Shopping in Paris

Shopping in Paris
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Indulge in a sublime Parisian feast for the senses at the Mandarin Oriental and wholesome retail therapy at Le Printemps

Samantha De Bendern
November 12 , 2014
10 Min Read

Butterflies. I see butterflies every­where and I wonder whether they have something to do with the cham­pagne that I was given upon arrival. They are embroidered on cushions, hang from the ceiling in shimmering crystal figures, and float in neat rows in plexiglass frames above mauve-coloured sofas.

I soon learn, however, that these are not champagne-induced visions: the butterfly is the emblem of the Manda­rin Oriental Paris, where I am about to cocoon myself for 24 hours of pamper­ing and fashion therapy, thanks to the hotel’s special package: a spa session, and a VIP shopping experience in partnership with the prestigious Printemps fashion store.

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The Mandarin Oriental opened in June 2011, after extensive renovation of the former Ministry of Justice’s Art Deco building, by architect Jean-Mi­chel Wilmotte. From the very begin­ning, the idea was to create a hotel that oozed fashion and luxury, in keeping with the grand couture houses that were born and still live on the rue Saint-Honoré, in the heart of Paris, a stone’s throw from the Louvre, the Palais Garnier and the Place Vendôme.

Upon arrival, after the champagne, I was ushered to my deluxe room. Inside, touches of Art Deco in soft plums and beige merged with the state-of-the-art television and multi­media equipment, complete with a TV overlooking the bath. I wanted to sink into the bed, but the delights of the hotel proved even more enticing.

As we toured the premises, Sandra, my guest relations hostess, explained that in decorating the hotel, designer Sybille de Margerie wanted the spirit of fashion and art to be infused into every part of the building, from the walls to the ceil­ing to the minute details of furniture and soft furnishings. Silks and velvet drape the rooms, cover cushions and chairs, and the feel of silk can even be found in the unctuous beauty products by the exclusive Parisian parfumier Diptyque on offer in every room. I thought of butterflies again.

Downstairs, the main lobby looks over an interior courtyard, an island of greenery in the middle of Paris. Here one can enjoy a meal when weather permits, or sip one of the many cham­pagne cocktails on offer in Bar 8, an Asian lucky number, where over 30 different sorts of champagne can be sampled by the glass.

I retreated there in the evening and ordered a signature champagne cocktail called Home-Made Honey. It was both creamy and citrusy at the same time, and somehow the many ingredients did not manage to mask the taste of champagne, which burst out from underneath the smooth honey overtones.

It was a late August evening and the weather unseasonably cold and wet, making the terrace out of bounds. In­side, however, the monsoon was in full swing: the bar is designed to look like a rainforest with muted mushroom tones on the walls and furniture, and a wall of Murano glass tubes is suspend­ed from floor to ceiling like threads. It looked like a curtain of rain. Drop­lets of coloured glass encrusted into the main wall reflected the evening light, like beads of rain after a tropi­cal shower. The walls were curved, irregular, like the inside of a tree or a large raindrop. I wondered whether I was drunk… not on champagne, but on the essential oils that were working their way through my system after a long massage in the hotel’s spa.

I was skeptical at first at the idea of what was called an ‘Oriental’ mas­sage in the heart of Paris. Having lived in Asia for the past three years, I had come to the conclusion that whatever wonderful things I could find in France — food, wine, fashion — massages belonged firmly to the Asian side of my life. Then, at the sound of the gong that signalled the beginning of the therapy, my apprehensions began to evaporate. The therapist, Mathilde, somehow found the hidden clusters of tension along my body, and they dissolved under her touch. From time to time, wafts of essential oils would envelop me, and by the time Mathilde’s magic fingers had finished kneading the knots out of my travel-weary muscles, I was in heaven.

Along with a display of products by Aromatherapy Associates, the famous French fashion house Guerlain offers its beauty products in a salon setting here. Exclusive Guerlain perfumes are sold as well: the rare ‘jus’ or juices that are not for the high street. All in all, this was an Eden of temptation appealing to our most suggestive of senses: smell.

After smell, it was the turn of my sense of taste to be titillated over din­ner in the Camélia restaurant, which is supervised by award-winning chef Thierry Marx, who is also the head chef of the Sur Mesure restaurant, also within the hotel, and which holds two prestigious Michelin stars — one of the highest distinctions in French cuisine.

I was not very hungry by the time we sat down, but the food soon revived my appetite: tiny, rice-shaped pasta drenched in scuttle fish ink topped with finely cut squid and served with crunchy green vegetables. The tastes, subtle and long-lasting at once, seemed to evolve like good wine on the palate. Dessert took me back to Asia briefly, with a banana and mango ice cream encased in a chocolate shell.

All this, of course, spelled disaster for the waistline, a particular concern as I knew that the next day I would be flaunting any damage I had incurred in front of the full-length mirrors of the Printemps luxury fashion store’s VIP dressing rooms.

The following morning, I briefly attempted to burn off the excesses of the night before doing laps in the 14-metre pool. But the swim was just enough excuse to wolf down a gargantuan breakfast with a hint of haute cuisine back in the Camélia, before heading to the Print­emps for another feast for the senses: the touch of silk and leather, the sight of precious jewels, and of the ephem­eral beauty of fashion.

The Printemps department store, on Boulevard Haussmann, first opened its doors in 1865, and from its origin the building was destined to be a large and very luxurious shop. De­stroyed by fire in 1881, it was rebuilt in 1883, and the original building stands to this day.

With its nine floors and hundreds of brands, ranging from haute couture (Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton) to hip high street brands, the Printemps can be a daunting shopping experience. To help a select and wealthy clien­tele navigate in this oasis of luxury, Printemps created the VIP shopping concept. This allows guests to have a shopping experience not only tailored to their needs, but with a level of comfort, confidentiality and atten­tion that’s miles away from the hustle and bustle one would associate with a large department store. This service was on offer in partnership with the Mandarin Oriental and part of the package of my stay.

The VIP guest is greeted at a spe­cial entrance and whisked away to a private salon where tea or drinks are served and the particular shopping needs of the day are discussed: a wedding, birthdays or anniversaries, or good old-fashioned indulgence. VIP managers do not work on commission and this helps build a climate of trust between them and the clients, and they will not hesitate to suggest alternatives to some of the choices clients may make. Reluctant non-shopping spouses are also taken care of, usually in the form of a visit to the spa or one of the many restau­rants and cafés in Printemps.

After the VIP guest relations officer, the personal shopper comes into play. My personal shopper for the day was a statuesque young woman with model looks called Priscille, who spoke with passion not only about her work but her clients: “When they come here they know everything that has hap­pened in a particular season, and it is my job to know what is out there, not only on our floors but in every maga­zine, on every runway, and of course on net-a-porter [the haute couture internet shopping website]. I need to be able to get any item they want, fast, even if we do not have it in Printemps, and of course I must be even more up to date than they are so as to be able to surprise them with something delight­fully unexpected.”

 The job of the personal shopper is to understand what the customer wants, bring it to her (or him), as well as sug­gest alternatives that he or she may not have thought of. Customers also look to the personal shopper for advice on getting together a look that appears ef­fortless and individual: mixing brands and genres, “so as to not look as though they have just walked out of a luxury boutique and kitted themselves out like a mannequin,” Priscille explained. Attention to detail goes as far as choos­ing the tiny ultra-fashionable bracelets to complete a look and, of course, handbags, shoes, even lingerie, to make an outfit complete.

While the personal shopper and what I suspect is an army of elves with razor-sharp vision and mind-reading abilities dart around the floors of the Printemps, the customer can sit back and relax in a personal suite-cum-changing room. All that he or she needs will be brought in, and for those for whom confidential­ity is paramount, no one need ever know they were there.

Some people stay for ten days and may spend millions in a session, ac­cording to Priscille.

I sigh longingly as I watch the array of dresses and masterfully assembled outfits put on display for my perusal. Macaroons and tea are offered and I am mesmerised by a pair of black Elie Saab shoes with a golden sole and heel that have been craftily accessorised to patchwork faded denims and a very hip-looking leather jacket.

Priscille explains that extra special clients are sometimes offered exclu­sive tours of the workshops of famous Parisian couturiers, or even watch­makers in Switzerland. The personal shopper will accompany the customer on these occasions, which are a truly special treat for those who are passion­ate about fashion.

All too soon, time’s up and I imagine emerging from here, metamorphosed by a whole new wardrobe as I leave the Printemps to return to the Mandarin. Twenty-four hours can be transforma­tive. Time has come for the butterfly to definitely spread its wings.

The information

Getting there
Several leading airlines fly daily to Paris from Indian metros. Round trip fares start from about Rs 1, 10,000 (business class) and Rs 45,000 (economy class).

Visa
You will require a Schengen visa for France, which can be obtained from VFS (vfs-france.co.in). A short stay (up to three months) visa for tourists costs Rs 4,800.

Currency
Euros are widely accepted in France. (€1= Rs 80).

Where to stay
The Mandarin Oriental Paris (from Rs 66,000 per night for doubles; mandarinoriental.com/Paris), featuring 99 rooms and 39 suites, is one of the finest hotels in the world. Its location in the heart of the French capital, minutes away from legendary fashion houses and world-renowned sights, makes it a much sought-after address. Its rooms and suites are unstintingly appointed, their styling sumptuous and comforts flawless.

What to see & do
The J’aime La Mode package (from € 995, available all year round) offered in association with the historic Printemps luxury and fashion department store is exclusively meant for VIP guests. It includes a night’s stay at the Mandarin Oriental Paris, breakfast for two in-room or at Camélia, spa credit of € 150, services of an expert multilingual personal shopper, priority tax refunds, local delivery, and international shipping. The initial VIP shopping service at Printemps is for three hours at 250, but the cost is waived after purchases worth € 1,500 have been made.

The Mandarin Oriental’s spa is in the basement of the hotel and opens from 9am to 9pm daily. Non-guests can book here as well.


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