It was two centuries ago that France installed its first department store in Paris which focuses on beauty, lifestyle, fashion and accessories. Strategically positioned in the busiest and most expensive districts in the capital, they're meant to be the place to splash out on a new dress, shoes and jewellery.
I'd already shared my visit to Galeries Lafayette particularly because of the Christmas decoration at the time. The massive, multiple-storey building offers beauty products on the ground floor, as well as clothes and accessories by some of the most renowned and expensive brands.
The Galeries' have a predecessor located just a few blocks away at Boulevard Haussmann. Printemps was founded in 1865. This one also boasts a magnificent cupola placed above the store's restaurant. The building was greatly expanded 10 years later, with elevators, then a great novelty, from the 1867 Universal Exposition being installed. The store became the first to use electric lighting, in 1888, as well as one of the first department stores with direct subway access, in 1904. A second store soon-after was built at another location.
The policies of Printemps revolutionized retail business practices. The store marked items with set prices and like other grands magasins, it strived to provide high quality goods at prices that the expanding middle class could afford. Printemps also pioneered the idea of discount sales to clear out dated stocks, and later the use of window models to display the latest fashions. It was noted for its marketing innovations as well, handing out bouquets of violets on the first day of spring. Its thoughtful address, fairly close to the Opera and the station Saint-Lazare once ensured that the wealthiest foreigners who'd travel by train would come in to order haute couture garments.
Nowadays, Printemps sells items by pretty much the same brands found in Galeries Lafayette, however, prices here may be even higher. There's a floor dedicated to jewellery only too. Alike is the case at Le Bon Marché, found in the 6th arrondissement. Founded in 1838, it was the first ever modern department store.
Now the property of LVMH Louis Vuitton, it sells a wide range of high-end goods, including food in an adjacent building at 38 rue de Sèvres, called La Grande Épicerie de Paris. Once a novelty shop called Au Bon Marché, it was founded to sell lace, ribbons, sheets, mattresses, buttons, umbrellas and other assorted goods. The entrepreneur Aristide Boucicaut, considered its father, made changes to the marketing plan, instituting fixed prices and guarantees that allowed exchanges and refunds, advertising, and a much wider variety of merchandise.
The annual income of the store increased from 500,000 francs in 1852 to five million in 1860. In 1869, Boucicaut built a much larger building at 24 rue de Sèvres, and enlarged the store again in 1872, with help from the engineering firm of Gustave Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower. The income had risen to over 70 million by 1877. The entrepreneur was famous for his marketing innovations: a reading room for men while their wives shopped, extensive newspaper advertising, entertainment for children, and six million catalogs sent out to customers.
Today, Le Bon Marché sells fairly expensive items by local brands which may not necessarily be renowned worldwide. There are a few stands of brands, such as shoes by Jimmy Choo or Roger Vivier, which cannot be found at Printemps or the Galeries. What I love about the stores, apart from the gorgeous items and its beautiful arrangement, is the constant aroma of perfume that follows you everywhere on your shopping spree.
At least one thing that I could afford to treat myself to was Île Flottante, which I'm pretty sure is one of the most delicious deserts I've ever tried! It was at Café Vivienne that I found the egg whites floating on top of crème anglaise and caramel.