Today marks the first day of Paris’ famed soldes, during which pretty much everything in the country goes on sale through July 31st. Back in the day, soldes were the only time stores were permitted to reduce their prices — but nowadays, in light of the economic crunch, the government has relaxed the rules a bit. Throughout the spring, we’ve seen somewhat obtuse signs in stores announcing “soldes exceptionelles” or, my favorite, BHV’s “six days of savings” that hinted at a three-week sale.
Shopping during soldes is a contact sport. It’s also a gamble: prices are reduced at regular intervals throughout the six-week period, so shoppers are faced with the dilemma of buying something on the first day at the first reduction or risk waiting for multiple price reductions but, in the end, the item no longer being in stock. I prefer to do both: hit up the stores towards the beginning of the soldes in case there’s something I can’t live without…but also checking back at the end to see if there’s something I could live without but at this price, it’s a steal.
If you’re not in Paris during the sales–or you don’t want to fight frugal parisians for a particularly good deal–you can go to La Vallée Village, a high-end outlet park located 30 minutes outside of Paris. It’s open pretty much all the time, including Sundays, when most of the stores in Paris are closed.
I’m not usually one for outlets: I find them to be impersonal, overcrowded and generally filled with second-rate merchandise made specifically for the outlet. Pretty much the opposite experience you want when shopping.
I’ve been to Vallee Village twice now and have been impressed. Almost all of the stores are luxury brands (think Valentino, Jimmy Choo, Tods) and the selection of merchandise is pretty up-to-date. Though a lot of the items are from past seasons, on my most recent trip they had merchandise from the fall 2012 collections–pretty impressive. Though the discount varies per brand, most are at least 35% cheaper than they would in the stores. Some stores have even further discounts — I recently saw Jimmy Choo bridal shoes for a super-low 75 euro (a special offer at the time) or a handbag that is normally 700 euro for 350. C’est pas mal. Plus, if you live outside of the EU, you can get up a hefty percentage of your purchase back with a VAT refund at the airport.
If you’re in Paris for a weekend, La Vallée Village is probably not worth hitting up; however, if you’re here for longer and you find the selection at Galeries Lafayette or Bonmarché to be out of your price range, then this could be a good place to pick up a few nicer items. And if you live in Paris, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t drop by several times a year to stock up on basics such as dress shirts, shoes or jeans–especially since basic items are already so expensive in Paris.
One note: A lot of American brands have a huge mark-up in Paris (e.g. Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Diesel). I’d avoid buying any American luxury brands while in France, as they’re almost certainly less expensive at home. On the other hand, French luxury brands (e.g., Cartier, Hermes, Longchamp) tend to be less expensive here than in America once you factor in the VAT refund. So whether shopping at an outlet or in a boutique, focus on European brands and wait til you get home to get anything American-made.
GETTING THERE: Getting to La Vallée Village is 45 minutes door-to-door for us and costs approx. 12 euro round-trip. The best way is to take the RER (commuter rail) A4 towards Marne-la-Vallée. You can catch the RER at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile (near the l’Arc de Triomphe), Auber (near Galeries Lafayette), Châtelet-Les Halles, Gare de Lyon, or Nation. Take the RER to Val d’Europe — it’s a 35-45 minutes trip. At the station, follow signs towards La Vallée Village, which is a 5-minute walk from the station. On Sundays, there is a free shuttle to/from the station every 10 minutes.
Or, if you don’t want to deal with public transportation, there is a “Shopping Express” shuttle that runs twice a day to/from Paris (Place des Pyramides) to La Vallee Village. It costs 15 euro each way or, if you spend 100 euro or more (which I bet you will!), 7 euro for the return.