yes, we do have ‘chic & trendy’ in the 14th!