London & Paris – The great shopping divide

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Quintessential quarters.
London’s Piccadilly Arcade and its near neighbor  Burlington Arcade, can trace their roots back to the days when 19th century dandies set the tone of what was fashionable. Today, these two covered streets are home to a range of small boutiques that are both upmarket and yet eclectic. To the north of Pall Mall, Piccadilly Arcade is the place for sea-island cotton shirts, striped blazers and silk waistcoats as well as eccentric gifts such as the beautifully painted miniature toy soldiers of the Armoury (at No 17). On the other side of the street, Burlington Arcade’s shops include the likes of perfumery Penhaligon’s, Globe-Trotter luggage and the antique silverware of Daniel Bexfield – a specialist in unusual items such as Victorian cigar-cutters. There is also a shoeshine stand to add a gloss to any shopping expedition. When it comes to shopping in the City of Light, there’s no beating the Avenue des Champs-Elysées: from the multimedia megastore of Fnac, perfectly placed right by Fraser Suites Le Claridge Champs-Elysées, to the iconic Louis Vuitton boutique – stop by for its architecture and art exhibitions, even if you’re not buying.

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But make no mistake; the “most beautiful avenue in the world” is not just about shopping: it’s also the city’s social heart and holds pride of place for national celebrations. Take time out from shopping to people watch on a sidewalk cafe, drop by the cinema, or wine and dine the night away. Nearby, Parisian department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann are also must-visits for a treasure trove of fine collections for fashion, food and home, topped with Belle Epoque grandeur.

Verdict: London’s historic arcades have earned their worldwide fame, but the most beautiful avenue in the world is hard to beat. LONDON: 0, PARIS: 1

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Chic streets
If you want flagship stores of big name global brands, then New Bond Street is the place to go in London. The presence of suited, ear-pieced doormen at several of the stores hints at the prices you are likely to encounter. The choice ranges from the likes of Chanel, Miu Miu and Boss to major British brands such as Church’s and Burberry. Amid the fashion and jewellery emporia are galleries, antique shops and a brand of Sotheby’s, the auctioneers. The street also has one of London’s more popular photo opportunities. About halfway along it is a statue depicting Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt sitting on a bench – with just enough space for an interloper to sneak in between them. Parisians would say that anything New Bond Street can offer the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré can match or better. In comparison it is probably an even more prestigious address – the President’s official residence, the Palais de l’Elysée, is here at No 55, as are various embassies and hotels – including the historic and luxurious Hotel de Crillon. The street is also home to many of the same prestigious brands as its London counterpart (and more) – with Dior, Prada, Hermès and Dolce and Gabbana also present. Also on offer are the fragrances of Givenchy and Lanvin plus art galleries such as Galerie Schmit, which specialises in museum-quality pieces by the likes of Claude Monet.

Verdict: Neither locale will disappoint if you’re looking for big brands – but Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré also has a president in residence. LONDON: 0, PARIS: 2

Vintage treasures
London’s vibrant markets are the place to seek out retro style. Portobello Road Market is home to over 2,000 specialist antique dealers, with a vintage fashion market under the Westway flyover prized by a trendy crowd. In the city’s East End, the stalls of the covered Spitalfields Market contain a vast array of items from handbags, 1940s-inspired dresses and antiques (especially on Thursdays). The surrounding streets hold shops from the likes of Barbour, a traditional English brand with street appeal. Further east, the secondhand boutiques of Brick Lane and Cheshire Street are the place for 1940s and 1950s styles. Beyond Retro (No 112 Cheshire Street) is an Aladdin’s cave of secondhand clothes, and Levisons (at No 1) and The Shop (at No 3) are also worth a look. After all that shopping, you can refuel with fish and chips at Poppies on Hanbury Street, with a welcoming 1940s-inspired décor. 

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East of the Paris city centre, the 20th arrondissement is perhaps most famous as the location of the Père Lachaise cemetery, where Jim Morrison of the Doors and other notables are buried. However, it also has several places worth checking out if you’re in search of secondhand designer labels at bargain prices. One of them is Ding Fring (340 Rue des Pyrénées) which, while it looks fairly unprepossessing from the outside, is a place where retro fashions can be found at bargain prices. Puces de Montreuil on Avenue du Professeur André Lemierre is also a treasure trove, though it is worth checking garments to make sure they’re in good condition before you part with your euros. The market is open for business on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Verdict: London has a stronger reputation for retro fashion, and Spitalfields offers plenty of variety. LONDON: 1, PARIS: 2

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Taste tours
London department store Fortnum & Mason can trace its history back to 1707. Its hampers helped sustain British Army officers at the Battle of Waterloo and it remains a supplier to the Royal Household. Tradition still holds sway here – floor managers wear tailcoats, for example. One of the first displays one sees when entering from the main Piccadilly entrance is tea – shelf after shelf of it of every variety known to humanity. Particularly attractive are the turquoise colored tins containing the store’s own blends. Fortnum’s, as it is known, comprises four floors and sells everything from luggage to stationery to baby clothes, but it is most famous for its food, and rightly so. On offer are many traditional, perhaps even slightly archaic, delicacies such as Piccalilli (a bright yellow mixture of pickled vegetables and mustard sauce that tastes better than it looks), potted shrimp and Fortnum’s relish (spicy anchovy paste).

Frasers HospitalityWhile this historic Parisian department store can trace its roots back only as far as 1852, Le Bon Marché was designed by no less an architect than Gustave Eiffel (of Tower fame). It has its own food market, La Grande Épicerie de Paris, which sells an enormous, if expensive, variety of food from the expected to the exotic. There are a fine array of tempting cheeses and cooked meats as well as a huge selection of butters, a wide variety of foie gras, a veritable legion of jams and preserves and a range of fruit-flavoured sugars. This being France, there is also a well-stocked wine section, with knowledgeable staff to provide guidance. Also on offer are a wide variety of fashion as well as fragrance brands – many of which are of French origin – and the store is especially strong on men’s clothes as well as items for the home and gifts.

Verdict: Le Bon Marché has size on its side, but who could deny Fortnum’s royal seal of approval and those turquoise tea caddies? LONDON: 2, PARIS: 2

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Antique discoveries
Many of London’s markets offer antiques, but for sheer variety it is hard to beat Camden Passage – which, incidentally is in Islington, not Camden. The best days to visit are Wednesday and Saturday, although many of the shops here are open throughout the week or will open by special appointment. Many of the sellers here are specialists in different areas and a browse will reveal all sorts of interesting curios. Piers Rankin (at 14 Camden Passage) has a wide range of glass and silverware, including 1920s cocktail shakers and glass decanters. Gordon Gridley Antiques (at 41 Camden Passage) often has some intriguing 18th- and 19th century items such as carved walrus ivories, while the Fat Faced Cat (at 13 Pierrepont Arcade) offers clothing from the 1920s to the 1980s, including top hats and tail coats. There are also several eating and drinking options, such as Kipferl, which provides a range of energy-boosting Austrian specialities.

In Paris, Rue des Rosiers, or ‘road of the rosebushes’, defeats its London counterpart on romance of name, for certain. Located in the 18th arrondissement, the street leads to the Peripherique and the St-Ouen markets. Avoid the stores selling dubious DVDs and cheap jeans and instead head for one of the 12 official antique markets. Among these are the Marché Vernaison, the oldest of the markets and a place where visitors can look through masses of aged furniture, mirrors, fur coats, 19th-century silverware and all sorts of unexpected items in search of something special. The Marché Biron focuses on the more expensive end of the range – such as 18th-century furniture, while the Marché Jules Valles is more of a junkyard – though hidden gems can still be found. Saturday and Sunday are the best days to visit.

Verdict: For sheer size and number of stalls in one place, St-Ouen shades it, though Camden Passage has class. LONDON: 2, PARIS: 3France secures a narrow win over England, as was often true in history!

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