By Fok-yan Leung
It’s a cliché, but for a store to be special, it has to provide “an experience" - something that stands out, in a good way. Some stores catch you because their displays make you re-imagine stuff that you simply walked by in other stores. Some stores compel you to buy something just because the proprietor and his sales assistants are so friendly and genuine and show a real love for their product. Some stores offer a mix of the familiar and comfortable with the unfamiliar and wondrous, like a cool friend’s wardrobe. And of course, some stores feel like a grotto of treasures.
In Paris, there are many, many, many, stores. Amongst the many that I walked into, through, or around, saying “Oh, no thanks. I’m really just looking," these five were some of the standouts. I tried to pick a variety stores that are representative of different approaches to fashion, style, and presentation.
1) French Trotters: “Everyday” clothes that frankly, more people should wear every day.
128 rue Vieille du Temple
Man or woman, if you want to look very Parisian, French Trotters is the store for you. When the Styleforum team met with Déborah, the designer for De Bonne Facture, she was dressed in a boxy, low gauge sweater, a bit baggy; baggy pants; and some Spalwart runners. That, to me, is Parisian fashion in a nutshell – very simple lines, well put together, and elegant in a straightforward, casual way. Both the French Trotters store and the clothes are just this. It’s a brightly-lit store with a lot of blond wood, featuring piles of sweaters on tables in the middle and racks of coats and jackets lining the walls. In addition to selling its own complete line - which features stuff like sweatshirts with the word “French” on them, twill blouson jackets with mouton collars and gabardine mac coats - carries brands such as Barbour that fit in very well with both the subdued color scheme and the functional clothing. The women’s section was full of flirty dresses in chambray and cosy sweaters. Oh, and of course, they had a selection of New Balance and other trendy but not “high fashion” sneakers. I picked up a skinny belt that doubles as a bracelet, thereby reaching my pinnacle.
Goods: The French Trotter's brand, as well as sneakers by Adidas and Nike, and outerwear by brands like "Barbour" and accessories by Humanoid.
Prices: Very reasonable for a nicer boutique, with typical prices around 350 Euros for a coat, 200 Euros for a sweater, 120 Euros for a sweatshirt.
2) L’Eclaireur, Rue Herold: High fashion temple with surprisingly friendly and helpful staff.
10 Rue Hérold, 75001
As the press agent made clear to explain to me when I asked for press photos, L’Eclaireur has six locations, all with their own personalities. It’s a Parisian fashion institution, and like it or hate it, I felt that it was my obligation to go. Everyone I talked to said that the Herold Street location was the best one, so we went there on the last day of our trip. We went up the block, counting the numbers, and then down the block, counting the numbers. We did this twice, at which point, a curious neighbor yelled out to me “Are you looking for the store?” There were other stores on the street, but I nodded anyway. “It’s right there”. He pointed a nondescript door, and I mimed “This door?” “Oui, oui”. “Merci”. There was a tiny sign, beside the buzzer that read, as in an apartment. I pushed the buzzer, and the door immediately opened. I frowned. Stores that carry brands like Carol Christian Poell and Guidi footwear are famously unwelcoming. This speakeasy style store entrance was preparing me for a combination of pretentious and unfriendly – essentially an SNL skit.
The door opens into a wide corridor that looked like it was once outside, the passageway leads into an courtyard. In a glass case on the left hand side, museum-lit displays of Guidi boots (a lot of backzips, of course) shine in all sorts of colors and heel heights. The “Monsieur, we have nothing in your very average size” vibe was strong.
But no, it was friendly. Appleby’s friendly. “Hi, my name is Eric, and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I get you guys something to start?” friendly. Normally, I don’t want anyone being that friendly. But in the quiet and dark shop, that friendliness was like a warm cocoon. I was brought one Carol Christian Poell leather jacket after another (I’ve decided to get a scarstitch jacket once I have 4000 Euros to spare), and tried on a Layer-O jacket that was a size larger than I normally wear but still looked shrinkwrapped around my North American shoulders and chest. Two beautiful Faliero Sarti scarves, at around 600 Euros, seemed too much, in my smalltimer mind, for an impulse purchase. This is a store, that you should visit armed with all the money that you’ve saved up from your clothing budget. My war chest is going to the leather jacket.
Goods: Carol Christian Poell, Layer-O, Guidi, Faliero Sarti, MA+, and other niche and expensive brands.
Prices: breathtakingly high. Leather jackets are the price of a decent mortgage payment on a pretty nice-sized house in Denver ($2500-$5000, at current USD/Euro exchange rates). Belts start at around 400 Euros. Scarves start at 230 Euros or so. On the other hand, none of it is garbage, which cannot be said of many expensive fashion items.
3) Tom Greyhound – High fashion store in which an intimidatingly modern ground floor hides a cozy and warm upper level.
19 Rue de Saintonge
The ground floor and the upper level of Tom Greyhound are a study in contrast. First of all, big props to the trust that the staff had in us to let us take pictures of the very photogenic space.
Fashion stores in Paris have very strict policies against photography in their stores. This is particularly true of “fashion” stores, of which Tom Greyhound is definitely one. So it was either a testament to their niceness or a testament to our coolness that they let us take pictures. Which we did. The first floor display is a temple of vertical lines, clean white, and frankly, disorientation. The clothes barely anchored me. Everything was very graphic and very clean. A lot of black, white, and color blocking, and technical looking fabrics. 3:1 Phillip Lim, Off-White, and Matthew Miller’s exaggerated biker jackets with oversized zipper tabs and zipped backs shared space with Norwegian Rain’s dramatic and eye-catching Rainchos and S-capes. Of course, if you are going to do minimalist anything, you had better have Common Projects, which they had in a nice little display on a wood and silver pyramid thing.
The second floor, in contrast, was centered around a darkened space, with a fireplace and plush seating, with brighter rooms full of blond wood adjoining. The clothing is bit more accessible – Julien David sneakers to go with clothing by Acne. I spent a lot more time up there. Tom Greyhound, in my book, was a winner.
Goods: 3:1 Phillip Lim, Off-White, Matthew Miller, Acne Action, Norwegian Rain, Julien David – a mix of minimalist and haute-streetwear (Men’s and Women’s)
Prices: High. Norwegian Rain coats starts at about 600 Euros. Hey, it’s fashion. If you are broke but want a souvenir, you can get the Julien David sneakers at around 250 Euros.
4) The Broken Arm: Fashion, fashion, fashion – and some really nice leather goods.
12 Rue Perrée
It seems like being difficult to find is part of the appeal of fashion stores. A half flight of stairs up, on a quiet street and right beside a coffee shop that is attached to the store, it’s another very modern space – a lot of white, and very, very, clean. There was a Juun J exhibition on the first floor. In the remarkably well lit basement, Isaac Reina’s leather goods (Isaac Reina is the godfather of minimalist, architectural leather goods) were the big attraction for me. Oversized clothes are the flavor du jour, and there was plenty of that. The whole fashion+streetwear thing is really big here too, with a lot of Gosha Rubshinskiy and Nike and Salomon (newly cool) sneakers.
Goods: Juun J., Salomon, Nike, Isaac Reina, JW Anderson
Prices: Fashion, fashion, fashion high.
5) Beaubien: Urban Outsdoorsman for all of your Parisian Exploratory needs.
21 Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth
If there is an odd duck in this bunch, it’s Beaubien. It’s an oasis of geniune casualness in a city not particularly well-known for being casual. It’s a tiny store, with a big reputation. It was closed for a coffee break when we got there, and so we also had a coffee, but not before we figure out that entire, unassuming, street, was lined with showrooms. By the time we got back, the tiny store will filled with fashion people – buyers, press, whatever, from all over. The owner was the only guy working, and everything was on sale at the time.
It is very much an urban outdoor store, which might feel more at home in Brooklyn, ORslow jeans shared space with some Levis Vintage Clothing tops and Battenwear fleeces. And there are simple, easy to wear pieces from Dana Lee and Libertine&Libertine, neither of which are French in any way, but both of which could easily be part of a very simple but very stylish Gallic wardrobe. Atelier de l'Armée bags were hung on the back wall.
The owner was very casual and friendly as well. Maybe it's his attitude that pervaded the store. We asked to take pictures, expecting, from a couple of full day’s experiences, either a straight up no, or at very most, an invitation to email the press agent (press agents will either say “Yes” or tell you to please use press photos only, both of which are answers that can be given by any sales assistant). Instead, we were told “sure, of course, whatever you need." So we stayed around and took a bunch of pictures and tried to make the place look as much like a much-cooler-friend’s wardrobe as possible, which is what it felt like.
Goods: Levis Vintage Clothing, Arpenteur, Onslow, Levis Made&Crafted, Battenwear, Dana Lee, Libertine&Libertine.
Prices: Moderate, at least for clothing of this level.