Treat Yo’ Self – Handbag Shopping in Paris

I love a good handbag. It’s possible this started when I worked in the purse department at Macy’s for three years during high school and college. It was then that I learned about finer bags – including Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton – and I’ll readily admit that from age 16 on, I was spoiled and couldn’t buy a handbag that wasn’t top of the line. Fast forward 30+ years and I’m still using a few of the bags I bought way back when.

Thus when we were in Paris recently, I toyed with the idea of buying a new, fancy bag from the French luxury handbag company Longchamp. Founded in 1948, Longchamp’s signature bag is very distinctive, and once you’ve noticed one, I guarantee you’ll see them all over the place. In two sizes and at least 20 colors, their Le Pliage Tote is quite lovely. Was this elegant, practical and reasonably priced $150 bag for me though? Of course not. My eyes and heart were drawn to their luscious, brand new, all leather, Roseau Tote Bag, coming in at a moderate (cough, cough) $525.

Generally speaking, I’m not an indecisive person. When I decide that I want to do something, or buy something, I do it. But it took me forever and a day to decide on this bag. We first shopped in the Longchamp store on the Champs-Élyseés, but when I finally decided that I wanted to buy the fancy expensive bag, this Longchamp location did not have it in the color red, and I couldn’t for the life of me decide between red and yellow without actually seeing the red in person, so Bob and I walked all over tarnation to find the other Longchamp store. After a couple of wrong turns, some exasperated address hunting and, finally, a phone call, we learned we had been given the wrong address. The phone call got us on track and once we found the store, seemingly hours later, I ended up buying the bag in black. Sorry dear.

When making my purchase, I discovered that by filling out a VAT (value added tax) refund form, I could receive a tax refund 2-4 weeks after my purchase. Longchamp helped me fill out the form, which required a passport at the time of purchase, and then I dropped the form into the VAT refund box at the train station on our way out of France. The Longchamp employees had provided me specific instructions on how to fill out the form and send in for the refund, as it must be done exactly as detailed. Within a few days I received an email confirming that my refund claim had been made, and sure enough, two weeks later, I received a refund to my credit card of about $60. Because you know, you’ve got to spend to save.

I worried that I would regret such an expensive purchase, one that I was making for no reason other than that I wanted it. But you know what? I regret nothing. I use my beautiful purse almost every day and when I put the supple and beautiful leather bag over my shoulder I say to myself, “Nancy, you’re worth it.” Because I am worth it.

The Clampetts Take on The Champs-Élyseés

On our recent trip to Paris, we spent an entire morning exploring the Champs-Élyseés, on one of Rick Steves’ many recommended self-guided walking tours. I’m a big fan of the walks in Mr. Steves’ tour books, as he points out lots of things that I would never otherwise notice. His Champs-Élyseés walk was no exception. Before I regale you with our adventure, however, let me first paint a picture of Bob and I on this day. We were both wearing long sleeved SmartWool tops, the same exact tops we would wear the entire trip. Look at a photo of me on day one and day six and you won’t see a difference. In our defense, 100% merino wool clothing does not get smelly. I’ve worn the same top hiking in late summer in Southern Portugal for five days in a row, with no adverse aromas whatsoever. So at least we didn’t smell when we were on the Champs-Élyseés, but I can’t say we looked very fancy either. I had on black ExOfficio travel pants, also low on the glamour scale, while Bob was wearing ExOfficio travel jeans. Yes, we were a walking advertisement for Travel Essentials. Bob was wearing black Doc Martens (highly comfortable and hip in London perhaps, but not in Paris), and I was wearing black converse tennis shoes, to give you a better idea of our fancy wear.

Now that you can surely picture our attractive attire, here’s how we spent our morning. We started out at the Arc de Triomphe, admiring the compelling scenes carved into its exterior. From there we popped in to the flagship Louis Vuitton store, the Renault automobile store, the famous and extremely popular Longchamp handbag store, and many other fancy Paris shops. The Champs-Élyseés has quite a few international chain stores too, including McDonalds – which the French were apparently, and appropriately, horrified by when it opened in the ’70s – Sephora, Gap, Disney, and more. But Rick Steves’ guided us to historic French shops and sites, which are frankly not to be missed. One such stop is Ladureé, a stunning 19th century tea salon and patisserie, where we sampled delicious macarons and mini tarts, along with outstanding coffee. Ladureé is well known for their macarons, which you can purchase boxed up to go, but it’s well worth an hour of your time to soak up the atmosphere. We sat upstairs in the fabulously decorated cafe, where we were seated close to a French mother/daughter pair in fancy wear and pearls, and a Frenchman reading the newspaper and drinking coffee with a bow tie, handkerchief, and suit to match. But we rocked our well worn travel clothing.

After our mid-day snack, we pressed on to a Rick Steves’ recommended shop, Guerlain, a perfumery with roots stretching back to 1829. Steves advised us to “notice the 1914 details of the shop,” and to “climb upstairs, as it’s tres French.” What he didn’t tell us was that we would quickly be scooped up and adopted by an entertaining and quite knowledgeable Guerlain employee, Remy, who would proceed to spend the next 60 minutes with us. He walked us through all of the perfumes, skin care and makeup routines that Guerlain has to offer, describing each with great detail in his beautifully French-accented English, before he finally escorted us upstairs to see what frankly is more of a stunning perfume museum than a store. Remy was delightful, showing us the private room where British royalty, and the likes of Madonna and Celine Dion, are said to sit when they visit Guerlain, spraying samples of 300 euro bottles of perfume onto card sticks so we could smell them, and telling us that in all of our future visits to Guerlain, he would be our “personal assistant.” We ended up buying skincare products for our daughters, not because we intended to, but because we felt some obligation to Remy, after all the delightful time he spent with us. At one point, he asked Bob what his “scent” is, and when Bob stared blankly at him, he prompted, “are you more spicy, woodsy, fruity, or floral?” Bob chose woodsy. LOL.

Our visit with Remy ended with him asking me if he could “perfume me.” It took me a few seconds to understand that he wanted to spray me with the scent I liked best, even though there was no chance we were going to buy any perfume. I happily said yes, and while Remy “perfumed me” he taught me the proper way to perfume yourself. Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong for 52 years. Imagine that.

Never once did Remy blink an eye at our “experienced” travel clothing, at my scuffed Converse tennis shoes, or my Baggallini backpack. Nor did he make us feel like we “had” to buy anything. He simply wanted to show us everything in the store because he was excited about it, and because he takes his job seriously.

I highly recommend a walking tour of the Champs Élyseés, as well as a visit to Guerlain. Ask for Remy, and tell him Bob and Nancy sent you.