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Holiday shoppers on the Champs Elysées

Atelier of designer Nina Ricci

World famous flea market, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen

Chic footwear at Christian Louboutin

Luxury gifts at Hermès

Galerie du Claridge on Avenue Champs Elysées

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Paris shopping - nothing but the best

Parisians shop for quality. The shop girl behind the department store perfume counter wearing a chic little black dress that is unmistakably couture is not an incognito heiress. The dress is probably one of only two she owns - but both are impeccably kept and expensive.  At the greengrocers, bunches of carrots and bouquets of asparagus are tied in strips of leek and artfully arranged every day. Buy a sack of sweets at a confiserie and they'll be sealed with a gold foil sticker and a swirl of ribbon. Even the lamb chops at the butcher shops wear paper frills.

 

 A Word About Sales Tax

 

All countries in the European Union add a sales tax known as Value Added Tax or VAT to most manufactured goods.  In France the standard rate is 19.6%. If you stay in France less than six months and take your purchases out of the EU within three months of purchase, you may be eligible for a refund of 12 or 13% if you’ve spent more than 175 Euros on the same day in the same store.

 

You and the retailer must fill out a VAT refund form (bordereau de détaxe) at the store. About 15,000 stores, including most of the big department stores, will do this.

 

When you leave the EU, present the form, the goods, receipts, your passport and your travel tickets at Customs for validation. Cash refunds are usually available at airports, train stations and border points. Or you can mail the validated form in (a pre-paid envelope is provided) for a credit card or bank check refund.

The point for visitors is that in Paris, luxury can be found in the simplest of things and the most unexpected places.

 

By all means shop for haute couture and global brands along the grand tree-lined boulevards such as the Champs-Elysées and Avenue Montaigne. Negotiate for gems in the joailleries of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Place Vendome. Gather truffles, caviar, wines and the finest teas and coffees in the gourmet food shops around La Madeleine.

 

But don't overlook the networks of tiny streets and lanes around the Sorbonne and St. Germain de Prés, where up and coming designers set out their unique creations in independent boutiques.  Spend a day exploring the riches of the great department stores of the Boulevard Haussman. And, if you are interested in antiques, don't be put off by the junk dealers and the fakes at Les Puces - the world's original and largest flea market. Determined and knowledgeable shoppers find real treasures there - a Renaissance book or a Ming Dynasty vase, perhaps.

 

And the secret of the shop girls in the little black dress as well as thousands of fashionable Parisian men and women? Specialist shops known as depots ventes, tucked into side streets in the best residential districts,  where movie stars, presidents' wives and  socialites who can't be seen in the same outfit twice sell their almost new Chanels, Balenciagas, Pradas and Diors. This is not bargain basement shopping but very high class recycling. Think alligator Birkin bag from Hermes, a snip at 15,000 Euros instead of the usual price of more than 30,000 Euros.

 

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