Unless you're one of the lucky minority that has VERY deep pockets, chances are that shopping for brand new designer goods isn't something you do on a regular basis. While more affordable designer brands abound these days, some of the really exclusive brands continue to create incredible clothes, shoes, handbags and accessories that are typically out of financial reach for the average person. Nothing reminds me more of the money I don't have than window shopping on some of Paris's most exclusive shopping streets.
The truth is, I'm not a huge fashion person and spending thousands of dollars on a handbag has never been my style. Still, as I get older I find myself looking to purchase items that are going to last me a long time, rather than fill my closet with super-cheap clothes that fall apart long before I'm finished with them. I will never sport designer duds head to toe, but I can appreciate how a good quality, classic designer piece can actually be a great investment.
Fortunately, the French have a practical solution: the Dépot-Vente, or second-hand store. These are not your run-of-the-mill second hand stores where you go to drop off your kid's old sports equipment. Most are second-hand stores that specialize in designer goods, from clothing, to shoes, bags, accessories, and sometimes household decoration. Typically, wealthy Parisians who have the means to update their designer wardrobes frequently will sell their gently used items to these stores. The items are examined and given a resale value by experts, and the authenticity of each piece is guaranteed. Some Dépot-Vente stores specialize only in certain design houses or time periods (classic pieces or more modern, haute couture or mid-range designers).
These shops are perfect for the person looking to add something special to their wardrobe, but who isn't concerned with having the latest piece from the hottest design house. You won't find anything that isn't in great shape, and sometimes you can find classic pieces that have actually increased in value over the years. Make no mistake, these aren't bargain basement shops. Items can still run into the thousands, particularly for clothing or purses from classic designers, but there are generally more affordable items as well. For example, one store I checked out had a Balenciaga bag for 1000 Euros, but a Dior handbag for just over 200 Euros. Often designer shoes can be priced in the same range as shoes from high-end department stores.
Some shops are huge, while others are smaller boutiques that typically cater to a loyal clientèle. Some of the larger stores offer items for men, women, and children, while others carry only women's items.
Here are a few shops to check out if you're in the market for some designer items:
Chercheminippes: This store has been in business for about 40 years. It's actually grown from one location to six stores in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of Paris. Each store has a different specialty, from ready-to-wear collections to haute couture, men's wear, and children's wear. If you can't find what you're looking for at one of these shops, it's probably not available! Address: 102 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6e, Paris www.chercheminippes.com
Lorette et Jasmin: This is a small boutique in the 16th arrondissement that caters to a very loyal customer base. It's geared toward women, and offers a small but excellent selection of clothing, handbags, shoes, and accessories. They always seem to have Issey Miyake pieces, and I've seen Dior and Balenciaga bags as well.
Address: 6 rue Francois Millet, 16e, Paris www.loretteetjasmin.com
Reciproque: This is the largest of its kind in Paris. Like Chercheminippes, it's actually spread out over 6 boutiques on rue de la Pompe in the 16th arrondissement. Each location specializes in something, from men's and women's clothing, to objects (housewares, etc.) and jewelry. Over 7500 sq.ft. of merchandise in total.
Address: 89-101 rue de la Pompe, 16e, Paris www.reciproque.fr
Enfants Trottinette: This one is strictly for the children in your life. Not just limited to clothing, you can also find games, toys, books, shoes, good-quality sports equipment, baby items, and decoration. Caters to children from infancy to age 14. A great place to find some unique children's items, or to purchase an affordable designer item for your fashion-conscious teen.
Address: 9 rue Parrot, 12e, Paris www.depot-vente-trottinette.com
These are just a few of the many, many stores found in the Paris area. Keep your eye out for the words Dépot-Vente when you're browsing the streets of Paris. Unlike many second-hand shops in North America, they're not all concentrated in one area of the city, and they don't all accept just any items for donation. Be prepared to spend a bit of time searching through the merchandise and in the high-season, battling the crowds of both locals and tourists looking for to score a great deal. Happy hunting!