Shopping High-Fashion Paris on the Cheap

In nearly three decades of visiting Paris, a highlight of my sojourns is shopping for the sort of Franco-distinct fashions impossible to find at home. Over the years, the proliferation of chain stores in Paris (and easy access to French luxury brands at home) has made finding unique pieces a challenge.

So, on a recent trip, when I noticed a secondhand shop filled with high-end designer jackets, bags, boots and jewelry — many from defunct Parisian ready-to-wear brands, I was thrilled. While paying for my haul (a cashmere blazer by Angelo Tarlazzi and vintage fur stole), I learned that there were dozens of others, a network of resale shops catering to Frenchwomen’s exacting taste and passion for a deal.

As a longtime designer resale and thrift store aficionado, I find few things more satisfying than tracking down accouterments that whisper “Fabriqué à Paris” — without paying retail. Thus began my deep dive into the City of Light’s lively dépôt-vente scene: upscale thrift shops that traffic specifically in luxury goods.

While tourists fork out euros on Avenue Montaigne, the ritzy shopping pocket bordered by Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Seine and the five-star Hôtel Plaza Athénée, savvy Parisians hunt down “gently used” Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and under-the-radar French brands at designer resale boutiques tucked throughout the city.

This is no dive-for-treasures-in-the- trash thrift shop scenario. Les dépôts-ventes (which translates to “deposit and sale”) are airy and efficiently organized: rows of leather jackets, tuxedos, blazers, silk blouses, cashmere sweaters, fur and cocktail dresses beckoning from hangers; vitrines piled with jewelry, wallets, sunglasses and, of course, scarves. As for prices, the resale value of top drawer luxury products is a fraction of the original sticker price.

Think Balenciaga for the cost of Zara. Many pieces are consigned after being worn just once; some still have original price tags inciting heart palpitations in thrift-obsessed clientele. Unlike a traditional retail environment, prices are not set in stone. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, especially if buying a few things.

The 16th arrondissement, with its wide, leafy avenues and ornate Art Nouveau apartment buildings, is fertile ground for fashion deals, specifically the smaller streets behind fashionable Place du Trocadero.

Start at Reciproque, Paris’ largest dépôt-vente, with 5,300 square feet. Here, you’ll shop alongside smartly turned out locals for classic-veering, ready-to-wear evening gowns and a mind-blowing array of scarves. Make sure to hit the basement where more casual pieces (denim, blouses, bathing suits) are stocked. Pay attention to the shoe nook. With vision (new soles and a good cleaning), you can score show-stopping footwear on the cheap.

Around the corner is Le Date, a boudoir-evoking jewel box brimming with cocktail frocks, furs, heels and bags displayed on vintage hat boxes. You’ll find the usual suspects: Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Hermes. But the more interesting pieces — and better deals — are lesser known French labels like Kyros and Stéphan, as well as quality basics from Lil Pour L’Autre, Joseph and Hotel Particulier.

Diagonally across the street, Depot Vente Luxe Paris focuses on of-the-moment fashion, not vintage. The concept? Slashed prices (men’s and women’s) on items that could (give or take a few seasons) be found in the pages of current fashion magazines. Last November, I spotted a Fendi Peekaboo bag, a Saint Laurent Sac de Jour bag, a Balmain biker leather jacket and Men’s Louis Vuitton Icare briefcase

Off the main artery, Rue de Passy, on a cobblestone pedestrian market street, you’ll find Coeur de Luxe, a small shop tricked out like the ultimate French walk-in closet: tuxedo jackets, Céline blouses, Breton striped knits and Chanel tweeds alongside Jean-Claude Jitrois leather, sheared furs by Sylvie Schimmel and no shortage of gold-buckled belts, bags and shoes.

Over in the 8th arrondissement, steps from Élysée Palace and behind fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, is Valois Vintage where you’ll find a glamorous mash up of au courant and vintage pieces. It’s pricey. But swanky ready-to-wear couture and hard-to-find designer collaborations make it a favorite for magazine editors and women who like to stand out in a crowd.

Cross the elegant Beaux-Arts bridge, Pont Alexandre III, to the Rive Gauche past the Esplanade des Invalides, for blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Defile des Marques, a storefront so cluttered that I considered ditching it for a glass of rosé at the corner brasserie. Happily, I didn’t. This small but mighty emporium produced some of my top finds: pristine Yves Saint Laurent and Loulou de la Falaise tuxedos, Akris and Balenciaga trousers and tags-still-on samples from the Riccardo Tisci era at Givenchy.

Finding La Marelle is half the fun. It’s in the 2nd arrondissement near the tree-lined alleys of Palais Royal, inside Galerie Vivienne, a Belle Époque, glass-roofed, covered passageway with preserved mosaic floors, half-moon windows and moldings of goddesses and nymphs. On the ground floor are affordable French brands like Sandro and Isabel Marant. Upstairs is where things get interesting. There is an entire wall devoted to Japanese design, a section of made-in-Paris furs, a rack of designer denim and well-priced ready-to-wear.

I’m now strutting around Chicago in my (discount) finery, delighted when friends ask the origin of my ensemble. “Oh, this? It’s from a tiny shop in Paris.”

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