When Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo switched on the Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées, it was in the midst of lockdown, with not a shopper or curious tourist in sight on what the French love to claim is the world’s most beautiful avenue.
The shops have now reopened to try to save the festive season, but the emergence of new online digital platforms during confinement has opened up a whole new world of shopping.
So although travel restrictions mean Paris will be pretty empty of tourists for Christmas and the New Year, you can still plan a virtual shopping trip in the City of Light. Here are ten must-visit boutiques.
Who can resist chocolate during the festive season? Chocoholic travellers visiting Paris are usually spoilt for choice, from the Willy Wonka experience of seeing gourmet chocolate made before your eyes in Alain Ducasse’s magical Manufacture, to Denise Acabo’s legendary A l’Etoile d’Or boutique up in Pigalle, where the 83-year-old grande dame of chocolate stocks all her favourite producers from across France.
In the time of a pandemic, though, few chocolatiers are organised to ship overseas, so it is reassuring to find that France’s most famed contemporary chocolatier, Patrick Roger, is delivering a large selection of his range.
Roger’s signature creations are closer to giant avant-garde chocolate sculptures, and although you will have to come to Paris to buy one of these, there is still a mouthwatering choice of pralines, tablets and ganaches available online.
Just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain in the chic Quartier Latin, the tiny boutique of Maison d’Orsay showcases its exclusive scents created by expert "noses" in laboratories located in the Provençal town of Grasse, the legendary heart of the French perfume industry.
This celebrated maison was founded by Count Alfred d’Orsay, son of a Napoleonic general but also renowned as a painter and sculptor. D’Orsay loved experimenting with olfactory plants and essential oils, founding his own perfume house in the early 1800s and attracting worldwide fame by creating the first ever unisex perfume as far back as 1830.
Always a pioneer, Maison d’Orsay developed exclusive scents that were showcased in haute-couture crystal perfume bottles created by Baccarat, Daum and René Lalique. Today, apart from perfumes, you can choose from scented candles, home fragrances and a personal "olfactory fetish" spray.
The historic Paris food market, Les Halles, was knocked down and replaced by an enormous shopping mall back in 1971, but for nostalgic locals it is still what Emile Zola dubbed "the belly of Paris".
Today chefs and foodie enthusiasts from around the world are are still drawn here to do their own professional shopping at the three legendary kitchen supply stores; Mora, La Bovida and A. Simon.
The oldest is Mora, founded back in 1814 , and it is the best organised for delivering all over the world. And in an age when TV has become dominated by food programmes like Master Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and Bake Off, anyone can try their hand at becoming a top chef if they stock up on Mora’s state-of-the-art equipment. Apart from a eye-popping range of thousands of pots and pans, knives, spatulas and baking dishes, you can also order the latest chef’s aprons, hats and shoes to look the part too.
Paris Jazz Corner
Paris is one of the undisputed music capitals of the world, be it for jazz, African and Latin, classic chansons Françaises by the likes of Brassens and Gainsbourg, or the latest hip-hop and rap. And given that the world’s most famous DJ, David Guetta, is Parisian, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a brilliant second-hand record scene here for music fans of rare vinyl.
While jazz lovers and professional DJ’s make a pilgrimage to browse – or do some "digging" in the music jargon – through the hallowed collection of Paris Jazz Corner, its whole collection is actually online and overseas delivery is no problem. When travel is normalised, the store is in a quite corner of the Left Bank, just by the ornate Grande Mosquée de Paris, which also has a hammam and salon de thé.
Manon Daviet is a rising star who is starting to make a name for herself with a very particular technique of weaving, embroidery, tufting and knitting highly distinctive, tapestry-like rugs and carpets.
Often made-to-measure to depict colourful fantasy landscapes, this innovative textile artist works in her studio near the Place de la République, and prospective buyers have the chance to communicate directly. She has no agent or website, but tempting images are posted on her Instagram account and she is happy to be contacted directly via email. You can request a full catalogue, prices and background to her work, which she can then ship. Definitely not the usual Parisian experience, but a temporary new normal for these times of armchair travelling and online shopping.
www.instagram.com/manondaviet or firstname.lastname@example.org
Few have been hit as hard as Paris's iconic bouquinistes, whose dark green bookstalls have lined the quaysides of the Seine from Notre-Dame to Pont Royal for over 200 years.
Despite being out in the open, they were treated as a normal shop and forced to close during coronavirus lockdowns, but have reacted positively by creating a website platform for online shopping that can be shared by all the 230 different stalls.
For travellers deprived of a Christmas trip to Paris, this is a godsend, as the bouquinistes virtual boutique is crammed with seductive items. Bouquinistes translates roughly as bookseller, but their rare collections cover a lot more than books. Let yourself be tempted not just by rare manuscripts, but also sepia posters of the Moulin Rouge dancers, antique lithographs advertising Jacques Tati films, sheet music of Piaf and Charles Aznavour songs, and seductive black and white pinups of Brigitte Bardot.
Swiss-born but Parisian by adoption, Thomas Boog has created an exclusive niche for his work in the world of interior design, and nothing quite prepares you for the first vision of his fantasy seashell creations. Boog has collected tens of thousands of multi-coloured shells and conches, using them to decorate mirrors, lamps, vases, furniture and surreal sculptures that evoke the paintings of Archimboldo.
While nothing compares to coming face-to-face with these stunning objects in his intimate gallery just by the Rodin Museum, there is an excellent website to view a large selection of his creations.
For luxury connoisseurs, jewellery in Paris means, above all, Place Vendôme, which is lined by the palatial showrooms of Boucheron, Cartier, Chaumet and Piaget.
But there is a goldmine of smaller, independent boutiques hidden away in the surrounding backstreets, like this tiny Aladdin’s Cave filled to bursting with Dominique Denaive’s fantasy costume jewellery: striking multi-coloured necklaces, earrings, brooches, bracelets and rings, made from resin, coral and mother-of-pearl.
Before launching his own line 30 years ago, Denaive collaborated with Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton. Today, his daughter works at the Parisian boutique and his designs are sold all over the world, while Denaive himself seeks inspiration for his exotic creations far away, in his artisan atelier on the tropical island of Mauritius.
Leading up to the landmark Au Bon Marché department store, rue du Cherche-Midi is one of the chicest streets in the French capital. In-between the global brands you see on every high street, it is easy to walk straight past the unassuming boutique of Heimstone, by the genuinely independent young Parisian fashion designer, Alix Petit.
She started out as a knitwear designer for Micheal Klein, and worked in New York before returning to Paris to open her own store, all self-financed. Using artisanal, sustainable fabrics, Heimstone’s outfits are bold, funky and bright, often using her trademark leopard-print patches. During lockdown, 10 per cent of sales were donated to hospitals fighting Covid-19, and if you spend over €500, worldwide shipping is free of charge.
An original watch is always a good gift idea. But this year, look for something different to the classic temptations offered by names such as Rolex, Tag Heuer and Patek Philippe, with this unique Parisian horlogerie specialising in fabulous vintage watches. Located in the swish Rive Gauche, three generations of the Arvaud family have been serving clients from their minuscule atelier showroom, serving not just discerning connoisseurs but institutions like the British Embassy, maison Chanel and the Louvre.
Reacting to the pressures of the present pandemic, the present master jeweller, Yohanna Arnaud, has developed the brand's website so shoppers all over the world can choose a present to be shipped out to them. Even if you are not tempted by an exquisite vintage Longine or Bulgova, they also have an irresistible collection of antique clocks and fob watches.