Jun 032010
 

Some Parisian visitors coming from the U.S. have discovered the wonders of European skin and hair care.  We’ve seen the sunscreens, the moisturizers and other products on non-U.S. websites, message boards and elsewhere.  Although the Internet have made these products more available to U.S. shoppers, some are curious to go look for themselves.  You may save a little in the process.

The question is–where do you go?

Pharmacy located off the Champs Elysee

The first answer is a pharmacy, which are designated with a green cross.  These stores carry most low-to-mid priced ranges of products such as Avene, RoC, Vichy and La Roche-Posay.  Although you are free to browse, the pharmacist or sales person can assist.  Keep in mind that pharmacists in France have extensive training and knowledge, and frequently sought out as sources of advice before a doctor is consulted.  Therefore, unlike U.S. drugstores, the customer’s relationship with a French pharmacist can be more interactive.

A Neighborhood Pharmacy in the Saint-Germain

  • If you do have an ailment and don’t see what you want on the shelves in a pharmacy, do ask.  Products that Americans are used to seeing on shelves are kept behind the pharmacist’s counter.
  • Note that U.S. brand names may not be available in France, but comparable products are.  For example, I have found French versions of Dramamine, Tums, Tylenol and Neosporin through discussions with a French pharmacist.
  • In the U.S., drugstores carry everything from t-shirts to toasters.  Not so in France. Rather, pharmacies carry health-care type items.

Second, a Monoprix or other large supermarket.  These stores carry groceries, clothing, office supplies and are a lot more like a U.S. drugstore than a French pharmacy.  There is usually a good selection of low-to-mid priced European skincare.

Third, some large department stores have sections for lower-priced makeup and Euro skin care. I’ve previously discussed Le Printemps.  The Galeries Lafayette carries Revlon, L’Oreal, Art Deco, T. Le Clerc, BeguineBourjois and other lower-priced brands.  Shop carefully, some are identical–although more expensive–than in the U.S.  Also, the French Sephora carries a few lower-priced lines.

Drugstore lines in Galeries Lafayette

Fourth, there are health and beauty stores, which usually have a wonderful selection, gifts with purchases and sometimes promotions.  These are sprinkled throughout, and usually contain the word “parapharmacie”, “sante” (health) or “bien etre” (well-being) somewhere on the storefront.  The staff in these stores are usually quite knowledgeable.  Most of these stores focus on health, skin care and health.  There are usually only one or two makeup lines (such as T. LeClerc).

Fifth, many lines have brand-specific stores.  Sometimes these have no U.S. presence at all, like an all-organic line that I stumbled on in the Marais.  Others are more widely know, such as Yves Rocher. Another is Biologique Recherche, located on the Champs Elysee, reputed to have some of the best skin care in the world although this is reflected in the pricing.  I’m dying to try their P50 toner.  Your best bet for these is to look up the address on the company’s website.

Entrance to Biologique Recherche, 32 Champs Elysees

Keep in mind that some types of products are simply not available in France at all.  For example, skin lightening products that contain hydroquinone cannot be sold under French law.  Finally, keep in mind that most stores are closed on Sundays in Paris.  Although there exceptions for locations that include cultural or historical features (which seems to sweep in several stores on the Champs-Eylsees) and some essential stores (which applies to a few pharmacies), most department and other stores are not an option (except for a few weeks of the year) on Sundays.  Instead, head to a museum, the Eiffel Tower, or other incredible site.

Please follow us on....

Jun 022010
 

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.

Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche makeup floor on a weekday afternoon

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.

Please follow us on....

Jun 012010
 

In the center of Paris near the Louvre Museum is a historic site, originally built in the 1600’s, that is now lined with exclusive boutiques and called the Palais Royal.  Once the home of royalty, the area is now an extraordinarily pleasant place to spend an hour or two.

The central area is covered in grass and trees, and interspersed with walkways with occasional benches.  Small, elegant restaurants fill in the corners.  This area is a sort of a “secret garden” as it is surrounded by the stone enclosure now populated with highly eclectic shops.

The Palais Royal

The trees are highly manicured:

The nearby theaters are evidenced by some windows, which house incredibly imaginative costumes from past productions. Although the area is dominated by the architecture and park, there are few quiet shops that to me seem unique enough to warrant a post.  Here is a sign that captures their names (click to enlarge):

Of interest in makeup and perfume shoppers, Serge Lutens has a quiet, dark and very beautiful location along one side.  The inside is painted a deep almost-black and illuminated with violet accents.  His exquisite perfumes are set out like jewels on little stages, in a setting that is both intimate and mysterious.  A few years ago, I bought Turque Fumiere there in a bell jar, which I did not have time to have engraved with my initials (today, the perfume is available for a limited time in a more practical spray version at department stores).

Serge Lutens Storefront

Here is one of the window displays at Serge Lutens, featuring his lipsticks and two eyeshadow compacts (the compacts were closed at this time, unfortunately, so we cannot see them):

The other store that I’ve always loved is Didier Ludot, who carries vintage fashion clothes and accessories.  The storefront alone is an incredible museum of treasures from Chanel, Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent and their contemporaries.  In fact, there are two Didier Ludot locations–one has only little black dresses, and the other is stuffed with all types of beautiful things.

Didier Ludot, Palais Royal

This is the storefront featured on last season’s Paris fashion week episode of the Rachel Zoe Project.  You can see the front window is crowded with vintage costume jewelry:

Purses and shoes, you can see the little placards for the Dior and Hermes, below—do you die?  I D-I-E die!! Inside, it is stuffed floor to ceiling with vintage fashion–classic Chanel suits, vintage evening wear, jackets and more elegant accessories.

This time through, I noticed several galleries, a store that sells antique military medals and memorabilia, a toy store, a store selling miniatures of every imaginable thing, theater offices, a gorgeous Marc Jabobs boutique and several places for an intriguing lunch.  If you want a museum break, the Palais Royal is a pleasant diversion.

Please follow us on....

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.

Please follow us on....

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?

Please follow us on....