Track Down Vintage Fashion in Paris

1. Where to Stay

Hotel du Petit Moulin, inside and outside. Photo: Courtesy of Hotel du Petit Moulin

A former seventeenth-century bakery redesigned by Christian Lacroix, the Hotel du Petit Moulin (from $220) has become the epicenter of the trendy north Marais neighborhood. The seventeen rooms are small but make a huge visual impact, mixing polka dots, fuchsia florals, heart-shaped Venetian mirrors, and scenes from outer space. Lacroix himself covered Room 204’s walls with his own collages and sketches.

As one of the Left Bank’s most chic hideaways Hotel Montalembert (from $450) is a popular choice with visiting fashion editors, who get their pick from 56 recently renovated rooms. Since the hotel’s located directly next door to gastro hot spot Atelier Joël Robuchon, you can put your name on the endless waiting list and then take a nap before dinner.

A cheaper, though still stylish, Left Bank alternative is the Hotel La Villa Saint Germain des Prés (from $336), which has standard (i.e., teeny) rooms decorated in browns and crisp white linens. Request something on an upper floor to escape a dawn wake-up call from noisy garbage trucks.

Though now over a decade old, Hôtel Costes (from $400) is still the city’s main haunt for models and celebrities. The 82 rooms are done in haute-bordello style, with red brocade walls and black and gold lacquered antique furniture.

2. Where to Eat

L'As du FallafelPhoto: Mary Twiss Connolly

From the outside, Le Voltaire (27 Quai Voltaire; 42-61-17-49) looks like a typical Seine-side tourist trap. But inside, tuxedo-clad waiters serve classic bistro fare to top fashion designers and art dealers, many of whom treat this place like their own private clubhouse. Reserve way in advance, but don’t even bother calling when the fashion shows are in town (usually around mid-March and early October).

Jacques Garcia is one of Paris’ preeminent designers, and the hippest new addition to his portfolio is La Grande Armée (3 avenue de la Grande Armée; 45-00-24-77). Playing on its location near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the brasserie is stocked with life-size gilt soldiers at the entrance, lion’s-head light fixtures, and drawings of uniformed infantry on the walls. It caters to the young and chic, who come to smoke, look fabulous, and nibble on steak tartare and caviar.

When you need a break from shopping in the Palais Royale, stop by Café Corrazza 1782 (12 Galerie Montpensier; 42-60-13-52). Once a hangout for Republicans plotting the French Revolution, today it offers a peaceful, shaded terrace where you can sip café au lait and snack on a piece of moist moelleux au chocolat.

Though upscale boutiques and stylish cafés have edged out kosher butchers in the Marais, crowds still brave loud, gruff L’As du Fallafel (34 rue des Rosiers; 48-87-63-60) for the best lamb shwarma and falafel sandwiches in town. Closed from Friday at dusk to Saturday evening for the Sabbath.

3. What to Do

From left, Quidam de Revel and Didier Ludot.Photo: From left, courtesy of Quidam de Revel; Sarah Norris

There are hundreds of vintage stores around Paris, but you can save time and taxi fare by focusing on three main areas: the Marais, Palais Royale, and Left Bank. Start out in the northern Marais at Quidam de Revel (by appointment only), where sixties designers like Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin still reign. For a minimum of $250, the store will rent you a vintage designer outfit—a forties Balmain gown, say—for a night on the town or a weekend away at a country château.

In the Palais Royale, Didier Ludot spreads his impressive vintage collection throughout three shops: one for accessories and ready-to-wear Dior and Givenchy; one dedicated to museum-quality haute couture by Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and Madame Grès; and one, called La Petite Robe Noire, for the perfect little black dress. Just a few doors down, Gabrille Geppert (31-34 Galerie Montpensier; 42-61-53-52) is beloved by the fashion crowd for its well-edited selection of vintage Chanel and Louis Vuitton accessories (from $500) as well as cheaper finds from unknown designers.

Tiany Chambard (32 rue Jacob) is a jewel box of a store on the Left Bank, filled with Lucite and Bakelite jewelry from the forties through the eighties. Nearby, former fashion model Anouschka sells pristine vintage couture right from her apartment (6 avenue du Coq; 48-74-37-00; by appointment only). Les 3 Marches de Catherine B has an enormous collection of Chanel and Hermès clothing and accessories, including a selection of over 50 Kelly bags ranging in price from $2,500 to $6,000.

4. Insider’s Tip

Photo: Corbis

Paris’ puces, or flea markets, are some of the largest (covering seventeen acres) and busiest (more than 50,000 visitors per weekend) in the world. You can go it alone and risk getting lost or swindled. Or you can hire ex–New Yorker Rachel Kaplan, a self-proclaimed shopping expert, to help you nab hard-to-locate treasures. Kaplan has lived in Paris for a decade and written two Insider’s Guides to her adopted city. She leads private tours ($500 for one to six people) to the various markets and will help you haggle to get the best prices, as well as arrange for shipping back to the States. Schedule your tour on a Monday or a Friday morning to find the best bargains.

5. An Oddball Day

La Vallée VillagePhoto: Courtesy of La Vallée Village

If you’ve still got money left over, take the high-speed TGV train to La Vallée Village, the Parisian version of Woodbury Common. Located a short 35-minute ride from Gare Saint Lazare in downtown Paris, this outdoor outlet center sells apparel from designers like Cacharel, Agnès B, Celine, Wolford, Longchamp, and Charles Jourdan for a minimum of 33 percent off retail prices. The shopping center is set up like a quaint village with hanging lanterns and flower-filled streets, so you can pretend you’re in a charming town in Provence, too. (The Starbucks might break that spell, though.)

6. Related Links

Rebecca Magniant harnesses her love for both Paris and shopping in her blog Chic Shopping in Paris, which focuses on tips, trends, and fashion news.

La Coquette is a hilarious blog written by a young French-American, offering insights and tips on how not to get a table at Hotel Costes and what not to wear to not look like a tourist.

The Internet database Paris Notes posts top-twenty lists for restaurants, hotels, shops, and museums.

France Today is entering its 25th year covering culture and travel for residents and visitors. Its classified section offers listings for long- and short-term apartment rentals.

Track Down Vintage Fashion in Paris