By Irene Fogarty
There’s something really special about window shopping in Paris. You find the most interesting little store fronts and ateliers (studios) that entice you to peer in and discover what’s going on inside. In my wanderings I’ve even passed one where a young couple was making violins. Watching them pour over a blueprint with unfinished masterpieces of unvarnished wood for the violin’s body and unattached strings hanging from the roof was magical. You almost feel like you’re intruding, and you leave trying to remember that perfect snapshot of passion and precision coming together. Of course it can be intimidating. I find that once you drop in to the smaller designer stores it’s not so easy to just browse and leave. Sure you can do it, but it’s eerily quiet and since the owners are not always up for talking about their merchandise or anything else, I never know how to slip out unnoticed. I was however, pleasantly surprised a couple of weeks ago when I spotted a store that I just had to enter. As I stared through the window, the owner was coming out and going for lunch so I did the same and waited til she got back an hour later.
The store, La Malle à Patou, is just off rue Oberkampf (11th arrondisement, my ‘hood!). It’s hard to define exactly what the store is. I suppose a ‘gift shop’ covers it as I ended up buying several items and giving them all as presents. But it’s more than that. It’s a hodge-podge of interesting goods including all-natural spa type products (perfumes, body creams, candles from Provence) and organic teas grown in France. Exclusive virgin olive oils, vinegars and spices appear in perfect harmony sharing space with pretty scarves, charming paintings and handmade handbags and other leather goods.
What’s special about the store is that not only is everything organic or made from organic sources, but they’re also from small and not well-known vendors. (You won’t find Mariage Frère here). Even more surprising is the pricing. A beautiful, fine leather wallet in several different colors costs a mere 12â‚¬ (approx $17), and the organic eau de Toilette from Lothanique et Collines de Provence is only 15â‚¬ ($19) per bottle.
Patricia aka Patou
Say ‘bonjour’ to Patou
For me, the experience was really magical because of the owner, Patricia, or Patou as she’s known to her friends. In my awkward, bad French, I started to talk to her about her products and the fact that everything in the store was natural, well-priced and strikingly different. We talked for hours and she told me her story. After working in a gift shop in Normandy for many years, she decided to open her own…. her way. So in 2003, she bought a little store in Oberkampf, near where she lives, and started her dream. Opening up as a gift store shop she gathered all kinds of knick-knacks but with time she decided to specialize in gourmandise (gourmet specialty foods) and natural body products. She tastes, tries and analyzes everything before bringing it into her store and she likes to promote the smaller, more indie brands, the products you won’t find in Monoprix or the specialty food aisles of Bon Marché. What’s nice is Patou knows the start-up story of every one of her vendors.
Théodor is probably one of the most high-quality, creative teas on the market. With its own store in the 16th arrondismont, (28 rue de Sablons) Théodor embodies a funky elegance both in design and philosophy. All about making every cuppa a little more romantic and quirky, and offers exotic flavored teas with names like ‘J’aime’ – so you’ll fall in love with flavored green tea’s notes of strawberry macaron. Bring that back from Paris and everyone will forget about the dessert and talk about the tea. You’ll see! Apparently the founder of this impressive tea empire, Guillaume Leleu, is a tireless globe-trotter, checking out the best tea estates in the world, making him not only a renowned ‘tea taster’ but also a ‘nose’ just like the greatest creators in the wonderful world of luxury perfumes.
Patou’s the place
Finding a store like this, full of stories of people passionate about their art, their trade and their job, is rather rare in Paris. So when you do find it, you treasure it. And with a warm-hearted, lively spirit like Patou’s, you’ll want to tell all your friends who appreciate shopping as an experience to interact and learn something with like-minded souls.
Plan a visit to this lovely boutique the next time you’re in Paris.
La Malle à Patou,
4 Rue de Nemours, 75011,
Tel/ 01 48 06 42 13,
Metro: Oberkampf (line 9) or Parmentier (line 3)
Hours: Mon-Fri: 10am – 8pm closed (between 2-3).