Battle-ready women, long lines, secret destinations, and great bargains—the madness of the Paris summer sales
I’m writing this out from Tokyo, not from Paris unfortunately; although finally the weather here has turned from miserable and cold to sunshine-y spring, making me feel I’m actually in Paris in June.
The weather made me remember it’ll soon be sale season in Paris in June, and once upon a time I used to frequent the Paris sales as avidly and methodically as a horse enthusiast would approach a horse race in England or an art collector would look forward to Art Basel, the Maastricht Art Fair or the Venice Biennale. I do like art, of course, but shopping the Paris sales is a way more affordable past time.
TEN YEARS, NO FAIL
For about ten years, until I began to get very busy with the business of magazine publishing and I all but lost interest in shopping, my Japanese friend Keiko and I would travel together for a week in Paris right about the last week of June. Elsewhere during the year, we also managed trips to Asian destinations and around Japan; but it was our week together in Paris that I always loved best.
In fact, I met Keiko on a trip — which is probably why we made very good travel friends. I was spending a week in Florence on my own, intent on visiting museums and galleries. I flew into Florence from Vienna, and my first stop that evening was dinner at an excellent trattoria recommended by my hotel.
The place was full and I was on my own, so I guess that’s why the restaurant seated me next to the only other lone diner : Keiko. We exchanged pleasantries in Japanese and by the second course we were comparing notes on museums and outlet stores.
THE PERFECT ARRANGEMENT
By the end of the evening we had made plans to meet up every night for dinner together — one day she would choose the place, the next I would do so. It was the perfect arrangement for two girls traveling by themselves in Florence.
Anyway, this was long before Travelife came along and took the time (but not the fun!) out of traveling.
100% PURE FUN
So. for several years, Keiko and I unfailingly traveled to Paris at the end of June for one week of good food and great bargain-hunting. The annual summer sale kicks off on the same day for all stores, and not a few avid shoppers travel from all over the world to unabashedly indulge themselves in a sea of 50% discounts.
There was absolutely nothing high-brow about these June trips, although one year, we did manage an afternoon at the Louvre.
In general, however, we reserved the museums, the historical walks and the opera for visits to Paris at other times of the year, when the city was less populated by battle-ready women in slacks, flats, and with the all-essential credit cards, roaming the streets with the determined look of hunters searching for current season items at half-price.
THE SYSTEMATIC ROUTINE
Keiko and I had our routine down to pat, arriving five days or so before the sale proper and staying at a hotel within walking distance to the Fabourg St. Honore, the department stores around the Place de l’Opera, and also to the Left Bank.
I always flew into Paris from my Tokyo home, and then continued onto elsewhere in Europe for summer holidays. Meanwhile Keiko always arrived earlier in Europe, heading to Tuscany in mid-June to stay in countryside inns and track down amazing delicacies, before ending up in Paris for one last fabulous shopping hurrah.
THE SALE STRATEGY
We always deliberately arrived earlier than the sale to leisurely check shops, choose items and plan our respective first-day routes. At places where we’d become regulars, the shop girls would even keep highly coveted items for us until we returned for them once the sale (and the discounts!) began.
We also took advantage of the lull before the consumer storm to indulge in our common love for food—something impossible to do once sale madness began, as it was then a choice between food or shopping, and shopping always won out. There was always next time for lunch at a Michelin three-star restaurant, but that beautiful black designer dress at 50% off was going, going, gone.
Taking turns to pick restaurants, in between pre-sale store brow sings, we would have long lunches at Michelin three-star restaurants, where a proper three-course meal at noon is often a bargain compared to the astronomical prices at dinner; and then we tried to walk off the calories in the afternoon. Evenings were reserved for more reasonable one-star restaurants run by ambitious young chefs.
FIRST DAY JITTERS
On the sale’s first day, many stores open at 8am. After an early, hearty breakfast— our next meal would be dinner at 9 PM, after all—Keiko and I parted ways for the day, wishing each other luck. She always joined the throngs at Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Meanwhile the Hermes sale was always my first stop, followed by visits to Chloe, Missoni, and Christian Louboutin’s tiny workshop/store on a very narrow street just on the way to the Marais.
If you’re a Louboutin fan — they’re so light and comfortable that I never wear any other high-heels if I can help it — then visiting his workshop during the Paris sales will be the cheapest and most varied selection you’ll ever find in the world.
It’s important to get Louboutin out of the way on Day 1, however, as the stocks get depleted fairly quickly. However, the nice thing about the June sales is that the Louboutin styles on sale in June are mostly summer styles and therefore very wearable for Manila.
THE HERMES SALE
Meanwhile, every year I reached the Hermes sale—which, unlike most other brands, is held off-site on the ground floor of an ordinary building in a nondescript neighborhood with no signs to attract attention—at 8 AM, and was subjected to a tortuous three-hour wait just to enter.
I always regretted never arriving earlier but I never did — preferring instead to have a civilized breakfast and then to line up for hours and listen to the same songs on my iPod, and watch impatiently as Japanese early birds leave the sale laden with so many paper bags they can hardly walk.
Some of the Japanese women take the last Air France flight out of Narita Airport the day before, arriving in Paris at dawn and heading straight to the Hermes sale to sit on the pavement until 9am in the same clothes they left their Tokyo apartments in.
The die-hards who can’t afford time away from work spend the whole day shopping and then taxi back to Charles de Gaulle airport just in time for the last flight back to Tokyo. It’s literally a shopping daytrip to Paris from across the globe.
A GREAT DISCOVERY
The Hermes sale is probably the least publicized of the designer sales, and the way Keiko and I discovered it long ago deserves to be told. It was a fine morning in June when we set out from the Park Hyatt Place Vendome for our usual pre-breakfast circular walk through the Tuileries, along the Seine and then finally past the Champs Elysees and typical working districts on the way back to the hotel.
In one of these districts, we saw dozens of women waiting in a line that snaked several blocks down outside a subway exit. Most of them were either French or Japanese. Unable to contain our curiosity, we asked a Japanese girl in line exactly what this was all about. She stared at us as if we had just asked the silliest question in the world. “This is the Hermes sale,” she replied. “No leather bags, but lots of scarves, shoes and clothes.”
That was all we needed to know. We were in our sweat pants and we had no money on us so we had to get back to our hotel to get the ammunition. Unable to find a taxi, we ran the last three kilometers to our hotel to pick up our credit cards and dashed right back. I had never seen Keiko run like this before—but this is exactly what sale season in Paris does to you!