Where Do You Shop on Sunday in Paris? Answer: Le Marais

PARIS–I can’t count the number of times when I have had to tell fashionistas and Francophiles that France still observed the blue laws and keeps the stores locked shut on Sundays. Well that may still hold for most of the Left Bank and the Boulevard Haussmann. But if you head to the artsy Marais on a Sunday for brunch and more, you will be delighted to discover a new pack of lifestyle concept stores, specialty pastry stores, artisanal ice-cream makers, as well as men’s and women’s clothing and accessory boutiques–all of which are open on Sunday. Hip hip hooray!

This weekend, I strolled up the rue St. Croix de la Bertonnerie and found a dazzling array of charming boutiques that warranted a stop-over: these included a delightful Pop-Up store celebrating the 10 years of Nina Ricci’s perfume “Nina”; the new 400-square-meter Nature & Découvertes (the French version of the Nature Company), and several boutiques devoted to designs for the home, the bath, the bedroom and more, under the banner name of Fleux. Forget about figuring how to pronounce it: just remember the name and the crowd of hipsters will show you the way.

Naturally, such activities require nourishment and there are plenty of choice to go around. You can start with l’As du Felafel on the rue des Rosiers (get there early because the lines are long); the Mont du Bonheur, which specializes in at last six versions of the famous “Mont Blanc” pastry first invented by Angelina’s; Une glace à Paris for home-made ice-cream; plus cool wine bars and tea-rooms. Personally, skip Carette on the Place des Vosges unless you want to pay 8€ for a lousy, and I mean lousy cappucino, and head for other cafés nearby that are less touristy.

What’s especially nice about the Marais is that it’s affordable as well as trendy. The most crowded apparel emporium remains Uniqlo, which has taken over the premises of a former gold and silver-smelter in the heart of the rue des Francs-Bourgeois. These days it is touting the so-called life-style designs of Inès de la Fressange and Carine Roitfeld–both of whom made their mark as fashion arbiters of taste. It’s nice to know that both of these ladies in their late 50s, are the new trend-setters and that their inspired “fast fashion” sells for less than 100€ and in the case of Inès less than 50€ for certain items.

At the same time, Chanel has set up shop down the street, and is selling its pricey lipsticks, nail polishes, fragrances and skin care products–affordable luxuries for a middle-class that is spending more of its budget on Uniqlo, Zara and H&M. It’s worth noting that the only division of H&M in the Marais is COS on the rue des Rosiers, the higher-end version of H&M with a distinct penchant for Céline look-alike styles. If you want something more elegant, you may prefer the cashmeres of Eric Bompard, l’Atelier de la Maille, and the latest newcomer, called Kutjen. That of course doesn’t include Uniqlo, which sells the most affordable cashmere sweaters in Paris, although not year round.

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Naturally, the Marais is about much more than shopping and I hope that readers of this article will visit the recently renovated Picasso Museum now celebrating its 30th year, as well as the Centre Culturel Suédois and the Victor Hugo Museum on the Place des Vosges. Unfortunately, the exhibition on 300 years of tourism in Paris at the Bibliothèque historique de Paris is a dud, and the Carnavalet museum will be closing later this year for major renovations.

Still there is plenty to admire and photograph in this unique district, which makes all the hooh-hah on Brooklyn both over-rated and tame. Best of all, it’s open and accessible on Sundays and that’s a change that’s worthy of celebrating.