The origins of high fashion lie in 19th-century Paris with the advent of haute couture. In 1858, Englishman Charles Frederick Worth opened the first couture house, House of Worth, in Paris on 7 Rue de la Paix, creating bespoke, handmade clothing for high-end clients. Worth can be credited as the first modern-day fashion designer, producing several designs each season which were exhibited on live models before his clientele. The House of Worth unfortunately closed in 1956, although the building still stands; the Rue de la Paix retains its historically stylish nature, and is lined with designer boutiques and jewelers, including international brands such as Tiffany & Co.
Worth’s legacy of high-end fashion design is evident in the hundreds of designer shops and fashion houses which line the streets of Paris. The Triangle d’Or, the name given to the intersection of the streets Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V and Rue François 1er, is the best place to visit, housing a majority of design headquarters and flagship stores. Brands such as Christian Lacroix, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino are to be found in the triangle, full of iconic and ready-to-wear designs. The stores themselves are often beautifully designed too, and are as much part of the attraction as the clothing: Yves Saint Laurent‘s recently opened flagship store on Avenue Montaigne features a sleek and minimalist design of marble and silver and exudes luxury. Running parallel to the Rue François 1er is the famed Avenue Champs-Élysées. Although it has turned into a tourist hotspot in recent years, it still offers some excellent high-end and high-street shopping prospects.
On the side of the triangle closest to Avenue George V is the Palais Galliera, an indispensable part of the city’s fashion scape. Originally conceived as a museum to hold the art collections of Duke and Duchess of Galliera, the Renaissance-style building is now home to an enormous collection of French fashion and costumes from the 18th century to the present day. Among the 70, 000 pieces held by the museum are a bodice said to belong to Marie Antoinette, Romantic poet Alfred de Musset’s French Academy uniform and the dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Due to the fragile and invaluable nature of its collections, the museum is only open during temporary exhibitions which are held once or twice a year and does not offer a permanent collection. The Musée des Arts Decoratifs, housed in the Palais du Louvre, is similarly closed in between exhibitions, but offers an equally important selection of historical fashion, including designs by couturiers Jeanne Lanvin and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Another historic aspect of Parisian fashion culture which still impacts the present day is the advent of department stores. Le Bon Marché is one of the world’s oldest department stores, and first opened in the form of a small shop in 1838. Two other Parisian shops, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, similar followed suit in the next few decades, becoming some of the largest and most well-known department stores in the world. Today, these stores are unparalleled in Paris as a one-stop place to find high-end and designer clothing, accessories, beauty products and homeware. The buildings themselves reflect the quality of their products, with Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in particular being stunning examples of the Art Nouveau style. The latter two stores occasionally run small weekly fashion shows to exhibit their products which are open to the public: contact the individual store to see if and when they are running.
Paris may bring to mind classic, elegant and high-end, but there are plenty of alternatives to the elite designer fashion houses. Paris has begun to embrace the quirkier side of fashion, with many unusual and exciting designs on offer. One such example is the cool and chic concept store Colette. Their collection of clothing, accessories and homeware is spread over three floors and the store has a quasi-hipster vibe, with an exhibition space, a bookshop and a water bar, which serves small meals and a large selection of bottled water. The clothing is kooky, unique and fun while remaining high-quality and it is clear that a lot of care has gone into the feel and culture of the store, with a minimalist, expansive layout, fun window displays and podcasts available online. Another such store is L’Eclaireur – each of its branches in Paris is exquisitely designed, with a juxtaposition of modern industrial and vintage design, unusual furniture, and art installations. L’Eclaireur features a fresh mixture of established designers such as Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta and contemporary talents such as Comme des Garçons and Uma Wang putting it at the cutting edge of new Parisian fashion.
For those on a budget, Paris still has plenty to offer. One of the best areas for vintage and second-hand shopping is the Le Marais area, the city’s Jewish quarter which spreads across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Paris. This area is a virtual treasure trove of unique items and bargains for the dedicated rummager, and demands patience far more than it demands money. Some excellent starting points are Free’P’Star, BIS Boutique Solidaire and Vintage Désir, although part of the charm and excitement of vintage-hunting in Le Marais is wandering up and down the cobbled streets and stumbling across quirky little shops. Even more unpredictable and chaotic, yet equally satisfying, are Paris’s famed flea markets. The Marché aux Puces St. Ouen de Clignancourt is an adventure in shopping: it is only after wading through tourist tat and overpriced, mass-produced products that the market reveals its treasures. As well as beautiful art, furniture and books, stalls offer antique Hermès scarves and vintage Yves Saint Laurent shoes for less than €100. In Paris, fashion comes in all shapes, sizes, and prices.