Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shopping in Brussels: Privejoke

There's no way of planning a lavish fancy shopping trip in Brussels without including Privejoke. It's a bit of an icon in Brussels, and not without reason. The store is older than I am (27 years) (the store, not me) and has been oozing style since around the time I thought Apple's was the most fashionable brand in the world. (Apple's is so unfashionable these days - and probably was in those days too - that I can't even find it online. But trust me, you'll find cheap synthetic clothing there as bad as anywhere. Which doesn't mean I wasn't absolutely thrilled when in the last year of elementary school my mother treated me to an entire Apple's outfit of my choice. A baby blue sleeveless shirt and grey pants that felt like they were made of polyester. I'll tell you what, dancing to "...Baby One More Time" just doesn't feel the same without those pants.)

None of that in Privejoke. They redecorated a year or so ago, and I really like the style. I don't have a decent picture and plucked this off their unfinished website - the colours are bland, but it gives you and idea:

It's basically a hip store with a hip decor, hip clothing, hip personnel and a hip audience. (And if you're wondering whether I sometimes feel out of place there, why yes I do!) But seriously, the clothes are just so stylish and beautiful. I never walk out without having desperately clasped some or other garment, lamenting because it was too small or to expensive. Because the selection ís pretty expensive. Not gee-I-could-buy-a-housebroken-tiger-for-that-price-expensive, but expensive nonetheless. The sales usually aren't very spectacular (I guess most items fly out of the door, so 40% off is the lowest they go, if I remember correct). They do have a pop-up outlet in the same street, though, for those who are budgetarily challenged. You'll find some beautiful coats for a third of their original price, among other things.

As I indicated above, sizing is pretty small, too. This has become a major frustration since I started working: now that I'm a lady of means (well, to some extent at least) and I can finally afford beautiful clothes, I can't find them in my size. You might suggest to simply drop some weight, and you're probably right. But I'd rather the industry just made clothes my size, really. It spares me a diet and the people around me a significant amount of whining.

Back to Privejoke: they have some stuff you'll find in a lot of boutiques (Paul & Joe Sister), but there's also a lot to discover. Virginie Castaway, for instance, who makes gorgeous dresses. They also sold me the most comfortable sweater ever by American Vintage - the collection must've sold like crazy, because the owners recently opened an American Vintage shop a few yards down the street. Whoever's into pretty basics will be enchanted, I'm sure. If all of this tickled your fancy, go down to the Kolenmarktstraat/Rue du Marché au Charbon. They're open every day of the week.

(You should go there even if you're not interested at all - it's a beautiful little neighbourhood. And right around the corner is Kokob, a great Ethiopean place!)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A matter of articles and prepositions

Le Bon Marché is one of those historic stores you have to have visited at least once, if not for the merchandise, then for the beautiful architecture. Most tourists visiting Paris will pass by les Galeries Lafayette, and forget about Le Bon Marché. We were at Lafayette last winter (we were lucky enough to be invited to celebrate New Year's Eve with some awesome French friends), and while the lights and the lights outside are pretty and the glass cupola is even prettier, the sheer size of the thing is a bit overwhelming. Also, it's really overcrowded. I'm not a big fan of crowds (who is?), so squeezing through tons of shopping bags to get to the MAC stand isn't my ideal shopping trip. On top of that, two incredibly arrogant Russian ladies tried to cut in line right in front of me. I'm not one for generalising, but most Russian tourists I've encountered the last few years were distant at best and downright rude at worse. What's up with that?

Anyway, none of this at Le Bon Marché. It's known for being the first department store in France. Actually, while researching it a bit just now, I discovered that it inspired Émile Zola to write 'Au Bonheur des Dames' (translated in English 'The Ladies' Delight'). (I loved Nana, so I'm going to try finding it at the library first thing tomorrow.)

The atmosphere at Le Bon Marché is one of relaxed luxury. You could probably spend an entire day here without ever getting bored. There's fabulous clothes, ranging from very very upscale to slightly more affordable; a beauty supply to guarantee you a 100 wrinkle-free lifetimes; perfume stands that feature some lovely niche brands; shoes; accessories and enough interior design to furnish a few small castles. In short, it's the epitome of a pleasant shopping experience. If you should find yourself on a subway in Paris and passing the stop Sèvres-Babylone, get out. I assure you you won't be dissapointed.

For those not so fortunate to live in Paris or visit it on a regular basis, Le Bon Marché has a namesake in Gent, called Au Bon Marché. I'll give you the adress - Hoornstraat 4 - because the shop's so old school it hasn't even got a website. It still closes for an hour at noon, too (13h-14h), so keep that in mind. In size, it's nothing like Le Bon Marché, but it gives you that same feeling of tradition and standing. That would be a little intimidating - at least it used to be to me for a lot of years - but there's too many treasures inside to let that stop you. There's lots of jewellery (bling, colourful, romantic ánd sophisticated), purses, scarfs, wallets, gloves and trinkets that'll make your heart beat faster if, like me, you're a material girl. There's also a lot of cute notebooks and diaries for more profound activities; kitchen stuff and photo frames. And the best thing of all: they've got a LOT of Annick Goutal perfumes. (They have these at Le Bon Marché as well, by the way!) I bought my very first perfume here, and last year my boyfriend gave me another one for Christmas. (Best gift ever.) The owner is sometimes nice, sometimes a wee bit stuffy, but I don't really care as long as she guarantees my sporadic romantic shopping fix.

(Pictures courtesy of and Zone 09)