Friday, January 21, 2005

hermes: the sale

during the 'soldes' in paris, several big brands have off-site locations. one of the most infamous is hermes, held in an old theater [salle graveau] on rue de la boetie. it is only slightly advertised in french newspapers, so those in the know know to call the store on fbg st honore before the sales start to get the special sale dates. this year it is a week long, from the 17th to the 21st of january.

upon entering the sale, you are asked if you are wearing any hermes merchandise, which is duly noted on a little card that you are given. you are also handed another card, which, in no less than 4 languages, tells you that it is strictly forbidden to resell hermes sale merch and that all sale items carry an identifiying "S" mark.

this is a serious sale, and by this i mean that you had better have your elbows out, ready to push and shove your way to your chosen item or items. prices are pretty good-- the classic twill carre scarves which are about 250 euros in the stores are 135 euros at the sale. [some of the models sold this year can be seen on ebay for $500+!] ties are 63 euros and great leather cuff bracelets run from about 90 euros up. what else is there? everything from pret-a-porter to beach towels to shoes and belts.

but the focus is on scarves, scarves, scarves. to do the scarves justice, one must move around the giant square counter, looking at nearly every pattern, unfolding it, throwing it back, and asking the person next to you to change places with you so that you may move on down the line. looking for something specific or love the scarf that just got snatched by the lady next to you? ask the sales ladies-- they will search the piles for you and even make suggestions. another tip: if you are a big fan or if you can't find what you want on one day, go back. they put out new merch everyday, so try, try again!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

my favorite stop for gifts

ever since i found the fragonard boutique several years ago, it has become a favorite stop for gift-buying and a place that clients love-- hardly any woman can enter without buying something. fragonard is a perfumerie that has been around since 1926 with factories in the south of france. they have great smelling soaps for 3.50 euros [my fave are the ones that say 'madame' and 'monsieur' on the back], natural scents for around 18 euros, embroidered travel 'pochettes' [check out the ones with the astrological signs on them in french] and pillow cases, etc. and the packaging is classic and refined but just a bit fun. my absolute favorite part of making a purchase here is the simple yet elegant way in which they quickly giftwrap it for you-- usually using two tones of simple tissue paper with their logo on a sticker. in all, gifts that guarantee an instant smile on anyone's face and utterly french. can't get enough of your favorite scent? check out their website-- they ship worldwide.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

doing the soldes

as most of you chic shoppers out there know, paris only has big sales twice a year-- once in january and once in june/july, for a period of 4 weeks each time. this is regulated by the french government, not sure why exactly, but something to do with giving everyone an equal chance in this socialist society. anyway, the sales are only announced a few days beforehand, although by living here for a few years, you get some idea of when they will start.

this year's january sales started wednesday, jan. 12. by this date, pros and shopaholics have attended the by-invite-only advance private sales and sensibly stay off the streets the first day of the sales as it is utter madness. the french save up vacation days to be able to hit the sales first day, and tourists flock to the city as well. although i had done some advance shopping, i still couldn't resist the leur and was out and about doing a bit of babyclothes shopping with a friend.

starting in st. germain, i arrived early to see lines outside of several shopping hotspots. these shops were not even yet open, but the queues were 10s of people deep, dying to get their grubby hands on whatever bargains they can find. armai, paule ka, tod's, and eric bompard all had loads of people outside. are there really big bargains, though, you ask? i think it all depends. if you are not at all finicky, then perhaps you'll find a bunch of stuff that you can't live without. i find that if you don't plan in advance and decide what exactly you are going after, you end up with a bunch of stuff that you don't need. [well, do we need any of it, really? that's a whole different discussion....]

the first days of the sales, the reductions are only 30-50%. they increase as the weeks go by, but then again, if you wait, the must-have item might have disappeared. my advice? go before the sales, try on what you want and make a plan. avoid the department stores on the first few days and seek out out-of-the-way branches of the shops you like, as they are likely to be less crowded. happy bargain hunting!

Monday, January 10, 2005

return story no. 2

our apartment being hundreds of years old, we don't have central heating. so when our trusty heat-blasting portable heater broke down 2 weeks shy of its warrenty expiring, you can bet that stan the frenchman and i hightailed it back to BHV to see what oculd be done. we first entered the main store, heater trailing behind us in our granny cart, to be told that we needed to go to the apres-vente shop, a few doors down. no problem. we arrive, and it looks like a proper shop where you take household appliances to be fixed, prices mounted on the wall and all. stan goes up to explain the problem, show the warrenty, BHV guy says that no problem, they'll send it back to the company to see what can be done. it should be back in 3 weeks or so.

now, when i heard 3 weeks, alarm bells went off in my head. this was our main heater. it is january. suprisingly mild at the moment, but that could change at any second. i bellied up next to stan and told BHV guy that this was not acceptable. stan started to blush, afraid of my americanstyle tirade that was to ensue. i calmly explained that:
1. i was 4 months pregnant and
2. that it was january and this was our main heat source and that
3. they needed to give us a replacement for the one they were sending away, as it was not at all our fault that the appliance was faulty.

stan blushed some more. BHV guy said no way. i thought through my tried-and-true french 'negotiation' skills---first, be polite and ask what you want; if that doesn't work, appeal to the emotional level by givng them a sob story [see above]; and if that still doesn't work, argue until you are blue in the face and have everyone in the store staring at you. if this doesn't work, ask for the responsable and start again.....

as i'd followed all of the above, i asked for his responsable [manager], and was told that he would tell me the same thing. i said fine, but i wanted to hear that from him. BHV guy left and came back, a heater trailing behind him. i smiled. stan blushed and whispered to me that we didn't really want to take this thing back with us, did we? and i said no, it was just the principle of the matter. i didn't really care about the heater [well, i did, but it wasn't the same as what we had just left for repair and it was huge!], i just wanted the effort to be made, because i knew it could.

bottom line here: if you don't get what you want in french store/boutique/ restaurant/office, try the steps i've outlined above. hopefully you won't ever get to the third part, whic is great and we love france when things work smoothly. but if they don't, try, try agin.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

customer service-- does it exist in paris?

i've been back in paris for a week or so, always a bit of an adjustment period after being in the US-- land of fastfood filled airports and, sigh, easy returns. spend some time in my hometown buying and returning, just for the joy of being able to do so with ease. -- buying on impulse, finding the item useless or ugly or cheaper elsewhere, then returning it with no hassle.

during my purchased-filled xmas vacation, i wore my new chic parisian boots. until one day i could no longer remove them, the zipper pull having completely fallen off. i pried them off, chucked them in the bag and decided to deal with them in paris.

so as i said, i've been back for a week-ish, and decided it was time to muster the courage/energy/frenchspeakingskills to return said pair of boots. jumped on the metro, boots and receipt-- critical piece of info. here, as the boots were only just over a month old-- and plumped up my feathers, ready for battle at the shoe store minelli.

i was pleasantly surprised to find the vendeuse helpful [although not friendly at all], and told me to pick another pair of boots for an exchange, as they no longer had the first style in stock. hmmm. really liked first pair of boots, but ok. tried on everything in the store in my size, with help of serviceable saleswoman, who kept retreating down the stairs to fish out other pairs that i might like. after about 30 min. of this, i decided what i really still wanted was my boots, the ones i had come in with. i asked her if it would be possible to call the other branches of the store. as it was nearing lunchtime, she said it would take a while, but she would try. i volunteered to return in a hour. i did, and alas, no boots were found, and i ended up with a pair that i didn't like quite as much, but hey-- the important point here was that i didn't have to beg, scream or plead to get my way and i was relieved to the point that i practically skipped my way out of the store.

moral of the story? if you find a shop that is accomodating and easy to work with in france-- stick with it! minelli will now be on my top ten list of favorite shops, for this very reason. and yeah, i know, there is a certain je ne sais quoi allure going on in the snotty, we-won't-help-you-until-we've-finished-our-cigarette-and-even-then-maybe-not salesperson in some boutiques, and it can be fun if you are just visiting. but living here means that you expect a little more, and might even go out of your way to get it.