HOW TO LIVE LIKE A PARISIAN
A local’s guide to all things French
Parisian style is not a question of birthplace or address; it’s not even a specific look. It’s an attitude, a state of mind, cool and nonchalant. Ines de la Fressange, Saint-Tropezborn model, designer and author of
Parisian Chic, says it’s somewhere between “rocker and bourgeois”.
Which is good news for the rest of us: no matter if home is closer to Potts Point or Perth than the Place de la Concorde, it is still possible to adopt some of that iconic flair.
Better still, with a few simple tips, even the first-time visitor to Paris can fit right in and navigate this beautiful, bewitching, often-contradictory city like a native.
That seemingly effortless style – think actor Charlotte Gainsbourg, new Chloe artistic director Natacha Ramsay-Levi or former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld – has strict foundations.
The key to dressing like a Parisian is understatement – less is more, bling is out, ideally two colours maximum – mixing classic basics with vintage and luxury highlight pieces.
“We don’t really try to follow the trends,” says fashion journalist and filmmaker Melinda Triana, whose 2014 documentary The Parisienne, shows the natives in all their winequaffing, cigarette-waving, impertinent glory.
Must-haves include a man-style blazer, trench, navy knit, jeans, leather jacket, ballerina flats and, of course, a little black dress.
To procure said essentials, those in the know head to Upper Marais, where the narrow streets harbour immaculately edited boutiques – established names and rising stars alike – as well as vintage, homewares and galleries. For a one-stop option, try one of the city’s historic department stores. And to shop in tranquility, says Triana, go on Sunday when it’s quiet.
It’s impossible to imagine a Parisian without a perfectly slung scarf. Even the language brims with multiple words for this accessory – whether it’s a silk foulard, cosy echarpe or etole to drape about the shoulders.
As stylist Stephanie Michelotti says, the best are preloved finds picked up for pennies from places like Free’P’Star (freepstar.com) or Guerrisol (guerrisol.fr).
If timeless is your goal and your budget generous, splash out at Hermes – the Left Bank store (17 rue de Sevres, 75006; hermes.com), transformed from a heritage-listed swimming pool, is worth a detour for the interior alone.
WHERE TO SHOP
Merci (111 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003; merci-merci.com): An onthe-pulse concept store with beautiful basics, the latest season’s must-haves, plus homewares, lighting and gifts.
Soeur (88 rue Bonaparte, 75006; soeur.fr): Young, cool and bohemian.
A.P.C. (112 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003; apc.fr): Timeless and reliable for jeans, boots and that perfect striped tee.
FrenchTrotters (128 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003; frenchtrotters.fr): Stocks lesser-known brands, plus candles, perfume and skincare.
Le Bon Marche Rive Gauche (24 rue de Sevres, 75007; lebonmarche.com): A department store as notable for its food hall, La Grand Epicerie, as its designer fashion.
PICNIC IN THE PARK
As soon as the sun comes out, Parisians pack a picnic and head to a park, or a bridge over the Seine, or the cobbled edges of Canal Saint-Martin, or a shady bench in Place des Vosges. Almost anywhere with space to sit is fair game.
Popular spots include Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Tuileries. The Parc Rives de Seine turns over 10ha of city-centre riverbank, once reserved for traffic, to pedestrians, cyclists and picnickers. If you prefer to sit on grass, there’s the Parc du Champ-de-Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. You’re more likely to go rug-to-rug with the locals, however, at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, in the 19th arrondissement, with its green slopes, views and (if self-catering is not so appealing) choice of bars, or at the office workers’ choice, Parc Monceau in the 8th.
WHAT TO PACK
The typical spread is a simple affair – bread, cheese, charcuterie, fruit and wine – but the art is in the details.
Buy bread, preferably a baguette de tradition, from an artisan boulangerie (bakery). To be sure your camembert, comte or chevre is picnic perfect, pick up cheese from a fromagerie (cheese monger). The title Meilleur Ouvrier de France (often abbreviated to MOF) in the front window indicates exceptional skill and craftsmanship.
A morning trip to an open-air market, such as the Marche d’Aligre (Tuesday to Sunday; 75012), Marche President Wilson (Wednesday and Saturday; 75016) or the organic Marche Biologique Raspail (Sunday; 75006), is a cost-effective way to furnish your basket.
Look for the longest queues and always wait to be served at produce stands, rather than helping yourself.
French supermarkets have aisles devoted to wine, but a good cave (cellar) also offers advice and atmosphere. The chain Nicolas (nicolas.com) is ever-present and reliable, or stop into La Cave des Papilles (35 rue Daguerre, 75014; lacavedespapilles.com), Lavinia (3 boulevard de la Madeleine, 75001; lavinia.fr) or Legrand Filles et Fils (1 rue de la Banque, 75002; caveslegrand.com).
ON THE ROOF
While the cafe terrace remains an iconic spot to sip espresso or a beer (craft or Kronenbourg), rooftop bars are on the up – literally. For bobo (bourgeois-bohemian) cred, hit Le Perchoir (leperchoir.tv), in the Menilmontant neighbourhood, for views of the Sacre-Coeur, or Nuba (lenuba.com), atop the Cite de la Mode et du Design overlooking the Seine.
THOSE IN THE KNOW HEAD TO IMMACULATELY EDITED BOUTIQUES IN UPPER MARAIS
Le 43 Up on the Roof, on the ninth floor of the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame (ihg.com), mixes cocktails with panoramic views.
For a luxury option and a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, try the seventhfloor garden terrace at Hôtel Raphael (leshotelsbaverez.com/fr/raphael).
Obviously, a city synonymous with fashion and food appreciates “la gastronomie liquide”. The Experimental Cocktail Club (experimentalevents.com/paris), which brought a new generation of speak-easy-style bars to Paris, is still one of the best.
Newcomer Le Syndicat (syndicatcocktailclub.com) puts a domestic spin on the formula, serving only French spirits (rum sneaks in on the technicality of its colonial origins) in the buzzing heart of the 10th arrondissement.
Paris Cocktail Week co-founder Eric Fossard also lists Danico (facebook.com/danicoparis/) in neoclassical Galerie Vivienne, and rum-and-cocktail den Mabel (mabelparis.com). For old-school elegance, there’s always the Ritz Bar (ritzparis.com).
While part of the Parisian make-up is the ability to say “non”, and to curse with aplomb, social graces are highly prized. Learn to say “bonjour” on entering a boutique or asking for information. Yes, more people are speaking English due to globalisation, a cutthroat employment market and the ongoing “Do You Speak Touriste?” campaign, but locals – and savvy visitors – know this little nicety can be the difference between smiling attention and retail (or restaurant) purgatory.
It’s the age-old question: to tip or not? The custom in Paris restaurants is to leave a pourboire only for good service (there’s a 15 per cent service charge already factored into the bill). The general rule is 5 per cent of the total. In taxis, round up to the next euro or leave the change, and at the hotel, tip the porter €1 per piece of luggage. At the theatre, give €1-2 to the usher who seats you.
GET OUT OF TOWN
Suburbs such as Saint-Ouen and Montreuil are challenging the cliche that dyed-in-the-wool Parisians don’t venture beyond the Peripherique, the boulevard that encircles the 20 central arrondissements. Already a draw for its huge weekend flea market, with 15 markets over 9ha, Saint-Ouen has recently upped its insider cachet with the opening of boutique MOB Hotel Paris Les Puces (mobhotel.com/paris), a destination in its own right with a huge terrace, open-air cinema and yoga classes.
The steadily gentrifying eastern enclave of Montreuil boasts its own flea market, craft breweries and vibrant street art. While in the west, the futuristic orb of music venue La Seine Musicale (laseinemusicale.com) opened in April on the edge of the river beside the vast Bois de Boulogne.
If you’re familiar with the Musee du Louvre (louvre.fr), which spans antiquities to 19th-century treasures, and Musee d’Orsay (musee-orsay.fr), Impressionist masterpieces housed in a repurposed train station, why not visit some of city’s other museums.
The Musee Rodin (musee-rodin.fr) is loved for its sculpture garden; while Musee Jacquemart-Andre (museejacquemart-andre.com) offers an eclectic collection in a Second Empire mansion. Photography fans queue for the big-name exhibitions at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (mep-fr.org). Find style inspiration at Le Grand Musee du Parfum (grandmuseeduparfum.fr) or the Christian Dior retrospective at Musee des Arts Decoratifs (lesartsdecoratifs .fr) which opens on July 5.
The 14-line Metro subway system is an engineering feat, an Art Nouveau masterpiece and a daily necessity for many of its 1.5 billion annual users.
Some tips: avoid rush hour; don’t use the fold-down seats in the vestibule if the carriage is packed; hang on to your ticket until you exit the system (you’ll also need it to transfer to the suburban RER trains); and keep a close eye on your things, especially smartphones.
Directions are indicated according to the end of each line, and as stations can have as many as 16 exits (sorties), pick one before you leave the platform.
Don’t take the gold ring. If someone tries to hand or sell you a flashy trinket, just say, “Non, merci” (or nothing at all) and continue to the Louvre, or whichever major site you happen to be near.
Also, don’t sign the charity petition. Both are common scams, and Parisians would never fall for either.
APPS TO HELP YOU NAVIGATE
Citymapper – get from A to B by public transport, bicycle or on foot. Next Stop Paris – the app from Paris transport body RATP has sights, fares, itineraries and useful French phrases. Welcome to Paris – the Paris tourist office app includes walking tours, exhibitions, shows and ticketing. Fooding – the foodies’ guide to the latest restaurants, bars and hotels. Marches de Paris – a comprehensive market finder plus seasonal guide to fresh produce. French Wines by Hachette – easy-to-use guide to wines and regions.
THIS LITTLE NICETY CAN BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SMILING ATTENTION AND RETAIL PURGATORY
WHERE TO STAY HOTEL BACHAUMONT
Feel like a native at this stylish 49room boutique hotel, tucked in the cobbled Montorgueil market quarter, just a few blocks from the Louvre. The charming neighbourhood boasts hip bistro Frenchie (book well in advance) and legendary patissier Stohrer. The hotel’s own Night Flight bar has become a local favourite. Double rooms from €180 a night (hotelbachaumont.com).
A quaint cafe in the famous Parisian suburb of Montmartre, also home to the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur (main); and Art Deco cafe Le Petit Zinc, near the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres (above right).
People relaxing in Place des Vosges, one of the most popular squares in Paris, in the historically and architecturally famous Le Marais district (main); you’re never far from a boulangerie on a walk through the capital (below); and there are many maps and apps to help you get around the city (below right).