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
 

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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May 242010
 

The Galeries Lafayette, is one of the department stores on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris France.  If you are visiting there, it is a few blocks from the Opera (the big Neo-Baroque Opera Garnier that is the foundation of the legend of the Phantom of the Opera).  Printemps, another large department store (or Grand Magasin, as they would say in French) is right next door.

I was going in at the end of a very long day, fortunately the store was open until 8:00 p.m., which didn’t give me enough time to fully explore but at least a moment.

The first floor is lined with small versions of the high end boutiques–Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Dior and others, as well as a niche for Longchamps.  These are mostly purses and accessories. The clothing boutiques for these and other high end brands are on the second floor.  The upper floors are similar in configuration to most U.S. department stores, except several of the brands are pretty hard to find outside of France.

The makeup area is in the center of the first floor and  crowded with people from all over the world, who walk among the maze of Armani, Guerlain, Chanel, Serge Lutens, Kenzo, Dior and even Bobbi Brown and Clinique. Unlike counters at the typical U.S. department store, each line has its own kiosk that allows them several displays each.  In the center is a featured product or brand, which changes frequently.  When I was there, it was a Nina Ricci perfume, Ricci Ricci.

The roof has an incredible glass ceiling, and the building is quite ornate and lovely.  Click for a larger view:

I wanted to focus on finding things that I cannot locate in the U.S., which was hard to do since there were so many distracting beautiful items (including the new Chanel duo eyeshadows, Lancome and so many more items).  I settled on these two items from Tom Pecheux’s Color Pure Color Night–the powder highlighter (43 euros) and the smoky grey-taupe trio (23 euros) –you can see details about this on The British Beauty Blogger. (Together with a neutral gloss, all three of these will be releasing in London and New York in limited quantities).  I literally gasped when I saw the sales associate use the eye palette on a customer-it was very polished yet dramatic.

After I already committed to buy the highlighter, the sales associate gave me a detailed demonstration of how to use it, so that I could see her apply it while watching in a mirror.  Highlighter on the upper cheek, browbone, chin and a touch of nude blush in the contour area of the cheek.  I was glowing (in a good way).  It could be just me, but I always get the feeling that the sales associates here would rather lose a sale entirely than to see their product applied wrong.  They always seem relieved when I choose the product that they recommend, rather than one that might be less right.

I only have a small travel camera, so no swatches:

These are both beautiful, and are literally the first Estee Lauder products that I have ever bought.  The Estee Lauer sales associated loaded up my bag with several generous samples. Welcome to Paris, where they understand makeup.

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