Paris: A Designer Guide

Lizzie Porter, The Daily Telegraph, September 23, 2013

Take one look at the sheer chiffon and glittering bodices streaking down the catwalk in Paris this week and you’ll realise preconceptions of the city being po-faced are misplaced. Those who visit during Fashion Week – it all begins on September 24 – should banish the thought of clichéd menus offering nothing but steak tartare, and shops with only camel cashmere on sale. There is much more to see beyond the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, too. Here are some of my favourite haunts that lovers of fashion and design should seek out.

Where to shop

Away from the shiny department stores and the touristy emporia on the Champs-Elysées, Paris is home to winding streets full of quirky boutiques. Head to the area around Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and Rue des Rosiers in the Marais District for vintage clothing at Free’P’Star (don’t let the chaos put you off – there are some great finds to be had); French clothes at Cotélac and Comptoir des Cotonniers, and gorgeous vials of perfume at Annick Goutal .

There is also a cluster of shops where Rue de Poitou, home to the Hotel du Petit Moulin, intersects with Rue Vieille du Temple and Rue de Turenne – think APC, classic French pharmacies, and dépôt-vente Violette & Leonie . The dépôt-vente is a French institution – essentially, well-shod Parisians sell clothes they have only worn a few times to the shops. They then resell the garments, which are usually very well presented and appear as new. Don’t expect a smile at Violette & Léonie, but do expect designer clothes in keeping with the latest trends at excellent prices.

On the Left Bank, skinny elbows in designer coats fly for the discounted brands at City-Pharma. Chic Parisian ladies know where to find a bargain, and buying their Darphin and La Roche-Posay skin creams in bulk here leaves more money left over for indulging at Art Deco department store Le Bon Marché (above). Stock up on beauty essentials that are hard to find in the UK, such as Klorane (City-Pharma, 26 Rue du Four, 75006 Paris, France; 0033 1 46 33 20 81).

The pretty streets around the Saint-Sulpice church are full of fashion brands such as Carven and The Kooples, and don’t miss the macaroons at Pierre Hermé (below) at 72 Rue Bonaparte (1 43 54 47 77; ). Among Parisians, his creations are reputed to be better than the famous Ladurée macaroons.

Where to eat

Hang out at the restaurant at modern art gallery Palais de Tokyo – Tokyo Eat – a spartan, Brutalist-style space, but one that fills with the chatter of Parisians on Thursday and Friday nights (open every day except Tuesday from 12 midday – 2am; 147 20 00 29; ).

Les Editeurs is a Left Bank eatery lined with books, where customers are encouraged to sit back with a snack and a novel, or a coffee and the papers. The restaurant has a good selection of sharing platters, fish and steaks, and delicious chocolate minute for dessert (143 26 67 76; ).

Merci is a concept store in the trendy Haut-Marais that stocks little-known jewellery, clothing and furniture designers from around the world. Lots of Scandinavian names appear on the useful A-Z of brands stocked on the shop’s website. It also has two cafés – one alongside the shop’s library – as well as the “Merci Canteen”, open for healthy lunches six days a week (142 77 00 33; ).

Where to drink

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, situated on an unprepossessing street in the 2e arrondissement, but La Conserverie is a hip cocktail bar. The drinks menu uses more than 100 different types of alcohol, including sake, and vermouth. (37 Rue du Sentier Paris; 75002; 140 2614 94; ).

Le Vin qui Danse (“The Dancing Wine”) is a snug bar for oenophiles, tucked up a cobbled street, near the Pantheon. Almost 100 wines, all selected and tasted by the team, are on offer, and about 20 are highlighted as the “dancing wines”, or those that really stand out. The bar also serves food designed to complement the alcohol, and holds wine tastings ( ; 143 54 80 81).

Le Café Charbon, which dates from 1900, is a well-known bar among Parisians in the city’s bohemian eastern district Oberkampf. It has all the ingredients of a more traditional French brasserie – zinc bar, red banquettes – yet none of the pretension. The lamps underneath the bar are said to have been “liberated” from a night fishing boat, and DJs play a mix of pop, electro and world music (9am-4am, 109 Rue Oberkampf, 75011; 143 57 55 13).

What to see

After a long closure, the Palais Galliera (below), which houses the city's Fashion Museum, is reopening on September 28, with a large retrospective celebrating couturier Azzedine Alaïa. His body-conscious dresses defined the trends of the 1980s (Alaïa retrospective runs September 28 to January 26 2014; entry £7, Palais Galliera, 10am-6pm Tues-Sun, 10, avenue Pierre 1er de la Serbie, 75016; 156 52 86 00).

The Museum of the Decorative Arts has an exhibition entitled “The mechanics of underwear – the silhouette’s indiscreet history” until November 2013. Almost 200 outfits, including panniers, crinolines, stomach belts, bustles and painful corsets show the torturous methods men and women have used throughout history to conform to the trend of the epoch (entry £8, Museum of the Decorative Arts, 11am-6pm Tues-Sun, 107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001; )

Where to stay

You can sleep in a stylish room without spending a fortune in Paris. Company Onefinestay lets locals’ homes when the owners are out of town – but don’t worry about arriving to find a bombsite of a flat. Properties across the city, in the Batignolles, Montmartre and Saint Germain districts, are thoroughly vetted before they are allowed to be listed, and are cleaned to hotel grade before each stay. WiFi, iPhones, L’Occitane toiletries, towels and linens come as standard, and owners also leave their insider recommendations for their district – perfect for unearthing the city's lesser-known gems. We particularly like the property at Rue du Commerce, with its Art Deco touches and vibrant artwork, which sleeps two in one double bedroom (from £108 per night; ; 0800 612 4377).