Limited-edition artists’ prints, design classics and beautiful books, not to mention eateries dressed to the nines, serving food that’s a work of art in itself: Jennifer Ladonne samples the best of Paris’s museum gift shops and cafés
What better way to combine the three principle reasons to visit the City of Light – culture, food and shopping – than Paris’s museum stores? In keeping with the spirit of the French capital’s emphasis on art de vivre, these boutiques are not your usual mug-and-tote chains, but preserve the themes of their affiliated museum while cultivating an interest all their own. Most of these gift shops and many of the restaurants are accessible without the price of entry and (dare we say it) are worth a trip whether you visit the museum or not.
At first glance, the Musée Picasso boutique (just across from the museum on the rue de Thorigny) looks like any other chic Marais store. Decorative and functional housewares, tapestries, furniture, pottery, as well as the usual scarves and clothing, jewellery, bags and books are all tastefully arrayed in a setting whose parquet floors and beamed ceilings resemble a trendy Paris apartment – all the better to imagine what they’d look like in yours. Picasso’s deftly minimalist line drawings of a dove, ripe fruit or dancer work wondrously on everything from a throw pillow to a decorative platter, and his more colourful works make tasteful accent pieces that do not scream “Picasso!”, but can fit into any stylish room.
MUSÉE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS / 107RIVOLI STORE & LOULOU
This streamlined design boutique and bookstore, named after its address (107Rivoli) at the front of the museum, is a standout for lovers of art and design. The minimal white space functions as a backdrop for a curated selection of objects from an international roster of architects, artisans and artists chosen for craftsmanship and contemporary design rather than mass appeal. The boutique is divided into sections for books, jewellery, fashion accessories, stationery, toys, tableware and objects and some of the modern pieces are artists’ limited editions that would be at home in an art gallery or upscale magasin. There’s also a great selection of books on art and design, along with edgy handbags and scarves. Offering many lower-priced items, like lovely designer soaps and adjustable bracelets, this is an excellent one-stop shop for all your gift-buying needs.
Art Décoratif’s Loulou restaurant’s beautiful interiors and plum setting – smack in the Tuileries gardens, overlooking the Louvre – gave it an edge from the start. It took some time for the contemporary Italian restaurant (which reopened in 2016 after a marvellous redesign by Paris interiors star Joseph Dirand) to find its feet, but it’s now a darling of the fashion crowd and ladies who lunch, who don’t mind the high prices. Velvet banquettes, Saarinen chairs, marble floors and Flanders murals create a cosy, refined interior; but nothing can compete with the outdoor garden patio, the only restaurant terrace in the Tuileries. If you’re on a budget or are in a rush, consider stopping in at teatime. Be sure to reserve in advance though.
MUSÉE JACQUEMART-ANDRÉ / CAFÉ JACQUEMART-ANDRÉ AND BOUTIQUE
This most beloved of museums, set in the 19th-century mansion of a wealthy art-loving couple, also happens to contain Paris’s most beloved tearoom. For lunch or teatime, Parisians and visitors alike adore settling in for an hour or two surrounded by elaborate frescoes and decorative boiserie. Part of the tearoom’s charm is its resistance to the Parisian trend of pushing expensive high-end pastries from a big-name pâtissier. The sweets on the over owing pastry cart are of the old-fashioned, highly calorific sort: a gargantuan Paris-Brest bursting with hazelnut cream or classic lemon tart with lightly caramelised meringue flowerettes, among others. Lunches range from reasonably priced salads to hot dishes from the French repertoire.
The Musée Jacquemart-André boutique is just as charming as the tearoom and you’ll find china, teapots, silver and other items to recreate the café’s atmosphere at home. Plus stationery, scarves, bags, and books and an assortment of things like scented candles, vases, jewellery and gifts – all displayed in elegant wooden cases.
Like many other major museums in Paris, the Centre Pompidou’s ‘exit at the gift store’ policy allows visitors to anticipate a relaxing moment browsing the usual array of books, mugs, postcards, posters and presents around the theme of whatever blockbusting exhibition they’ve just seen. But the design shop and bookstore, opposite each other on the museum’s ground floor, are permanent fixtures and favourites of Parisians hankering after something to add just the right design touch to their apartment. Like an upscale home store, the design boutique offers an ever-changing selection of small art objects, coffee and dining tables, shelving and lighting, chairs and limited-edition artworks along with mugs, bags, toys and so on. Prices range from a few euros to the thousands. Across the museum foyer, the Pompidou art bookstore is one of the most respected in the city. Here you can come and browse and stock up from a huge choice of books in French and English, beautiful coffee-table tomes and hundreds of posters from the centre’s shows, past and present.
MUSÉE RODIN / BOUTIQUE & CAFÉ MUSÉE RODIN
There are a dozen Paris museums set in gorgeous old mansions, but the recently renovated Musée Rodin is a head-turner due to its immense, beautifully manicured gardens full of some of the master’s greatest works. The Café Musée Rodin, set within the gardens, is also unique in Paris. Here you can grab lunch or a snack (the menu offers salads, sandwiches, quiches, pastries and a large selection of hot and cold beverages, including wine and beer). In cold weather you can sit inside, but the outdoor tables are glorious on a warm day.
The Musée Rodin’s three-year, top-to-toe renovation was an opportunity to revamp its gift store too. It offers a larger selection of replica sculptures from the museum collection, including the lovely Cathedral – a miniature version of Rodin’s two graceful hands – and The Kiss, as well as beautiful reproductions of the artist’s delicate watercolours in limited-edition sets of three (€89) or individually (€29). You’ll also find a collection of limited-edition, Rodin-themed porcelain made in partnership with the Florence-based china specialists Richard Ginori. Jewellery, toys, T-shirts and other small items round out the shop’s collection.
MUSÉE GUIMET / SALON DES PORCELAINES & BOUTIQUE
In a neighbourhood lacking in pleasant, affordable lunch spots, the Musée Guimet’s Asian-inflected restaurant on the basement floor is a godsend. Here you can tuck into a reliably good salad or hot meal accompanied by a glass of wine or an Asian beer, or drop in for a teatime pick-me-up – sustenance for visitors who want to maximise their time taking in the museum’s extraordinary collection and special exhibitions instead of wandering around the neighbourhood searching for a sandwich. Musée Guimet’s handsome bookstore offers a collection of Asian-themed books, postcards, posters, jewellery, toys and books based on its permanent collection, along with items that reflect special exhibitions such as Japanese masks or kimonos, cups and teapots in porcelain or metal, replica sculptures, handmade paper, calligraphy supplies and paper lamps.
It’s no surprise that the world’s most famous museum offers superlative shopping. Renovated in 2016, the huge, wood-clad boutique carries all the usual items plus a range of special-edition gifts. But the real treasure is La Chalcographie du Louvre, tucked away in a corner of the gift boutique, where you’ll find more than 13,000 prints from the museum collection. You can choose from the many prints in stock exhibited around the room, or you can peruse the collection by leafing through dozens of leather-bound folios on a long table. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in the boutique, the Louvre will reproduce any folio print on museum-quality paper in its own printshop. Top-sellers include maps of pre- and post-Haussmannian Paris (one of the best spans six sheets that together are big enough to cover a wall), all of the 900 engravings of Napoleon’s Egypt campaign (1798-1801), hundreds of prints from the historic galleries and gardens of Versailles, one of France’s most important illustrated collections of French decorative art, masterful botanical prints, detailed period costumes in lush colours with metallic inks, landscapes and modern and contemporary master prints. This barely scratches the surface. If you have a special interest in the graven image or are seeking a gift or souvenir of Paris, this is a real treasure trove.
MUSÉE D’ORSAY / RESTAURANT & BOUTIQUE
France’s Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN), the umbrella organisation that oversees 34 of France’s major museums, does an excellent job of creating fine gifts in every price range for all of its many institutions, including the Musée d’Orsay, whose sprawling gift store set on two levels is one of the few whose entire collection changes according to each blockbuster show. For its major museums, the RMN often commissions artists or designers to create special editions around the show. You can find select favourites from exhibitions past and from other museums on the RMN’s website.
There’s so much worth seeing at Orsay and, unlike the Louvre, it’s possible to explore both the permanent collections and special exhibitions in a day – especially thanks to the museum’s two on-site restaurants, which offer menus geared towards breakfast, lunch, teatime or an early dinner. Using the museum’s famous clockface as its centrepiece, the Café Campana’s eye-popping orange and gold décor was conceived by the Brazilian design team the Campana brothers. The café menu is modelled on a traditional brasserie, meaning decent food on the fly, but you may want to linger, since the Brazilian theme extends to the café’s South American-sourced specialty coffees.
Also for lingering, the ex-train station’s stunning original restaurant – dating from 1900 – is a listed historic monument, complete with frescoed ceilings and gilded woodwork. Enjoy an elegant sit-down lunch here with a set menu at either €24.50 or €29.50 for two or three courses.
The De Noailles mansion is the 1920s home of an eccentric French heiress and artist in her own right, who hobnobbed with the likes of Cocteau, Dalí and the avant-garde of the day. Transformed into an extravagant museum by Philippe Starck, it’s the exquisite setting for Baccarat Crystal’s greatest output, from the manufacturer’s origins to the present. The museum is stupendously beautiful and the small permanent exhibition upstairs, including pieces commissioned by monarchs, popes and presidents, is worth the €10 entrance fee. But for no cost at all you can wander through the many galleries full of contemporary crystal vases, sculptures and tableware, jewellery, chandeliers and even furniture by top-name designers that also serve as a boutique. Pieces can be shipped anywhere in the world or packed for you to take home in your suitcase if you have enough room.
Gorgeous to begin with, the newly-reopened Crystal Room, redesigned by top Paris designer Jacques Grange, now sports a more contemporary glamour. Besides its jewel-collared velvet banquettes and chairs, the mansion’s originally opulent décor is augmented by a 157-light Baccarat chandelier and a wall adorned with 576 backlit crystal tiles. Occupying several rooms, the restaurant and bar are perfect for an intimate meal, cocktail or a glittering tea break.
The restaurant has also upped the quality of its menu, offering gourmet dishes designed to evoke the personalities who made Baccarat famous, like Princess Grace (mirabelle plum tart) and the Russian Court (mango Pavlova). Prices are steep, except for the bargain two- or three-course lunch menus (€22, €29), so unless you’re looking to settle in and really enjoy the meal, opt for teatime or a cocktail. The restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and in-between.
From France Today magazine