The best French fashion needn’t cost the earth. Jennifer Ladonne takes us on a tour of the Paris  stores where you can bag a designer bargain for a fraction of the retail price
Shopping in Paris is an undeniable thrill. But shopping in Paris for French fashion gems you won’t find at home, sold at half the retail price – and often less – is an experience not to be missed. At the city’s dépôts-ventes, the French equivalent of a consignment store, barely worn and gently used items from the most glamorous haute-couture designers and high-end chains are within the reach of us all.
As any Parisian fashionista will tell you, no matter what her net worth, the thrill is in the hunt. That may be why there’s a handful of dépôts-ventes tucked away in every arrondissement, each with an ever-revolving stock and its own unique footprint. Fashion insiders know the ins and outs of the various addresses – which usually reflect the character of the neighbourhood – and wouldn’t dream of sharing them.
At La Frange à L’Envers, hidden away down a private pedestrianised street in the hip Saint-Ambroise neighbourhood in the 11th, shop manager Charlotte Le Grévès affirms that some habitués stop in daily. This is no surprise to those who know the stakes. Missing a day might mean squandering the chance to snag a smashing pair of burgundy leather Saint Laurent jeans for €275 – about €2,000 off retail – or an adorable See by Chloé denim capelet, both spotted on my visit. “We have lots of stylists, actors, influencers and women who work for designer brands drop off armloads of clothes on a daily basis that they may have worn once or not at all,” says Le Grévès, who estimates that they receive about 300 new pieces a day.
On a sunny Saturday in September the nearly 5,000-square-foot, two-floor loft space – the biggest by far of the shops I visited – is teeming with avid 20- and 30-somethings. Dozens of racks are brimming with seasonal apparel arranged by colour and size – a convenience almost unheard of in a dépôt-vente. La Frange’s attractive atmosphere, decorated with colourful throw rugs, chicly attired mannequins and a table offering free coffee and tea, makes it feel like a regular boutique. Bags, scarves, belts, jewellery and unopened boxes of highly-coveted La Mer skin products, marked 50 per cent off retail, are displayed on easy-to-reach tables and shelves. Prices range from about €10 for a gauzy Zara blouse to upwards of €5,000 for a collectable bag. Most items, from a pink leather motorcycle jacket to a pair of jeans, for which there are several dedicated racks, cost between €30 and €80.
At Au Gré du Vent, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés , I appreciate anew La Frange à L’Envers’s airy orderliness. Though the tasteful array of designer duds, bags, wallets and jewellery displayed in the window fit right in with the swish boutiques on the tiny rue des Quatre-Vents, they do not reflect what’s to come. The claustrophobic riot of clothes jammed onto long racks spanning the length of the store feels daunting at first. But with some patience there’s real treasure to be found – including vintage pieces – at wildly varying prices. Owner Tina Dos Santos opened her boutique 20 years ago and it is now the go-to fixture for savvy neighbourhood shoppers with a knack for looking like a million on a budget.
Among the standouts is a double-breasted vintage Chanel jacket in crimson worsted wool (€700), a fitted Dior coat (€200), and an embroidered Christian Lacroix couture jacket (€152). I fall hard for a black Hermès silk crepe drop-waist dress with a pleated skirt, a steal at €180, and am tempted by a half dozen collectable Sonia Rykiel pieces (the iconic Parisian house was shuttered in July). Interspersed with separates from high-end chains like Caroll, Maje, Sandro, Max Mara, and Zadig & Voltaire, starting at about €20, is an unruly row of leather jackets, furs and stylish trench coats, and a hodgepodge of shoes, designer bags, jewellery and scarves. Here patience is amply rewarded.
For 30 years Sissi’s Corner has been a fixture on the rue des Tournelles, a quiet side street a stone’s throw from the place des Vosges. Sissi, the boutique’s third owner, emphasises that this is a dépôt-vente “deluxe” specialising in vintage, not a friperie of the type that has recently proliferated in the Marais (and for which she has choice words) and that sell their wares by the kilo. After sparring over the definition of vintage (20 years or more, says Sissi), she pulls out some gems from Yves Saint Laurent that include an eye-popping ’80s-era orange overcoat lined in detachable marmot fur (€1,245) and an impeccably tailored beige linen blazer from the early ’90s (€499). I’m more tempted by a whimsical, and infinitely more affordable, Kenzo summer dress in featherweight cashmere with a transparent silk chiffon bodice and a glamorous lace-up bustier à la Madonna.
Sissi’s small but spotless collection isn’t limited to vintage items. I find a COS jacket circa last year, some affordable pieces from Isabel Marant, Girbaud, and a fairly recent Diane von Furstenberg dress. There’s also a compact collection of bags, shoes, furs, scarves and jewellery. As I prepare to leave, Sissi clasps a jewelled pin I’ve been admiring onto my blazer, a last-minute cadeau. I’ll be back.
Smaller still, Closet2Closet, just around the corner, is the luxe contemporary counterpoint to Sissi’s. Missed out on those jewel-encrusted Gucci sneakers or last season’s Christian Louboutin gladiator sandals? Here’s your second chance. But don’t hesitate, because everything in the boutique (and more) is listed on the website and owner Chloé Abitbol recently had a Balenciaga bag sell within a minute of posting it online.
In the store you’ll find clothing, bags, shoes, accessories and jewellery from every sought-after label under the sun, which she lists online: Stella McCartney, Chloé, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Givenchy, Céline, Isabel Marant, Lanvin, Cavalli, Prada, Louis Vuitton, to name a few. Abitbol specialises in classic Chanel, her biggest seller, which she offers for a fraction of the retail price – if you get there first.
A plunging, back-zip Balmain blazer in silver-flecked tweed and a fabulous pair of chunky Chanel shearling boots catch my eye, along with a svelte Alaïa  dress from the designer’s final collection before his death in 2017. Everything is in pristine condition and anything that’s online can be tried on in the boutique. Do not miss the petit prix section on the website, where items are marked down by up to 50 per cent of the already discounted prices.
What’s not to love about La Marelle’s front-and-centre spot in the gorgeous Galerie Vivienne, a Restoration-era gem and one of Paris’s oldest covered passages? Revived in the ’70s by the Japanese fashion designer Kenzo, who staged his early fashion shows here, it’s only fitting that La Marelle, which opened shortly after, in 1974, specialises in haute Japanese designers: Yohji Yamamoto and his diffusion line Y’s, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Pleats Please, and Junya Watanabe. Highlights include a Yamamoto knee-length coat in lush grey velvet that will never go out of style (€248), and an exquisitely tailored black cinch-waist blazer from Y’s (€296). There is something for women of every age, including a scintillating selection of Issey Miyake Pleats Please separates, plus tunics, blouses, long overcoats and dresses.
But that’s far from everything. Upstairs you’ll find ready-to-wear couture items from Dior, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and McQueen, and downstairs a range of signature chains like Gerard Darel, The Kooples, Zadig & Voltaire and many others. “Every item goes through a strict quality control process before it goes on display, so clothes are guaranteed like new,” confirms Annaïk, the manager. “Everything is contemporary and sells for about a third of the retail price.”
Apart from a sizeable array of collectable silk scarves (Annaïk is delighted by her American clients who buy up Hermès scarves, not for wearing but for framing
– unheard of in Paris), La Marelle specialises in new and gently worn designer handbags. She shows me a brand new model of the exact Louis Vuitton Sac Capucines carried by Brigitte Macron, a steal at €2,000 (retail €4,000).
A 10-minute walk to rue Saint-Roch brings you to MB Select, which stocks “pre-loved luxury and vintage” and is the most rarefied of the bunch. Ring the bell and you’ll be buzzed into a tiny, elegant storefront under a blazing crystal chandelier. This is clearly where the aficionados shop.
“Everything here is impeccable,” confirms Marjorie, the owner, and if something is in need of repair it’s done by the fashion house itself. For example, when a 1960s Birkin bag needed a new handle, back it went to Hermès. Several of the calf bags in varying sizes are on display, though the crocodile models, which sell for upwards of €10,000, are stashed away.
What you will find in-boutique is a tiny but immaculate collection of the hardest-to-find classic vintage clothing, jewellery and accessories at 30 to 40 per cent off retail. Collectors come from as far as Lebanon and Japan to buy and sell their treasures, which today includes a supremely elegant black ’80s-era Chanel smoking jacket that at €600 looks a bargain to me, considering what you’d pay new.
The boutique’s choice collection of vintage and a few contemporary pieces – a now collectable Colette-heart- Chanel T-shirt under a classic Chanel knit cardigan, and a wondrous pair of Louboutin mile-high python platform booties – is supplemented by a larger online assortment with a truly outstanding selection of vintage Chanel. Perusing this bijou boutique is a primer in why designer clothes are always a good investment – and, at half off or more, an attainable one too.
La Frange à L’Envers , 81 rue Saint-Maur, 11e
Au Gré du Vent, 10 rue des Quatre-Vents, 6e. Tel: +33 (0)1 44 07 28 73
Sissi’s Corner, 20 rue des Tournelles, 4e. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 72 90 35
Closet2Closet , 17 rue Jean Beausire, 4e.
La Marelle , 25 Galerie Vivienne, 2e.
MB Select , 30 rue Saint-Roch, 1e.
From France Today magazine