Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche is a department store that has a boutique, high-service feel. The store is located across from a beautifully lush park, and has an intimate feel. I liken it to a Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s, because the stock is highly edited, high-end luxury and the scale of the store does not overwhelm. Are you looking for the perfect t-shirt? You will not have to wade through racks in different departments. Le Bon Marché’s buyers have found them and they are, indeed, perfect. Their website gives some of the feel of the store.
The store itself is a little jewel, scrupulously clean and has an amazing and original accessories and makeup area on the first floor (or zero as the French would say). In addition to boutique rooms for clothing and accessories from Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton, there are tables of beautiful and artistic jewelry designers that you won’t find everywhere. Their statement necklaces were gorgeous. Their scarves are amazing and creative– I found an elegant silk turquoise-and-fuchsia scarf imprinted with a large cupcake drawing (how cute is that?) for a friend. Unlike U.S. department stores, they had a large selection of imaginative hats.
The makeup section is large and luxurious. The Guerlain counter has its own little room, and the Chanel section is serene, spacious and accessible. They were the only store that appears to carry the new Tom Ford lipsticks (45 euros in France, $45 in the U.S.). I picked up a gorgeous pamphlet that described several interesting and informative beauty classes sponsored by various brands that were offered throughout the month. I wanted to go to all of them.
Their shoe department is to die for. Not just the best lines—but the very best pieces from the best lines. Again, edited. Breathtaking, edgy clothing. The store seems to cater to young, upscale, hip French families, and those looking for something modern-classic. Books and stationary seems to have been mostly purged from U.S. department stores, but the third floor of Le Bon Marche includes has a large book area (almost entirely in French) and a small art gallery with exhibits that change every few months. The basement has a large toy section for gift shoppers.
The Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche is an entire building devoted to gourmet French food. As well-edited as the fashion, the gourmet floor has a selection of fruits, vegetables, dairy, bakery and gourmet meats. There are beautiful wines and liqueurs. It’s all gorgeous–the berries look like jewelry and the bakery items as pretty as designer shoes. There is an “imported food” area that includes things from Great Britain, so if you are missing peanut butter or Euro Kit Kats, you will find a very limited selection here. You don’t have to be a foodie to love this store–I am not one but I still find this store fascinating.
A few words about food–European growing regulations are different (read- “more restrictive”) than in the U.S. Things tend to be more “pure” than in the U.S., fewer hormones and less (if any) genetic engineering. I don’t know if this is the reason that European strawberries taste like those that I remember from my childhood, but I suspect that this is true. The difference in really noticeable for fresh dairy, fruits and vegetables to me, even though I tend to buy organic in the U.S.
Second, be careful about what you choose to bring home. U.S. customs, and even different U.S. states, have import restrictions. Also, sometimes the food is allowed, but you might have a delay at customs. Most of the concerns arise with non-pasteurized fresh cheeses, and the fact that drug smugglers used to pack things in cheese to mask the smell from the U.S. customs authority dogs.
The neighborhood around Le Bon Marché is interesting to explore. I like to take a route that runs through the beautiful St. German on the Rue des Saints-Pères. This street has several fashionable boutiques in its vicinity, including Paul & Joe clothing (one boutique for women, another for men), Baby Buddha, Maud Frizon shoes, Anne Fontaine clothing, Les Chemins Blancs clothing, and Sonya Rykiel everything.
Paris’ Mac Pro is also on this street, if you are inclined to get a makeover with a French twist.
Bottom line, if you are looking for a non-touristy, French experience in a department store, which a dash of gourmet thrown in, put Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche on your list. Exploring the St. Germain area will bring you additional designers that will enrich your experience.