Paris:- Friday, 6. September 1996:- I am a terrible shopper in the sense that I don't do much of it. I buy groceries, and gas, and newspapers and maybe a book occasionally - but I seldom go shopping.
But it has occurred to me - quite recently - that a lot of visitors to Paris come here to do exactly that: shopping. So I have been paying a bit more attention to what there is available, and perhaps more importantly, for travelers on a budget, what the stuff costs.
I have done features about the sales, [ Pull, Mac and Brolly to Go and Half-Price Wooden 'Garage' Shirt] about where to get inexpensive emergency cold weather clothes, and [....]. All this has its utility, but you may be coming to Paris once in your lifetime - and you would like to get some 'dream' thing, some piece of high-end textile that has a 'famous name' label on it - but when new these things cost a pretty packet.
A little information booklet floated into my hands the other day and I was looking through it, although I had better things to do - like go to sleep - and I came across a section for 'Dépôt-Vente.'
What caught my attention were names like Chanel, Dior, YSL, Ungaro, Mugler and Kenzo followed by the magic mention of low prices. I got out my copy of the bargain guide 'Paris Pas Cher' - which can easily pay for itself with the first purchase - and looked at the section of used clothes.
In the guide there is an icon for the cheapest of the cheap so I picked one and got on the train and the métro and ended up in the rue du Cherche-Midi, at Chercheminippes - where I found four distinct shops - ladies, mid and high-end, gents and children.
A lady in the mid-range shop - Kenzo - said the firm had been operation for 25 years and explained that nothing was more than two years old. Besides having regular sellers of clothing, the shop has regular buyers.
At the depot and men's clothing shop across the street I learned that they also have items that are 'dégriffé.' This is supposed to mean, with the label removed, but has become a generic term that designates articles that are no longer in the current catalogues - such as from the spring catalogue when it is summer. The manufacturer's sales people also take around samples and after the season is over, these items become dégriffé as well. And, the labels are not actually removed - so in this shop, Valentino jackets had Valentino labels in them. A new Italian-made 'New York' leather jacket with a ticket price of 4040 francs was on offer for 1950 francs.
After some pleasant banter I got out of there without buying any 200 franc shirts for 90 francs, and went over to look at the high-end stuff at the Dépôt-Vente de Passy in the 16th. Walking up the rue de la Tour I found the women's shop on the right and the men's, a bit further on, on the left.
In the window of the first, the yellow Chanel outfit and in a window at the second, a yellow jacket by Mugler, for 1150 francs. I talked to a nice lady in the men's because the prices in the lady's window made me nervous.
Used clothes? Listen, she told me, there are people in this expensive town who have really big walk-in wardrobes. They spend all their time keeping them full and when they get tired of what they're looking at, they take some stuff out and get rid of it at a dépôt-vente place and then they go and buy some more new stuff.
Besides dégriffé articles, they get stock from shops that still have unsold items on hand when the new season rolls around - as it does three times a year.
Really high-end stuff discounts radically; to as much as 80 percent below the original ticket price, but the usual discounts are 40, 50 and 60 percent off - and that goes for the mid-price range as well. If I had trouble not buying the 200 franc shirt for 90 francs in the rue du Cherche-Midi, I had a devil of a time not buying the 800 franc polo shirt for 200 francs in Passy.
If you are thinking there has got to be a catch to this, you are right. The people who sell their clothes do not run on schedules, so what may be in a shop at any given moment is only there by chance. Here this morning, gone this afternoon.
The second thing is, the samples and a lot of the dégriffé items are only available in a narrow range of sizes - average sizes and that means 'French' average sizes. If you are bigger or smaller, it is hardly worth your while to look in the windows - it will only make you feel bad - not being able to save 5000 francs on some chic mode bit of fabric that you could flaunt back home. "It's a Dior, darling."
Now that I've seen a couple of these shops, and they are all over town - and I detest shopping - I'm just going to have to make a little effort the next time I need a shirt and happen to have 200 francs handy. I'll leave the plastic at home though. These places are dens of temptation.
Guide to inexpensive shopping in Paris: 'Paris Pas Cher' - 16th edition - about 100 francs; on sale at airport news shops. Lists 2700 shops. Other titles with similar content exist as well.
Chercheminippes, 109, 110 and 111, rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris 6. Métro Duroc. Closed Sundays.
Dépôt-Vente de Passy, 14 and 25, rue de la Tour, Paris 16. Métro Passy. Closed Monday mornings and Sundays.
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