Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Don't Think We're in Dillard's Anymore, Toto

So here's something you don't see at the mall...

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These are photos from the interior of the Galeries Lafayette, perhaps the most magnificent department store (grand magasin, en francais) on the planet. It consists of three buildings (Lafayette Coupole, which houses women's fashions, accessories, cosmetics, childrens' clothes, and more), Lafayette Homme (menswear) and Lafayette Maison, which has some of the very coolest & most beautiful housewares you're ever likely to find. The buildings are on the corners of Boulevard Haussmann at the Place Diaghilev across from the Opera Garnier in the 9th Arrondissement, and the stores have been there since 1905 (although the original store was in a different location and opened in 1896).

Here's some of the cosmetics section:

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and this doesn't even hint at the handbags, scarves, hats, gloves, jewelry, and other delectable delights that make up the ground floor.

I didn't take the photos above. My great weakness as a tourist is a morbid fear of appearing to be a tourist, so I'm very hesitant to whip out my camera in places like department stores. However, I absolutely had to take the following photos, which are of the Christmas window displays that were already up. (As my friend Dominique pointed out, there is no Thanksgiving in between Halloween & Christmas in France to slow down the holiday retail locomotive, and it's gotten just as bad there as it is here.)

Now, I'm not a big one for the cutesy stuff in general, but I'll have you know that every. Single. One. Of these bears was animated. I've never seen anything so adorable in my life. They were waving and bobbing and climbing in & out of backpacks and the flashes on their cameras were going off -- I became a 6 year-old standing in front of this window and actually laughed with delight. Notice the snapshots lying on the floor at the bottom of the picture? There were photos of the bears at all of the tourist spots of Paris -- the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge. Absolutely delightful.

All of the windows were wonderful, but this one was my favorite, and happily was one of the only ones whose angle didn't cause terrible, photo-ruining reflections in the sunlight.

This brings me to some other photos that I took, of a display that so took my breath away I actually got over myself enough to pull out the camera and record it so that I could share it with you.

(Although I did take the photos without a flash, in the dim hope of avoiding all of the terminally chic SAs wondering, "Qui est cette freak americaine?")

This is in the shoe department (which in and of itself qualifies as the Elysian Fields for folks like me). Behold if you will every shoe care product imaginable, and a few I'd never even conceived of.

Shoe forms, arch supports, suede brushes, shoehorns, waterproofing sprays, cleaning creams, specially shaped stickies to ward off blisters, pads, polishes, buffers, buckles, laces... it was like a respectful shrine to the Shoeniverse.

If you don't think I stood in front of this display and had a little internal argument with myself over whether or not it was ridiculous to tote jars of shoe polish in my suitcase from Paris to Texas, you don't know me very well. It was torture to walk away from this display empty-handed, and now that I'm looking at the photo again I am swamped with regret.

To top it all off, it wasn't just products that were available, it was services. You can also drop off your shoes at this counter for repairs. How marvelous is that?

I was trying to imagine this counter in an American department store and I just couldn't. I think it has to do with the Quality Not Quantity ethos that the French embrace so wholeheartedly -- they have one good thing rather than four mediocre ones (civil servants excepted, of course). They don't do disposable quite to the extent that we do in this country, and since they have fewer things and the things they have are more expensive, they take care of their things. Which is a beautiful thing.

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You know what else is a beautiful thing? On the first floor (which would be the second floor here -- it's very confusing until you get used to it), the floor with the Lanvin boutique and the Galliano boutique and the Lacroix and the Max Mara and and the Vivian Westwood and the Prada and the Comme des Garcons and -- well, you get the picture... on the first floor there is a lovely little wine & champagne bar where poised, polished Parisiennes wrapped in fur and Hermes scarves perch elegantly and sip to refresh themselves after the effort of spending beaucoup d'euros on gorgeousnesses like this

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which I assure you is even more breathtaking in person. I resisted the siren call of the champagne bar, however, for fear of leaving even more of my personal fortune in les caisses of Galeries Lafayette than I already had. Actually, I was very good in there. The only thing I took home for myself was a lipstick. I felt I would not be a truly well-rounded person until I'd been ordered around -- excuse me, advised by an experienced Parisian cosmetics SA. (She was gentle but firm: the color I chose first was trop rose; it was Raspberry Truffle for me and I'd better get used to it. Even I am not foolish enough to argue with a Frenchwoman in a lab coat.)

There was one thing I left behind that I have serious regret over. I've been longing for a little jeweled minaudiere for evening, and have yet to find one at a reasonable (-ish) price that really spoke to me. But there was one in Galeries Lafayette that I fondled quite lovingly and actually made a repeat visit to. But I did not buy it. Oh, sometimes I despise myself for being so responsible. (Hey!! I heard that snort of derision!)

It was shaped like this:
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but instead of pearls (I already have a little pearly evening bag -- it was my mom's) it was covered in rhinestones. It wasn't even terribly expensive, but I was trying so hard to be responsible and good. And the dollar is soooooo abysmal right now... ::sigh::

Oh, see, now I'm sad. I think an application of Raspberry Truffle is called for.

Photos:,, Style Spy,,

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Alexandra said...

I respect your responsible behaviour there.
Last time I went I was a starving student and still ended up spending a few terms worth of tuition money. Oh, the good days...:)

Stupid as that may sound, I now wish that local department stores would have shoe-repair departments. it is so hard to find someone that can fix minor things on some of my favourite pairs of shoes, that were in fact "investments", and that I am planning to wear for many more years.

Karen said...

The time before last that I was in Paris, I went to Galeries Lafayette and decided to give myself up to the ministrations of the Lancome cosmetics women. I didn't think I knew what color lipstick really worked for me anymore, as I had stopped tanning myself as radically as I'd done for years, and I decided that a Frenchwoman was genetically more capable than I to figure this out. So I went up to the counter, and in my hesitant French explained that I wanted their advice on the perfect lipstick and rouge colors.

They were surprisingly deferential! It was all I could do to get them to make a recommendation. But, in the end, they did, and I've been happily using those colors for about 6 years.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for writing such a wonderful post and for thinking of your readers in the midst of enjoying this experience.
I think I may blow your photos up to full size and paste them to my walls, play french music and pretend I am also there - or do you think thats going a little over the top?

StyleSpy said...

A -- I know. Perhaps we should start lobbying local stores. I'm lucky to have a good shoe guy, but it would be so convenient for so many people to have this source.

K -- You did the right thing. And you're right about the genetics. It's on the same chromosome that has the scarf thing.

J -- So glad you're enjoying it. And no -- not over the top at all. How do you think I spend most of my Sunday nights? ;)