May 312010
 

Le Printemps on the Boulevard Haussmann

Sometimes how we use our time is not in our control.  If you are on Paris on business, with family or a tour, or (let’s face it) would much rather see all of the wonders and sights of Paris rather than shop, you may only have an hour to do any European makeup shopping.  If I were in that position, I would head to Le Printemps on the Boulevard Haussmann for that hour.

Why?  Here are there reasons:

  • It has the all major makeup brands;
  • Of the stores that I know, it is usually the least crowded;
  • The staff is patient and excellent;
  • The stock levels are quite good (especially if you want those popular items like Lancome’s Erika F.); and
  • The second floor (or, as the French would say, the first floor because the ground floor is the “zero” floor), has an entire range of European skin care, from inexpensive pharmacy lines to some premium lines.

The store is located on the Boulevard Haussmann, in a historic building that dates from the 1920′s (although the store was originally founded in the mid-1800′s, the original one burned down and had to be rebuilt).  Printemps is right next door to the Galeries Lafayette (worst case, if Le Printemps is out of stock on something, you can quickly pop over to Galeries Lafayette for the items).

Le Printemps is comprised of two buildings–the first, “Mode” is full of fashion and accessories.  It’s an enormous treat, full of luxury boutiques and floors of other gorgeous things.  These include a first floor Laduree stand for incredible macarons, and a second floor Laduree restaurant and bakery for a more complete selection.   The second one, “Beaute” includes beauty, skincare, gourmet foods and housewares. They have a glorious selection of Mariage Frères teas, and a really interesting kitchen department.  On a prior trip, I had to wrestle with myself to keep from buying a De Buyer “Make Your Own Macarons” kit (I had already bought the one for crepes, and it was life-changing).

I headed in:

The first floor has all major beauty brands, of course the European versions of them.  There is also a manicure bar stocked with a rainbow of Essie choices on this floor.  Here, I found an incredibly helpful Chanel sales associate who showed me the new Chanel duo’s in more detail.  To help me narrow my choices from the six available, he asked which Chanel eyeshadows I already had.  After I told him, he laughed at me and said, “Well, you are probably going to end up with all of these so the real question is where to start.”   True that.

We settled on Khaki-Clair, which has a deep gorgeous matte green and a soft shimmery white highlighter, and Misty-Soft, a matte medium brown with a shimmery shadow that is a deeper, nutty version of the shimmery side of Nars All About Eve.  I’ll post more about these when I’m back home with my regular camera.

Upstairs, I loaded up on Avene skincare, including Diacneal and Cleanance K, which both work wonders at keeping my skin clear.  There are other less expensive brands here too, including La Roche Possay.  I dutifully ignored the Keihl’s room, given that the brand is widely available back home.  I also investigated Institute Estederm skincare, having heard about the line on Lisa Eldridge’s website.  I picked up a few tubes of the ones rated for “No Sun,” which is said to act as a complete block.

On my way out, I swung by the Dior counter, which had most of the items that are familiar to me in the U.S.  Seeing nothing new, I headed out to see some of the non-makeup delights of Paris.

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May 282010
 

On the Champs-Élysées in Paris, right next to the Sephora, is the Guerlain flagship store.  Although this is not the company’s first location, it has been there since 1914 and is its most iconic.  It holds not only a unique architectural style, but incredibly informed staff and is a tribute to the company’s history.

I have previously done a shopping report for this store at this link, although after reflecting on my previous experience I was better prepared for the boutique during this summer’s visit.  I read other internet reviews of the store, and spent some time on Guerlain’s website learning more about the company’s history.  If you have not done so and like the line, I encourage you to look at the Guided Tour.

The store is the very definition of elegance.  It is an incredible treat for the senses.  If you ever get to Paris, you must go.

This time, I bypassed the first floor displays of perfumes and headed up the stairs at the back to the second floor.  As I previously described, the upstairs foyer is covered in yellow-gold shimmery tiles, and the walls have organic, flowing shapes.  The clientele tends to be well dressed, and everyone seems to be well treated regardless of their dress.  There were only four or so staff visible; I was immediately greeted by a friendly woman about my own age who gave me the typical “Bonjour madame!” in her lyrical French.

I can get excited about some Guerlain products, although others leave me a bit cold.  I have never loved Meteorites, the round powder complexion enhancers.  I reasoned that if I were to ever love them, this would be the place to fall in love.  So I asked to see them first, remembering from my last visit to pronounce the product with the French style (Meet-ee-or-eets), rather than the U.S. which sounds more like a celestial object.

“Aah!” my assistant led me to the large makeup area.  I should note that this boutique does not seem to have any makeup products that are exclusive to that location, although there are some special perfumes.  After examining the Meteorites display, I could not conjure up any more love for them than I already had.  I wish I did.  This boutique is the perfect place to finally get that gorgeous compact.

I did ask about the new Guerlain bronzers for Summer 2010, which I had not seen before in person.  There are two series–first, the Four Seasons ($74) in two shades:

Both of these swatched very dark, and a bit orange, for my NC15/Chanel Cameo skintone.  Second, the Terracotta Light Collector ($50/ 46 euros) which looks very much like the sheer bronzing powder with the mosaic of five different colors:

I already own a similar looking product, called the Terracotta Sheer Bronzing powder in Blondes, which has good reviews but which I rarely use.  It’s another product that I wanted to love, but it seemed to lack…something.

I told my sales associate that I already owned Blondes, pointing to the prior version in the display.  “Ah,” she said, “that one is too beige for you.”

And just like that, she won me over.  She was right.  The prior Blondes was too beige for me.  The new one has more intense color, we tried it on and indeed it was gorgeous.  She then explained that the new Terracotta glosses had been reformulated this season.  She pulled out a beautiful bronzed pink-rose one (#4 Amber) that looked amazing with my skin tone.  Because I was buying two items from the Terracotta collection, I got the boutique’s gift with purchase– a rather large soft makeup bag with a mini-Terracotta bronzer #1 and a mini-kabuki brush.

After paying, I wandered around the perfume area, which is a large room with an incredible display and adorned with glass bead curtains.  I was drawn to a large display featuring the L’Art et la Matiere series (168 euros each).  These were accompanied by little still-lifes of the notes featured in the accompanying bottles, bi-lingual descriptions and antique versions of the fragrances that appeared to be a century old with reductions of the scents lining the bottom.  I fell in love with each one, each one as life-changing as the last.  I particularly loved the white chocolate of Iris Ganache and the incense of Bois d’Armenie.  I had seen a display at the register which indicated that Guerlain would engrave the bottle with your name if you had a few days before pick-up.  Although very tempted, I decided to think about it before plunging ahead.

I wondered about all of the women who have experienced this store over the last century, all of the occasions celebrated with a gift of one of these perfumes, and the hours spent enjoying the scent.  I suspected that some of these perfumes were still being sold today, although perhaps their notes had been subtly refined through the years.  The atmosphere was quiet and polite, allowing me to experience each of them, including the new additions, for myself.

This location also has a luxurious spa, which I did not visit.  I’ve been very impressed with the few Guerlain skincare products that I’ve sampled, so I’m certain that such an experience would be lovely.

If you are interested in the history of Guerlain, this website (Monsieur Guerlain.com) is an incredibly rich source of information.

As you can probably tell, I have the view that one does not need to go to a museum to experience history.  If you are of the mind, or simply enjoy experiences rich in culture, I would put La Maison Guerlain on your list if you get to Paris.

Architectural detail above Guerlain's door

And so, readers, if we were to go back to this store together this weekend, what would you look at?  What would you get?

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May 272010
 

The Champs-Élysées can be a controversial topic–once a field of greens and gardens, the avenue has become a prominent location for historic events, including parades and the final piece of the Tour de France, as well as a site for various retail stores and tourist attractions.  The site of the Arc de Triomphe visually dominates the street.   Crowds of people are attracted from all over the world.  Although unquestionably French, the street has an international feel.

The avenue is lined with stores, many of which are large retailers and some of which are French-based.  Sephora’s largest store in Paris (and perhaps its largest store anywhere) is there.  It just two doors down from the Guerlain boutique, so if you go to one it is worth seeing the other.

I have been going to this store nearly every year for the past ten.  The traffic volume that this store gets is unprecedented–there is an enormous, multi-lingual and multi-cultural crowd in their nearly every waking hour. The Champs-Élysées is populated by people carrying Sephora bags, all the way.  It is a credit to the valiant efforts of their staff that such a hands-on styled business is able to function.

The front foyer area includes a featured brand that changes out every few weeks.  This typically includes several counters, makeup testing and application areas and large, splashy graphics.  Here is one for Giorgio Armani:

Sephora’s Champs-Élysées store carries several brands not carried by the U.S. Sephora, but still familiar to U.S. buyers. These include Chanel makeup (Euro versions only), Bobbi Brown, Armani makeup, By Terry, Shu Uemura and MAC.  It also includes some French brands, such as Institut Esthederm.

In the main store area, the perfume section lines both side walls going about halfway back.  In the middle are featured brands, such as Bare Escentuals, an enormous mens skincare section, Sephora exclusives and Sephora’s own brand. The back is skincare, and somewhere inbetween are the other main beauty brands, including Nars, Make Up For Ever, Shu, Dior, Givenchy, YSL Bobbi Brown and the rest.

As far as I know, this store is the only Sephora that carries MAC.  They carry all  non-Pro products, just as any U.S. department store does.  This time, they featured MAC’s Back to the Beach collection (and yes, Marine Life was in stock). The MAC sales associates seem to work only in the MAC sections;  formerly, one had to pay for MAC items separately here but now all of check-outs have been combined.  This MAC used to carry a special lipstick, called “Sephora Red,” it was a pretty shade similar to the Sephora accent red used in their graphics.  I could not locate one this time around, although I did ask a few of the MAC staffers, perhaps it has been discontinued.

When I first started visiting this store, they had amazing selection of Paul & Joe and other boutique lines but those are long gone now.  The staff is multi-lingual and most seem to know English.  There are plenty of Sephora staff around at all times, just as in the U.S. your browsing will be frequently peppered with offers of assistance.   Half of what I wanted was out of stock, so I left without buying this time.  Although the staff is helpful and pleasant, there does not appear to be a way to keep the supply going with the constant demand.

Generally, you will not find tremendous bargains here.  Most of these items are available in the U.S., and depending on the exchange rate the prices are lower in the U.S.  If you plan to visit, I would absolutely focus on items that are not available in the U.S. because otherwise you are better off buying at home.  That being said, the samples can sometimes be quite generous.  Also, the store does arrange for VAT tax refunds (which helps even out the price disparity considerably).

Of course, there are many Sephora locations in Paris.  Most are surprised to see a tiny Sephora in the basement shops under the Louvre Museum (art…and makeup!).  There is another across from the two large department stores, Le Printemps and the Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Hausmann.

Here is another on the Rue Rivoli–this one has a very good Guerlain display:

In both the Boulevard Hausmann and Rivioli stores, the crowds are fewer and the stock level is far greater, however some of the brands (MAC, particularly) are absent.

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May 262010
 

Here come the Memorial Day discounts!

From May 26 through May 31, The Spirit Beauty Lounge is offering 15% off sitewide with.  Note that the standard ship rate is around $6 ship in the U.S.;  free ship is at an unfortunately high $100, but their shipping is fast and the samples are fun.  Although I’m not affiliated with this company, they have impressed me with the organic and natural products they carry, particularly RMS Beauty.  The line’s owner, Rose Marie Swift, has developed a safe, organic line that does wonderful things for my skin and looks gorgeous.

Here are some reviews of RMS Beauty on this site:

  • Entire line of RMS eyeshadow swatches are here.
  • Several Lip2Cheek swatches are here.
  • A detailed review of one of the hero products, the Living Luminizer is here.
  • A detailed review of Seduce Eyeshadow is here.

Here are some reviews of RMS Beauty on London Makeup Girl:

  • Smile Lip2Cheek and Seduce eyeshadow are here.
  • Here’s a 5 minute face with RMS beauty here.

What I find remarkable about RMS Beauty products is that they are easy and intuitive to use, look lovely, but most importantly seem to have significant skin care benefits built in.  Let me be clear, these aren’t the hidden, “is this really working?” benefits that you might see on a label, where you aren’t really sure what you are paying for helps.  These really do moisturize and make the skin look nicer, right away as I wear them.  Worth checking out, and if you are still unsure The Spirit Beauty Lounge has a sample ordering page so you can try several products first.

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May 262010
 

The first time that I walked into a Parisian boutique, I must admit that I was not sure what to expect.  Although I suspect many of you readers have “been there, done that,” I’m collecting a few tips for those who might be first-timers.  If you have more, please add them to the comments so that we can share our experiences.

The Original Chanel Boutique - 31 Rue Cambon, Paris

With a few exceptions, my experiences have been quite good.  Many of the staff are true professionals–they have training and insight, and the more that you share with them, the more they can help you find what you will like.  It’s very common to be greeted by someone, whether a sales associate or door person, when you first arrive.  Although I try to stumble through with my imperfect French, most larger stores are multi-lingual.

Most importantly, many boutiques have very little stock on their shelves and in the cases.  This avoids an over-crowded appearance.  So, if you do not interact with the staff, you will not be able to see all of the treasures that are in the secret panels and back rooms.  You might (tragically) leave empty-handed because you did not realize that there may be many more choices than you imagined when you first walked in.  Even the most up-to-date websites will not include each company’s full line, and different boutiques in the same city may have different stock.  So, really, it’s best to find a sales person to help you.

Here are a few other suggestions:

  • One at a time. In the U.S., it is very common for shoppers to share a display and for the sales associate to multi-task.  I have found this much less common in Europe, where one sales person focuses on one customer at a time.  The same with the merchandise–if someone is looking at a group of items, it is polite to wait until s/he is finished before diving in.  Also, some stores are picky about whether you should test spray perfumes–for example, the Serge Lutens boutique asked me not to touch the bottles, although Guerlain seemed fine with it.
  • If you do not know what you want, it is fine to say so. I usually don’t know, but I have some idea so I share those so we can get started.
  • If you have a budget, share the number with the sales associate.  I have only had good reactions when I have done this.  There is no point looking at items worth thousands if you are looking for something far less.
  • Sales happen. In France, the official sale dates are set by the government, usually in January and July.  If you check online, you can find out more precisely.  Sometimes planning helps, sometimes not.  I was surprised one year to find a pile of Chanel scarves 50% off when I stumbled into a sale, the next time around I planned ahead but found that there were very few items marked down.
  • Prices include tax. If you are looking at nail polish for 23 euros, you pay 23 euros.  The price that is marked includes the VAT tax, so there is not any additional charge before you leave the store.
  • Bring your passport. If your purchases add up to more than the store minimum, you can get paperwork for a VAT  tax refund.  The store will give you paperwork that you return at the airport.  The store usually asks to see a passport first.  If all goes well, a month or two after your departure, you’ll see the credit show up on your statement.  It is around 20%, so it is worth doing for high-ticket items.  Here’s a handy guide.  The trick is not to use your item until after your departure, because the French authorities typically ask to inspect your item before accepting the paperwork.

Happy shopping!

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