The store has been undergoing a massive renovation programme of late, with the opening in 2008 of Espace Luxe on the first floor, featuring luxury prêt-à-porter and accessories and nine avant-garde designers, and the unveiling of a vast new shoe department in the basement featuring some 150 brands. The men's fashion space on the third floor, Lafayette Homme, has natty designer corners and a 'Club' area with internet access. On the first floor, Lafayette Gourmet has exotic foods galore, and a vast wine cellar.
In the magnificently appointed Printemps you'll find everything you didn't even know you wanted and English-speaking assistants to help you find it. But fashion is where it really excels; an entire floor is devoted to shoes, and the beauty department stocks more than 200 brands. In all, there are six floors of men's and women's fashion. In Printemps de la Mode, French designers sit alongside all the big international designers. The Fashion Loft offers a younger but equally stylish take on current trends. Along with furnishings, Printemps de la Maison stocks everything from tableware to design classics. For fast refuelling, Printemps has a tearoom, sushi bar and Café Be, an Alain Ducasse bakery. Or head up to Le Déli-cieux, on the ninth floor of Printemps Maison, for a drink on the terrace with wonderful views across Paris.
The city's oldest department store, opened in 1848, is also its most swish and user-friendly, thanks to an extensive redesign by LVMH. Luxury boutiques, Dior and Chanel among them, take pride of place on the ground floor; escalators designed by Andrée Putman take you up to the fashion floor, which has an excellent selection of global designer labels, from Lanvin to Claudie Pierlot. Designer names also abound in Balthazar, the prestigious men's section. For top-notch nibbles, try the adjoining Grande Epicerie food hall (01.44.39.81.00, www.lagrandeepicerie.fr, 8.30am-9pm Mon-Sat).
People queuing in the rain for Marks and Spencer’s? Has the world gone mad? Or is George Clooney giving away free luxury hampers? As odd as it may seem to Brits (for whom M&S is as about as exotic as its signature multi-packs of pants) queuing outside is business as usual since the chain opened its new flagship Paris store in November 2011. The French are a paradoxical lot, you see; and while most of them love nothing more than criticizing British food, you give them a Marks and Spencer’s chicken-tikka sarnie, a pack of scones, or a treacle pudding and the superlatives flow like wine from a barrel. They’re also secret admirers of British fashions, and M&S has always fulfilled the French’s need for classicism whilst offering them cuts and colours, and even fabric types, you don’t readily find in France. So much so that when Marks closed down its first Paris stores ten years ago (including a huge shop on Bd Haussmann, a location the chain would kill for now), many Parisians practically went into mourning. So what a shame that the new store on the Champs Elysées doesn’t quite live up to expectations: It’s far to small, for a start – crammed into an awkward space that feels more like an apartment than a chain store. There aren’t even two-way escalators, which means there are queues for the lift; and the food-court feels like an after-thought, squeezed into a space so small that people have to line up (yet again) just to get past the security guard on his walkie-talkie. That’s two long queues before you’ve even got to the till! It is possible that M&S has underestimated its popularity? Yes. So if you’re hankering after a slice of England, prepare yourself psychologically or order online (clothes and household only). Or wait for the chain’s successful Simply Food shops to open (here in Paris soon). Other new M&S stores are also expected to open in Greater Paris over the next two to three years.