The most stylish stores in Paris - Citimarks

The art of display

window shop of Louis Vuitton
silk dresses in hangers


"They were scarves of a cloudy fineness, surahs lighter than the down falling from trees, satined pekins as soft and supple as a Chinese beauty’s skin."
Émile Zola, Au Bonheur des Dames, Georges Charpentier, 1883.
chapter 1

The Ladies' Paradise: the store

Space had been gained everywhere, light and air entered freely, and the public circulated with ease beneath the bold curves of the wide-spaced trusses. It was the cathedral of modern business, strong and yet light, built for vast crowds of customers. In the central gallery on the ground floor, after the bargains near the door, came the tie, glove, and silk departments; the Monsigny Gallery was occupied by the household linen and the printed cotton goods, the Michodière Gallery by the haber dashery, hosiery, cloth, and woolen departments. Then, on the first floor, there were the ready-made clothes, lingerie, shawls, lace, and other new departments, while the bedding, carpets, and furnishing materials, all the bulky goods and those which were difficult to handle, had been relegated to the second floor.

By this time there were thirty-nine departments and eighteen hundred employees, of whom two hundred were women. A whole world was springing up amidst the life echoing beneath the high metal naves.

The biography book of "Le Bon Marché" department store A curvy corridor in "Le Bon Marché" department store.

Mouret’s sole passion was the conquest of Woman. He wanted her to be queen in his shop; he had built this temple for her in order to hold her at his mercy.

His tactics were to intoxicate her with amorous attentions, to trade on her desires, and to exploit her excitement. He racked his brains night and day for new ideas. Already, to spare delicate ladies the trouble of climbing the stairs, he had installed two lifts lined with velvet. In addition, he had just opened a buffet, where fruit cordials and biscuits were served free of charge, and a reading-room, a colossal gallery decorated with excessive luxury, in which he even ventured to hold picture exhibitions.

But his most inspired idea, which he deployed with women devoid of coquetry, was that of conquering the mother through the child; he exploited every kind of force, speculated on every kind of feeling, created departments for little boys and girls, stopped the mothers as they were walking past by offering pictures and balloons to their babies. Presenting a balloon as a free gift to each customer who bought something was a stroke of genius.

Émile Zola,

Au bonheur des dames, Georges Charpentier, 1883.

English translation in Émile Zola, The Ladies’ Paradise, Oxford World’s Classics, 2008.

The iconic Escalator Andrée Putman, at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche

The iconic escalator Andrée Putman, at Le Bon Marché department store.

chapter 2

The Ladies' Paradise: the display

But it was in the interior arrangement of the shops that Mouret revealed himself to be an unrivaled master.

He laid it down as a law that not a corner of the Ladies’ Paradise was to remain deserted; everywhere he insisted upon noise, crowds, life; for life, he would say, attracts life, gives birth and multiplies.

He put this law into practice in a whole variety of ways. First of all, there should be a crush at the entrance; it should seem to people in the street that there was a riot in the shop; and he obtained this crush by placing bargains at the entrance, shelves and baskets overflowing with articles at very low prices, so that working-class people began to congregate there, barring the threshold, and giving the impression that the shop was bursting with customers, when often it was only half full. […]

“Just look!” cried Madame de Boves, brought to a standstill and gazing upwards.

It was the display of parasols. Wide open and rounded like shields, they covered the hall from the glazed ceiling to the varnished oak moldings. They formed festoons round the arcades of the upper stores; they hung down in garlands along the pillars; they ran in close lines along the balustrades of the galleries, and even on the banisters of the staircases; symmetrically arranged everywhere, speckling the walls with red, green, and yellow, they seemed like great Venetian lanterns, lit for some colossal entertainment. In the corners there were complicated patterns, stars made of parasols at ninety-five centimes, and their light shades-pale blue, creamy white, soft pink-were burning with the gentleness of a night-light; while above, huge Japanese sunshades covered with golden cranes flying across a purple sky were blazing with glints of fire.

Madame Marty, tried to find a phrase to express her delight, could only exclaim:

– “It’s enchanting!”

Émile Zola,

The Ladies’ Paradise, Oxford World’s Classics, 2008.

a lipstick stand
Louboutin high-heel shoes
a red bad
chapter 3

The Ladies' Paradise: the silks

The counters, symmetrically arranged, looked like so many flower-beds, transforming the hall into a formal garden, with a range of soft flower tones. Spread out on the wooden counter, falling from overflowing shelves, and in boxes which had been torn open, a harvest of silk scarves displayed the brilliant red of geraniums, the milky white of petunias, the golden yellow of chrysanthemums, the sky blue of verbena…

a stall with silk scarves

a stall with silk scarves

In the middle of the department an exhibition of summer silks was illuminating the hall with the brilliancy of dawn, like the rising of a star amidst the most delicate shades of daylight-pale pink, soft yellow, clear blue, a shimmering scarf of all the colors of the rainbow. There were scarves as fine as a cloud, surahs lighter than the down blown from trees, satiny Peking fabrics as soft as the skin of a Chinese virgin. And there were also pongees from Japan, tussores and corahs from India, not to mention light French silks-fine stripes, tiny checks, floral patterns, every design imaginable-which conjured up visions of ladies in furbelows walking on May mornings beneath great trees in a park. […]

A fine dust was rising from the floor, laden with the odor of Woman, the odor of her underlinen and the nape of her neck, of her skirts and her hair, a penetrating, all-pervading odor which seemed to be the incense of this temple dedicated to the worship of her body.

Mouret, still standing outside the reading-room with Vallagnosc, was breathing in this odour, intoxicating himself with it, repeating:

“They’re at home. I know some women who day here, eating cakes and writing their letters. It only remains for me to put them to bed.”

Émile Zola,

The Ladies’ Paradise, Oxford World’s Classics, 2008.

red bomber
a shelf with Diptyque perfumes
Louboutin's cage stand
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chapter 4

Lovely saleswomen

She helps you wear a pair: “… And how many pairs does Monsieur wish?… Only one? Monsieur is certainly joking. See how pretty are the colors…” -picking up a sample in her fingers- “…and they look so well on you!” -she caresses the glove on your hand.

In all the stores, it is young women who welcome the customers. On their fashionable clothes they usually wear an apron with two pockets; you can see them standing in the entrance of the store, with one hand in each pocket, exhibiting an air of independence and of casual indifference.

The young lady of the store is a fascinating creature; She stands there, with hair as sleek as smooth as her cheek, the prettiest chiffon dress that you can imagine, a narrow piece of white lace around the neck and around each little hand […]; she has the same pleasant smile, the same kind courtesy for everyone […] You can laugh, she laughs back; you can chat, she chats in response; you can scold, she will retort while scolding.

She guesses your wishes: “here they are”, she says, “the prettiest gloves in Paris”. She brings down packet after packet, measures your hand, her light fingers running over yours – what a pretty little hand!

She helps you wear a pair: “… And how many pairs does Monsieur wish?… Only one! Monsieur is certainly joking. See how pretty are the colors” – picking up a sample in her fingers – “and they look so well on you!” – she caresses the glove on your hand. “Only two! Ah, it’s really nothing; and they are so cheap, only fifteen francs for six pairs, which is so little for Monsieur…” – and she wraps them in a paper, looking at you straight in the eyes.

It is not possible to refuse and when you slip the three five-franc pieces on the counter and she drops them in the small drawer, she thanks you in a way that makes you believe, when you go out, that you paid for the smile and not for the gloves…We use a lot of gloves in Paris.

Donald Grant Mitchell,

Fresh Gleanings, University of Michigan Library, 1847.

lipstick stand by Guerlain
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