In 1969, hoary French crooner Joe Dassin released 'Les Champs-Elysées', a perfect piece of cheesy French chanson with the lyrics 'in the sunshine, in the rain, in the dark or in the day, all you need's on the Champs-Elysées'. The song captured the role of the avenue at the time as one of the most fashionable and eclectic streets in Paris. But during the '90s the 'Champs' lost its magic, becoming smothered in offices, car showrooms, overpriced eateries, run-of-the-mill shops and fume-pumping traffic jams. Novelty megastores FNAC and Virgin failed to overcome its new déclassé status, leaving the formerly glamorous avenue to the mercy of tourists and businessmen.
Since 2011, however, things have been looking up. The congestion, the tourists, the showrooms and the daylight robbery restaurants are all still there, of course. But several mainstream fashion brands – Banana Republic, Levi's, Hugo Boss, Abercrombie & Fitch and even Marks & Spencer's – have chosen to locate exciting new flagship stores on the Champs, luring Parisians back to their long-neglected capital of consumer chic. More than just high street shops, these brands are promising unique shopping experiences: cutting-edge art installations at Levi's, daytime clubbing at Abercrombie & Fitch or free personalised shopping at Banana Republic. So now that the Champs-Elysées are calling fashionable Parisian shoppers back again, we've put together a guide to help you stay ahead of the curve...
Five recommended Champs-Elysées shops
The American megabrand’s grown-up preppy style has finally arrived in Paris. Its neo-Art Déco style, 1,500 square metre, Champs-Elysées flagship features a multitude of mini-boutiques within the larger store. Themed sections include Weekend (casual separates), the eco-friendly Heritage collection and the higher-end Monogram range. One big draw is the free personal shopping service, with absolutely no requirement to buy. Reserve in advance, and Magali or Lee (who head the service) will take you round the shop to help tailor your look. This also gives you access to your own (and rather lovely) 1930s-style dressing room away from the throng. For extra fizz and sparkle, they'll even serve you champagne and coffee.
This is a case of having to be seen to be believed. The US clothing brand's flagship store has been causing a stir on the Champs-Elysées since it opened in 2011, with banging tunes and topless male models standing in the doorway at all times. Like its sister stores in London and NYC, the aristocratic box-hedged garden, dimmed lighting and lingering aftershave scent make the place feel more like a bizarre club than a shop. There are even bouncers ready to tell you off should you dare whip out your camera for a photo op. A shame, because the décor is positively museum-worthy, with beautifully painted 1930s-style frescoes depicting male deities in hunting scenes, athletic poses and boxing rings.
Things get even sillier with the Barbie-and-Ken-like shop attendants. Veritable A&F clones, they all dress the same – coloured jeans or shorts and chequered shirts for the boys, and strapless mini-dresses for the girls – and dance on the spot, on autopilot, to the clubbing music. Still, whether you’re into Abercombie & Fitch’s rah-rah schoolboy ranges or not, the shop is well worth a detour – if only to admire the frescoes. Just be prepared to queue to get in!
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 for M&S since the chain opened its new flagship Paris store in November 2011. Paradoxically, while the majority of the French love nothing more than criticizing British food, 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 fashion, and M&S has always fulfilled a French need for classicism whilst offering them cuts, colours and 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 Boulevard Haussmann, a location the chain would now kill for), many Parisians practically went into mourning.As the queues suggest, this Champs-Elysées address (which opened in November 2011 and offers clothes and food ranges) is perhaps too small. But it's still the only M&S in central Paris, and therefore an address for fans of the chain to cherish – at least until a vast 7000m2 store is opens in Levallois-Perret before the end of 2012.
Hugo Boss’ new flagship store on the Champs Elysées is all straight lines and steely greys – rather like the signature Boss suits worn by the sales assistants. It feels like businessman territory here, with minimalist décor, the occasional wooden sculpture and big screens flashing images of Hugo Boss catwalk shows – inspiration for your shopping as you browse the minimalist rows of the brand’s smart, designer garb. Boss has other outlets dotted around town, but this is its biggest store and perhaps the most relaxing, thanks to its large and airy proportions. Personal shoppers are on hand too, ready to guide you through the ranges and advise on style.
Levi's has always had good marketing strategies: the campaigns that included the Motown classic 'I Heard it through the Grapevine', Steve Miller Band's 'The Joker' and Mr Oizo's 'Flat Beat' (performed by the yellow puppet Flat Eric) are undoubtedly some of the most memorable ads of our time. So it should come as no surprise that the chain is using music and art to draw the crowds into its brand spanking new (in May 2012) flagship store on the Champs-Elysées.The campaign, which goes by the name of 'Vive les Friends', offers shoppers an ever-changing multi-disciplinary in-shop experience, courtesy of different French and American artists and musicians (kick-starting the campaign in May were Ed Banger’s Pedro Winter and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy). It makes shopping wholly more entertaining and gives folk a reason to keep coming back – not only to discover the new artworks, but to see the limited-edition clothes: each Franco-American duo featured creates a series of funky, limited-edition t-shirts and personalised Levi’s 1967 Trucker’s jackets.If it's just jeans your after, head straight downstairs, where floor to celing walls are filled with perfectly folded 501s, skinnys and bootleg models, like a many-hued blue sweet shop for denim lovers.