Paris is so beautiful that travellers are often blinded by the glow of its tourist hot spots. But if you dig below the surface, you will uncover another story of the city. A story made by the people who put art and creativity at the core of their everyday life. A look inside some of the Paris shop fronts, at the life going on behind them, will bring you closer to the vibrant pulse of the city.
Librairie des archives

From hats to books

In 2002, when Stefan Perrier was renovating a space to open a bookshop, he discovered the banner of a hat factory dating from the 20s. “I decided to keep it and now people take a picture of it at least 50 times per day!” he says. It doesn’t take long to see Perrier’s passion for art and design. “I’ve created the art bookstore I was dreaming of as a book collector”, he proudly states. Son of two booksellers – “I was born among books” – he decided to set up his own business on the other side of the river from his parents. His bookshop is on the Right Bank, in the Marais, between the Pompidou Gallery and the Picasso Museum. It’s a tiny space, but the shelves rise 3.6 meters (nearly 12 feet), all crammed with out of print and rare books on art, design, fashion and jewelry, along with well-chosen recent publications. In 15 years it has gained an international reputation, attracting countless fashion designers, gallery owners, collectors and art cognoscenti. “I want to share my knowledge and my taste, but also learn from my clients and discover new artists and designers every day”, he said.
Alain Maître Barbier

The art of shaving

Style is something one feels instinctively. And you feel it when you enter Alain’s Marais barber shop. This fashionable man in his 60s is the oldest and most famous maître barbier in Paris. In the last 20 years, his blades have smoothed the cheeks and necks of all walks of male life. He is such an appreciated artist, that he even gives a “shaving lesson” to each person who buys a razor at his shop. The place is a kind of shrine to shaving, since Alain has also collected a valuable treasure of shaving-related objects: razors from around the world, shaving tools of all kinds, and even engravings showing the highs and lows of his profession. Small wonder that Alain Maître Barbier is listed among the Unusual Museums of Paris.
Galerie d'Art Jacqueline Lemoine
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

The credo is colour

“When I saw this place it was love at first sight: I knew it was here and nowhere else where I would install myself”, says Jacqueline Lemoine, remembering the first time she saw what is now her art gallery in the Ile Saint Louis, close to Notre Dame. It was 1981, and Jacqueline was looking for a site to show the painting by her husband Nghiem-Phu Hai. What first catches the attention about this place is the lion over the door. “This “lion d’or” [Golden Lion] comes from the 17th century tradition of signalling to travellers with this symbol that it is a place where they could sleep and rest”, she explains. Once inside, you receive another kind of hospitality, in the form of beautiful colours. “I am very sensitive to colour”, she says. Beyond her husband’s work, she has shown many other French, Japanese and Vietnamese artists.
Les Ceramics du Marais
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

The porcelain menagerie

Behind the dark blue wooden facade of Céramiques du Marais, Dorothée spends her working day with her apron on and her dog, Dharma, running around her feet. “She is the mascot of the shop, nobody resists her charm – she is a very good seller!”, jokes Dorothée. The shelves and showcases display a crowd of small ceramic animals, one of her specialties. She is an expert in ceramics, but also terracotta, enamels and glass. Apart from the animals, she offers work by some 10 international artists. “All pieces are unusual and unique, you would not find them anywhere else”, she says. She is also a restorer, giving a second life to damaged and broken porcelain. Dorothée opened her shop in 2011 within the Village St Paul, an area devoted to arts, antiquities and design. She has already gained an international following: one famous client is Scarlett Johansson.
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Do-it-yourself cream

Everyone’s skin is different so every cosmetic should be different. “All our advice is tailored”, says Daan. In the shop he and Sébastien opened in the Marais three years ago, there is even a small laboratory, where clients can design their own mix of plant extracts, like in workshops of old. Maybe the surgeon who lived in the same location in 1600 had his own laboratory too. The two are passionate about the medicinal qualities of plants, so all the products at Huygens are natural. Locals love their face scrub cream and floral water. “Well-being is everything. We care a lot about this in the products and in the service”, says Daan. Big names rely on Huygens to maintain their beauty. “Our products can be found only here”, he says. “We are an institution that Parisians love”.
Fish La Boissonerie

Drink like a fish

A beautiful mosaic with shells and fish welcomes you at the entrance of Fish La Boissonerie, a place to taste the finest fish and wine in Paris. In 1905, the locale was a fishmonger, poissonerie in French. When Drew Harré and his business partner Juan Sánchez bought it, they changed the “p” to a “b”, playing on the word boisson, drink, and poisson, fish, hence the name boissonerie. When it opened in 1999, they didn’t serve fish, starting as a wine bar. Recently, they turned it into a fine dining bar, “with simply delicious food and a great wine list of over 200 french wines”, says Drew. New chef Valentin Vasser plans to take the owners’ love of food to a new level.
Hotel du Petit Moulin

A setting for surprise

You’ll be surprised from the moment you see the Hotel du Petit Moulin. “People are sometimes misled by the bakery shop sign, so when they enter they are puzzled”, says Vanessa Jacquiot, sales and marketing manager of the hotel, which opened in 2005 in a historic 17th century building, site of Paris’ first bakery. “This is where Victor Hugo would come to buy his baguette”, she says. But surprises continue inside. “The restoration has maintained the quirky perspectives and the labyrinthine manner of the layout”, Vanessa explains. The interiors were done by fashion designer Christian Lacroix, who created 16 different rooms and one junior suite, each telling a different story about the Marais, where the hotel is located. No two rooms are the same, ranging from the bright and daring (one has mirrored ceilings ) to the antique and rustic, while the breakfast room is an old café de Paris. “This theatrical design means that the hotel is full of surprises around every corner”, says Vanessa.
Le Bonhomme de Bois
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Dream rooms for children

If you want to see the room you always dreamed to sleep in when you were a child, then go to the Bohomme De Bois shop, near the Bastille Square. Behind the red-green entrance (the colours of Christmas) a paradise of traditional toys awaits. “It’s amazing when children stop in front of our windows in enchantment, but maybe it’s less amazing for parents when they are dragged in”, jokes Yann Bilhaud. Here you can find toys that are not sold in the chain stores. Yann is especially fond of the Hochet skwish, a wooden rattle resembling an atom, that babies love to touch, maneuver and, of course, get their mouths around.
L’International Records
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

A victory for vinyl

“I remember a concert at the shop: the group was at the back, the shop was packed, and even more people were standing outside with their umbrellas under the rain. That was magic”, reminisces Dave Kouliche. Moments like this are the best things about his trade. “I’m proud it has become a meeting place for artists, where many new projects have started”, he says. Dave opened the shop four years ago with a friend, in collaboration with the bar L’International, located across the street, in the Ménilmontant-Oberkampf neighbourhood. He sells mainly vinyl records, of all genres – jazz, classical, techno and hip-hop, disco and world music. “People can find Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson or Daft Punk here, but also small labels and self-produced records”, he says. The atmosphere is certifiably cool. As proof, a photographer recently came in and said he absolutely had to do a shoot there. He got permission and returned with the model – Vincent Cassel.
La Galcante
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Time machine in paper

If it made the news in France between the late 1700s and yesterday, you can find information on it in “La Galcante”. Located on a dead-end road close to the Louvre, the shop is a time machine, drawing on eight million issues of newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and catalogues printed from the time of the ancien régime to the present. Only 10% of this treasure is available at the shop, the rest is stored in a 1200 square meter warehouse outside Paris. Still, La Galcante (the name is a fusion of “gallery” and “brocante”) is a real paper labyrinth: an immense space with ladders to climb shelves and tables crammed with folders, enveloped by the fragrance old paper. When it started in 1975, the shop sold just a few newspaper facsimiles. Now, you can buy the newspapers of your birthday or red-letter days in history. However, a few key pieces, like Emile Zola’s famous “J’accuse”, are not for sale.
Clair de Reve

The dream factory

Those who handmake puppets, automata, music boxes are an endangered species. Clair de Reve is one such place, the last of its kind in Paris. “Making pieces that are unique allows many artists to continue their creative activity”, Gilles states proudly. Entering this small workshop in the Ile Saint Louis is like crossing into a childhood world of dreams. Heroes and princesses hang from the ceiling, their wires and strings ready for life. A tiny Venetian carnival pops out of a box. An arrangement of artistic watches click on in a corner. “Craft shops show the French savoir faire that is appreciated throughout the world”, says Gilles. He opened his shop in 1991 in a 17th century building and is determined not to give up. “This is an affective creation”, he states.
La Pharmacie
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Medicine for the soul

The blue colour of the facade is the one reserved for turn-of-the-century Parisian apothecaries. Inside, the beautiful wooden shelves and showcases still display old ceramic medicine pots. But mixed among them you can find bottles of wine, chalices and teapots. All this gives a special atmosphere to La Pharmacie, the restaurant led by chef Christophe Duparay. Sometimes a good wine and a well- cooked dish are the best medicine for the soul, and both are on the menu at this restaurant in the République neighbourhood. “We propose traditional recipes, with fresh season products we prepare in our open kitchen”, Christophe says. “And we offer wines of small producers”. This is medicine one takes without crying.
Photo credit Sebastian Erras
Video credit Pablo Apiolazza

Photo credit Sebastian Erras

The last cabinet of curiosities

A group of stuffed otters watch the Paris bustle from the windows of Deyrolle, as if transported from another time. In fact, this texidermy and entomology society is seemingly frozen in the 19th century, the golden age of naturalists and adventurers. It evokes an old cabinet of curiosities, a place where the marvels of faraway countries could be seen before television and the Internet appeared. Since its creation in 1831, the Society of Natural History Deyrolle has been an important pedagogic institution, and a place of inspiration for artists and collectors. Its educational diagrams on zoology and anatomy hung on the walls of many French schools. In 2008, Deyrolle suffered a major fire that consumed 90% of its collection. An avalanche of support from people and companies made it clear that Paris did not want the place to close. A group of artists organised an auction to pay for the reconstruction of the collection. Now, Deyrolle organises exhibitions on the relation between art and nature (among such artists as Dalí, Breton, Hirst or Huang Yong Ping, for example). Its educational publication, Deyrolle pour l’Avenir, helps keep alive the love for nature and the environment among younger generations.
Au Petit Versailles du Marais

Royal palace of pastry

French grandeur overflows in Paris, even in a place as mundane as a bakery and pastry shop. Au Petit Versailles du Marais looks like nothing so much as a small royal palace. On both sides of the entrance, you are greeted by frescoes of farmers. Inside, in the tea room and terraces, you are surrounded by the glow of mirrors, reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles palace. Glass pots and shelves filled with sweets and fresh bread make you salivate just by looking at them, especially since they’re replicated by the reflections. But don’t forget to look up at the ceiling. The light from gorgeous crystal chandeliers reflects off a ceiling made with reverse glass painting. Dating back to 1835, this technique was applied to the bakery by painter and decorator Charles Anselm in 1860, the year it opened.
Cine Images

Nirvana for Cinephiles

“The most exciting thing about working here is that you always have the sensation that you are selling dreams to the people”, says Alexandre Boyer, who runs the oldest gallery in Europe devoted to posters and pictures from the history of cinema. “I love movies and I love posters: working in a place like this was my dream as a child”, he says. The gallery’s wine-coloured façade dates to the early 19th century, when it opened. However, it was in 1976 when Jean-Louis Capitaine, supported by director Louis Malle, turned its focus onto the celluloid world. « We are the world specialist in French silent film », says Alexandre. Many great names of cinema have become loyal costumers of Cine Images : Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and Nicole Kidman, among others.
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Tools of the trade for painters

Are you looking for black feathers for hand painting? Gold leaf for gilding? A composition grid for landscape painting (oeil de vieux)? A pipette to spray on colours (soufflé au cul)? There is one place where you can find all these things: Sennelier, one of the oldest art supply boutiques in Paris. Beyond its typical green front, you enter a shrine, both to art history and commerce. Crammed with objects ranging from tweezers for Japanese paper theatre figures to boxes with up to 125 pastel crayons, the shop still features its original oak shelving. Gustave Sennelier opened it in 1887 in Quai de Voltaire, a neighbourhood then filled with artists. Cézanne and Chaim Soutine bought oil paints here; Picasso came for huile (oil) pastels, products often made by Sennelier himself. Sonia Delaunay ordered special mixes of colours packed in marmelade pots. In 1936, Sennelier opened a branch in the then up-and-coming neighbourhood for artists, Montparnasse, and another in Denfert Rochereau. Since the 60s, Sennelier’s colours have made their way abroad, especially in the United States. “We want to keep our craftmanship tradition and keep pace with innovations”, says Sophie Sennelier, the current manager. “Our logo is a flying man, inspired by an attempt at flight made by a man at Quai de Voltaire in the 20s: his boldness represents the spirit of the business”, she says.
Julien Aurouze and Co
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

The real Ratatouille

Enter this shop at your own risk if rats make you faint. The place is filled with the stuffed corpses of rodents, starting with the macabre line-up of rats hanging from mousetraps in the shop’s window. This astonishing sight has been on display since 1872 and Julien and Cécile, belonging to the fourth generation of shop owners, don’t want to change it. “The media are calling us all the time to talk about harmful animals and thousands of tourists take pictures of the window every day”, they say. “This shop is a nice family story and we have the pleasure to make it last”. Specialists in pesticides and traps (including one invented at the shop), the shop features in Pixar’s Ratatouille. In the scene, the father of the rodent protagonist, Remy, shows him the window as a warning to stay away from humans. If you need to know more about the subject, have a look at “A Rat in Paris” a book edited by Aurouze.
Paris Jazz Corner
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

No false notes

If jazz has a colour, then it’s probably blue: a colour of concentration, tension and a note of gloom. Maybe this is why the Paris Jazz Corner, the standard bearer for jazz lovers in Paris, is painted an intense blue. You find it just in front of Lutece’s Arena, the Roman remains on the city’s Left Bank. Drawings of jazz idols and a row of vinyl disks circling the windows work as an appetizer for approaching fans. Inside, the place is packed with new and old LPs, CDs, books and flyers -- a world of music. The shop employees ready with suggestions for both the novice or serious afficionado. This easygoing attitude and a wonderful website have made the shop a favourite for the world’s jazz community.
Patisserie Boulangerie Boris
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

The “petit choux” mecca

Boris Lumé took over this bakery and confectionery just three years ago, in 2013, but he is well aware of its century-old history. In the gorgeous decorations in the front, there is a drawing of the Moulin de la Galette, an ancient windmill that is the symbol of its neighbourhood, Montmartre. The Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, by Renoir, is one of the most celebrated works of Impressionism, a movement led by artists who used the Montmartre as their open-air workshop in the late 19th century. While the Patisserie Boulangerie Boris is on the list of French historical monuments, Boris himself bakes little masterpieces every day: particularly the lovely “petit choux”, a puff pastry typically filled with whipped cream. Apparently, Meryl Streep became a fan when she filmed a scene from “Julie and Julia” here.
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Local paints for local artists

A part of legendary Paris – the one filled with artists painting en plen air with their straw hats and easels – is still alive. The colour factory Charvin – the only one in Paris making colours for artists - is a living example of 19th century fine arts shops. “We are in a unique location, on the quais [river banks] in the Saint Germain artistic neighbourhood”, says Laurence Charvin, the shop’s founder. Galleries and art exhibitions are just around the corner, and Chervin counts on a community of artists who come to his shop for tempera and watercolour paints in wooden boxes, flexible anatomical puppets to paint human figures, frames and palettes. The shop is also the flagship of the Charvin brand, which sells throughout France.
Parfait Elève de Pouyanne
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Clothing doctors

“We often clean the christening and the wedding clothes of the same client”, says Nathalie, referring to the fidelity of customers at her dry cleaners. The luxurious golden letters on a black background of the shop’s sign reflect its prestige. Nathalie’s great grandfather, Louis Pouyanne, opened the shop in 1903, cleaning and pressing the clothing of its Boulevard Haussmann neighbours, including the dresses and suits worn to the Ópera. Their work is so famed that they are trusted with the cleaning of historic garments for museums and exhibitions. “Whatever the age, cloth can always find its freshness and glow again”, says Nathalie. The slogan of the shop is “Clothing doctors”. The inside has remained unchanged, with three big wooden tables crammed with clothes. All dry cleaners should be so elegant.
Bastille Optic
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

The art of seeing

Bastille optic is not a shop that goes unnoticed: the pineapple-yellow colour of its façade and the name in 1950s lettering immediately catch the eye. Inside is no less engaging. Cool glasses from French designers (including the shop’s own brand Eva La Java) are on offer, alongside with vintage designs from all over the world. Pascale, manager and artistic director of Bastille optic, has collected them since she opened the shop in 1986 in the neighbourhood of Bastille. She seems to take seriously the shop’s motto: “glasses to see beyond the tip of your nose”. Big format pictures hang from the walls. “In the last 15 years I have set up portrait exhibitions of the tribes of Bastille: barmen, babysitters, gardeners, florists, lovers…”, she says. Bastille Optic regularly presents dance performances too. In 2010, Pascale created the Bastiller Quartier Libre festival, which showcases the work of the area’s independent artists and craftsmen. “After some of these events, people come and say: I don’t need new glasses now, but I would happily ask you to make them for me anyway”, she says.
Le Bistrot Saint André
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Quintessential bistro

If there is a symbol of the real, everyday Paris, then it is its bistros, where so much of the city’s life takes place. Le Bistrot Saint André, in the Latin Quarter, is a quintessential French experience where you can enjoy traditional fare. One thing bistros have in common is a counter where you can simply have a drink. But this place has something even more Parisian than that: cinema. “The proximity of the Saint André des Arts cinema means that many filmmakers choose this bistrot for their discussions”, says Bernard Hadid, who currently runs the restaurant, founded by a family friend in 1992. The restaurant has had among its guests the actress Monica Bellucci, the musician Ait Menguelet, the journalist Jean Lacouture, the inventor Roland Moreno, and many others.
Les Degres di Notre Dame
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

An artistic maison de plaisirs

If you are an artist, this is the place to stay in Paris. Here art is at home. This hotel is at the very centre of the city, close to all its artistic treaures. The building itself dates to the 17th century, with remarkable architecture and frescos. Between 1800 and 1900 it was a maison de plaisirs (brothel): the reception is where clients used to tie their horses and the style of the place is still visible in the bathrooms’ frescos. Nowadays the plaisirs are in the art. The hotel manager, Avijid Gosh, uses the lobby as an exhibition space and art workshop. He also sells small handmade souvenirs there. “Poets, painters and opera singers have enjoyed our hospitality”, says Avijid. “We have regular clients that have come periodically over the last 25 years: one of them just introduced me to his daughter, who is now 30, and first came when she was five”, he said.
Cire Trudon
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

A tribute to the bees

A coat of arms with a beehive, the emblem of Louis XV, and the motto Deo Regique Laborant (“They work for God and for the King”) welcomes you at the entrance of Cire Trudon. It summarises the grand tradition of the oldest candle manufacturer in France. In 1643, merchant Claude Trudon settled in Paris and bought a store where he sold spices and candles. His son Jacques became apothecary to Queen Marie Thèrese at Versailles. In 1737, after the family bought the Royal Wax manufacturer, it became supplier to the French court under Louis XV, with more than a 100 people in its employ. Nearly two centuries later, the company opened a shop near Saint Germain des Pres, where they supplied a religious clientel. Today, Cire Trudon’s serves those same customers, along with many prestigious brands throughout the world. Cire Trudon’s candles have always been famous for their magnificent glow, a product of their purity. The wax formula is such that the candles don’t produce smoke and don’t leave wax in their special glasses, handcrafted in Tuscany. Their various fragrances are made in partnership with renowned perfumers. Along with the general public, the shop regularly receives visits from clergy, artists, and embassy delegations.
Bistrot Melac
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Paying homage to Bacchus

Bacchus is properly celebrated at the bistrot Melac, featuring in many pictures and sculptures, including one inside a barrel-shaped niche above the entrance. But the strongest presence of the wine god is in the many different bottles that you can taste at this restaurant. The place has been a wine bar for 75 years, and more recently it became a restaurant with deep roots in Aveyron, a wine region in southern France. The Bistrot Melac is also famous for its harvest party set up every year in front of the restaurant: the vendanges de Charonne, named after the Parisian neighbourhood where it is located.
La Dame Blanche
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Classical haven

“This business is like my baby: it’s my life, my full time activity”, says Régis Page about his shop. It’s a demanding baby in fact: here you can find France’s largest collection of classical vinyl records. Régis has patiently accumulated a treasure of 100,000 albums (stored in the shop and in a warehouse on a back street), mostly by buying private collections. He started in 1987, when he took over the shop. Among the jewels that have passed through its shelves is a box set that was sold for $2,000: “Mozart in Paris”, seven LPs containing all the music composed by Mozart during his visits to France, played exclusively by French musicians in 1956, under the direction of Fernand Oubradous. The shop’s name (“The White Dame”) comes from the typical address used for the woman for whom the street is named: Rue Saint Genevieve de la Montaigne, a beautiful road in the vibrant Latin Quarter.
Debauve et Gallais

A temple of sweetness

“Dear Friend, I recommend you eat Debauve & Gallais chocolate regularly, as a means to never lose sight of the true sense of life”. These words of writer Marcel Proust summarise what you feel when you taste the jewels of this chocolatier. In May 1800, Sulpice Debauve opened the shop in Saint Germain (two steps away from the Bon Marché and Café de Flore) with the utmost ambition. The facade is surmounted by the words “Utile dulci”, from Horace’s motto “mixing the sweet and the useful”. After you cross the entrance, you find yourself in a perfect semicircle with a table akin to those of pharmacists, Debauve’s former profession. Designed by Napoleon’s architects, it is the only chocolaterie among France’s historical monuments. Napoleon himself worshipped at this temple of sweetness, along with Anatole France, Arthur Rimbaud and Coco Chanel, to name a few. Try the mythical “pistoles de Marie-Antoinette”, designed by Debauve as sweet capsules to make the medicines the queen had to take more tolerable. The shop is now in the hands of Bernard Poussin, ninth descendant of the family line, and Diane Junique, the young manager. Together, they have grown Debauve & Gallais internationally, opening subsidiary shops in several countries.
La Bonne Franquette
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Montmartre’s spirit

Few restaurants can say they have been portrayed by a famous artist: La Bonne Franquette is one of them. Vincent Van Gogh loved its garden and painted it in 1886 in “La Guinguette”, now exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay. This restaurant in Montmartre was a hangout for some of the greats of 19th century painters: Degas, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pisarro, Sisley, Renoir and Monet all stopped here to drink after climbing the rue des Saules. Even the restaurant sign is a work of art: it was made by a craftsman (reputedly the last) who painted with gold on glass. The Fracheboud family has run the restaurant (which is four centuries old) since 1971. They have tried to avoid the touristic slant of the neighbourhood and defend the quality of their food, along with the wine, always served in carafe. But they have also tried to evoke the spirit of old Montmartre: this is one place where you can enjoy a genuine cabaret montmartrois, cancan included.
Norbert Bottier
Photo credit Sebastian Erras

Fragrance of leather and glue

“I grew up among piles of shows in my father’s shoemaker’s shop. And I have stayed loyal to that fragrance of leather, paint, glue, pitch and sewing thread”, says Norbert. A passionate and devoted shoemaker, he has managed to find a loyal following in return. In 1981, Norbert started out on his own, and in 1991 he started to sell luxury shoes. A few years later, he began making his own designs and is now very much appreciated for the bespoke quality of his footwear. “As a teenager, I spent hours looking at my father working at machines that seemed to hide a secret”, he remembers. Now he’s the master of that secret.
What we have learned.
The beauty of Paris is more than its amazing museums and monuments. Ancient families of craftsmen and young designers, food lovers and music addicts, even opticians and dry cleaners, display a unique savoir faire that adds creativity to everyday life. Their workshops, laboratories and boutiques tell a different tale of the city. Next time you go to Paris, take some time to delve into this world: you will not regret it.
License: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0