On Tour With the 'Shopping Lady'

photo: shop autographes, r bonaparte, linda, rachel

The shopping ladies decide not to buy a letter signed 'L.'

Some Marathons are Shorter

Paris:- Wednesday, 3. October 2001:- If you are going on a shopping expedition with other people, the first thing you have to do is meet them. This calls for 'how to meet other people in Paris,' which is especially necessary if you intend to go shopping together instead of alone.

In Paris it is amazing how it is possible to start off late for a 'rendez-vous' and arrive nearly on time - only five little minutes late. Quite often it can be later than this, so the 'rule number one of rendez-vous locations' is to choose a place that is not exposed to the fickle elements, and is a place where everybody can find each other even if it is a foggy night.

The steps of the Opéra are pretty big, but this is a good 'rendez-vous' place. If it is raining, youphoto: window sign, vitrine en cours can stand inside, or under the porch at least. 'Inside' is better if freezing rain is happening.

This sign means you have to enter the shop instead of just looking in the window.

I am on the steps of the Opéra five minutes late, and I do not know if the shopping lady, Rachel Kaplan, is a 'late-type' or not, but I do know Linda Thalman is probably coming from the Cadillac Ranch. This will reduce her chances of being 'on-time' to about one in four, unless she set out yesterday.

So, while I go over to the métro exit in front of the Opéra, Linda sneaks up on the steps from a secret direction, and as I walk back I realize she is waving to a lady about two steps behind me, who popped out of the métro exit as soon as my back was turned.

This is called having a successful 'rendez-vous' in Paris.

In a pin-stripe suit, half hidden under a large scarf, Rachel Kaplan is dressed for shopping in Paris. I have been warned indirectly about this, so I am wearing a tie. Linda has brought her plastic card. We are ready to go.

And go we do. Our first 'target' is the Rue Tronchet, which could have used the Madeleine as a 'rendez-vous,' but then I wouldn't have gotten to hear Rachel give each shop along the Boulevard des Capucines a capsule 'critique,' which I give up trying to note as I concentrate in trying to keep up with these rapido window-shoppers.

We shortcut along the Rue de Sèze with its capsule 'critiques,' skirt Fauchon, ignore Hédiard, and scan the glass of the first shop on Tronchet, which has Rachel's favorite bathing suits along with filmy underwear for 'high-class professional ladies.'

Rachel says the place is expensive. Itsphoto: window shoppers, rue tronchet 'favorite bathing suits' are worth the money for their quality and long life. For the other stuff, the place 'sells sex,' or 'seduction- dress.'

Some 'window shoppers' have to be acrobatic to see everything.

Rachel's shopping 'philosophy' is somewhat subtle. She looks for value, almost regardless of price. Thus, Marks & Spencer's underwear is 'good value' without being very sexy, but if it is 'sexy' you are after, then Rachel thinks it is worth whatever it costs - because it is likely to be an 'investment.'

She has dislikes. She doesn't like some of the global chain stores with the worldwide brand names, mainly because they sell standardized 'worldwide' stuff. You can get it in Austin or Sydney or Tokyo.

But - everything has a 'but' - 'Baby Gap' in Paris is, she says, "Getting more French" - most likely because French moms start their kids off with fashion at an early age.

Another 'but' - and about Gap too. Although its clothing for adults is 'standardized worldwide stuff,' the garments this chain sells in Paris are really in 'Euro' sizes - which means, they are cut for slimmer, trimmer, people.

Meaning - if clothes from Gap in Sydney are baggy on you, the same- looking clothes from Gap in Paris will fit nicely - if you are the right size. Not all of the worldwide 'names' on Paris streets have 'euro' sizes.

After saying this, Zara turns out to be one of her favorite chains. In some parts of Paris a lot of these shops are close together - near Haussmann, on Rivoli, in the Rue de Rennes - and to the casual eye they look pretty much the same. Rachel does not have a 'casual' eye though and she has carefully picked her way through all of them.

The Rue Tronchet, between the Madeleine and Haussmann, mostly has one-shop shops. It is for these we have dressed-up. Rachel says, "These are owner-operated. They take pride in their shops and what they sell. If you look like you don't care what you look like, then these shopkeepers will doubt you are shopping seriously."

I've had to paraphrase this a bit because, "I have a lot to say," Rachel says - and a lot of it is 'shopping in Paris philosophy.'

A couple of doors past the expensive Erés shop with the bathing suits, a wedding-dress shop stops Rachel. "People come to Paris for wedding dresses - they're better and cheaper than anywhere else!"

But we're not in the market for these today. At the next window, Rachel sums it up with, "This looks like it is for mature women. I'm going in to get a card."

The sun is peeping out a bit so I stay out on the sidewalk. Passing 'mature' women do look in the Fleur de Java shop's windows.

When I do step inside the shop's modest interior, Linda already has an outfit on - and in a twinkle hasphoto: gloves, double silk her plastic out and the deal is done - with the clothes she was wearing tidily packed in a bag from the shop to carry around for the rest of our 'tour.'

Still on the same side of the street, about 20 metres further on, Rachel points out the window with the silk-lined gloves. "They are high-priced but they're worth it," Rachel says.

You can't see the silk lining, but your hands will like it.

I believe it. In the window there are a pair of driving gloves I had once. Somebody else thought they were so nice that I haven't seen them for years. They were knitted on the back, with soft-leather palms, and they were the best I ever had. I never knew they cost 540 francs though.

But Rachel sees long, black velvet gloves in the window, for only 150 francs. "Perfect for a party!"

While we are on the métro heading from the Madeleine to the Marais, Rachel says her favorite shopping streets are the Rue Tronchet we've just left, the Boulevard Haussmann, the Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile, the combination of Sulpice, Bonaparte and Rue Jacob around Saint-Germain, and the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the Marais, where we're going.

For each of these she gives precise reasons. If you show your passport at the visitor's reception in Printemps, you'll get a 10 percent reduction off everything in this department store. The other 'grands magazins' have this deal too, but you have to go to the Tourist Office on the Champs-Elysées to get it.

Another thing - the department stores rent out interior space to independent boutiques, which makes getting to see a lot of them in one place very handy.

Eventually the noisy métro arrives at Chemin-Vert, where we tumble on to the Rue Saint-Giles. Within a short block there is a flower shop that needs investigation. Then we take a sort of 'back-door' into the Place des Vosges, which leads to the beginning of the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois.

Heading west, nearly every shop in the street is worth a commentary from Rachel. She sums up the rationale of window-shopping in Paris with, "What shops have isn't in guides. They can't afford to pay to advertise, so they use their windows. These are their ads."

On shopping etiquette - "Don't walk in and start touching the goods. They are arranged like the window displays - if you want to touch things you can do it at Monoprix or in Tati. Wait for a salesperson to serve you."

The reason behind this is simple - you are 'sized-up' by the salesperson along with what you say you are looking for. If the shop has a match for you, the salesperson will know it and show it to you. At Monoprix or Tati you do your own 'serving' - salespeople are hard to find in these places.

"In a shop you are in someone's 'personal' space. You should show respect, as if you are a guest." she says, adding, "Rudeness is not appreciated in Paris."

Not everything is perfect in Rachel's world in Paris. While we are going along the narrow sidewalk dodging other window shoppers and making sure we're not going to be clipped by passing bus mirrors, she tells us 'bad stories.'

For example - about hairdressers. "Some of them are slow and stupid, when I'm in a hurry." She is mildly interested in my 'no-waiting' place until I tell her about Claude's guitar and the passer-by, drop-in, joke sessions. Rachel understands the hair-job may be quick, butphoto: rachel modelling fake sheepskin it will be somewhere within a comedy hour or two.

Linda wants to know about correct skirt lengths. "Either long," Rachel says, while x-raying a window, "Or just above or just below the knee."

Rachel thinks the imitation sheepskin is 'fantastique!' - but manages not to buy any.

She stops at a window containing ties and men's shirts. The shirts are about 400 or 500 francs and most of them are blue. They are bluer than blue. "For 70 dollars you get a shirt that will last ten years - it's worth it!" she says.

My experience is that shirts costing half as much look ten years old after three years, and never look like 400-franc shirts anytime. But saving for two years for one shirt, is not in my price-range.

When Rachel spots a shop she hasn't seen before she nips inside and gets a shop's card as a reminder. She does this in a bit of a rush, which is sort of against her own advice - or because we are on this wide-ranging survey and have further to go.

About dressing - "French women have different moods, so they may dress 'ethnic' one day and 'bon chic' the next," she says, adding, "You can seduce a man with surprise!"

We go into a cobbled courtyard where a one-time warehouse is covered in green leaves, and is two shops inside one door. One side is the 'best button and ribbon shop in Paris' and the other specializes in outer clothing made of imitation animal skins.

"Revolutionary!" Rachel exclaims, trying on what she says is the first imitation sheepskin jacket she has ever seen. "This is worth a story in itself."

The sheepskin is dark and I prefer the light-colored imitation lambskin. Rachel says the sheepskin is lighter in weight than the lambskin, but the price is identical - 1595 francs. This is in the 'Cour des Francs-Bourgeois' part, and next we examine the buttons at the 'Entrée des Fournisseurs' side.

The idea here is to buy a plain garment and trick it up with very fancy buttons. These are the only type of buttons available here and it could take a week or two to look at every one. It is like the heaven of buttons.

There are sew-on patches too. These are for fussy people who do not care for the worldwide brand-name labels that are stuck on everything these days. There seems to be only one example of each patch here.

Back out on the street we are soon in front of a small shop, which merely happens to be Rachel's 'favorite blouse shop.' It only has blouses and most of them seem to be white. When Rachel and Linda and three other customers are inside, the place is full.

Next we are looking at a window full of broaches. "Hillary Clinton got her 'dove' broach here," Rachel says.

Crossing the Rue Pavée we encounter a small dog that is carrying its own pink doudou in its mouth. Even in Paris, this is not an everyday sight. Maybe it is normal in the Marais.

Rachel points out a shop named 'Satellite.' "It is the only one in Paris. If you don't want 'Van Cleef and Arpels,' you come here," and adds, "The items in the window change monthly."

At this point we need a pause. Rachel hesitates in front of a tea and cakes joint, but I point out that there is an ordinary café across the street. It is better-looking than when I first saw it in 1976, but it is still ordinary.

"Fashion is driven by jealousy," Rachel says while we sip cafés and fruit juices, adding, "There is even a magazine called 'Jalouse.'" Readers should know this too, because it has been featured on Metropole's poster pages.

With the short pause out of the way our next target is the Left Bank, and we get to it via taking the métro to the Louvre-Rivoli stop and using the Pont des Arts to cross the Seine. This causes a big slow-down in the Rue de Seine, with all of its art and lithos in the windows.

In one shop in the Rue Jacob Rachel breaks another one of her 'rules' and is somewhat annoyed when the reaction to it is negative. I put it down to the rush-nature of our tour, and the length of time we've been on it.

After passing an olive oil boutique we enter another courtyard and I hang about outside while the twophoto: in shop fleur de java, linda, rachel ladies go into 'Jewels and Pashminas' to look at its treasures. Further on a bookshop is noted for its books about gardens - another 'one of the best in Paris.'

The 'shopping ladies,' showing off their first success of the day, which looks much better 'live' than in the photo.

In the Rue Bonaparte, which has a lot of traffic and narrow sidewalks, we stop in front of the Librarie Pinault, which features 'autographs - which are whole notes or letters written by famous people. The ladies decide one by Louis XIV in the window is a photocopy, because it is exposed to daylight.

It is signed 'L' and I do not see its price. If it has one it is probably in 'euros' to make it seem more reasonable.

As near as I can figure out, except for Haussmann and the Ile Saint-Louis, we have had a swift skim of Rachel's favorite shopping areas, which has taken most of the afternoon and a fair amount of shoe leather.

"The failure today," Linda says, "I didn't get new shoes!"

This is not surprising, although we did look in shoe shop windows. We looked in too many windows I think.

If you engage Rachel to take you on a shopping tour, I'm sure she will be just like a Parisian shopkeeper. You walk into Rachel's shop - which is all of Paris - and tell her what you think you are looking for. When she knows this, she will guide you straight to it.

You won't get 'the nearly whole' tour like we've had today. As for my part, you won't need to take oodles of notes, because Rachel will tell you much more than you thought you wanted to know.

For example, she will tell you why French women wear broaches. According to Rachel these are not mere decorative doodads - they are really sexy and seductive. Ask her. It is very logical. Even though it is quite French anybody can wear them.

To get to meet Rachel Kaplan, you should look at her Web site, which is called 'French Links.'

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