Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Discovered two great shops in Gent

Visitors from abroad always make a great excuse for exploring your own country. I took a Brazilian friend to see Gent this weekend and went into some shops on the way. One was on my to do-list, and another was a complete surprise.

Let me tell you about the last one first. I wanted to show my friend one of the oldest buildings in Gent, located in the street Nederpolder. Right across the street was a store I had never noticed before. There was no name or a clear sign, just a lot of accessories and a lady ironing inside. She was the owner and when I asked if this was a new store, she assured they had been at this exact location for at least 5 years. She sells clothing by the colourful Belgian brand Just In Case and a hell of a lot accessories. My eye fell on a beautiful winter scarf right when we were planning on leaving. I bought it, and she told me that the scarfs were overstock from Belgian designers who took out the tags. Apparently my scarf was originally sold for 300 euros. At 50 euros I still considered it quite expensive, but it's the most beautiful dark green and super comfortable and I wear it all the time. Behind the computer, eating, at work. Right to the point where my boss asked me yesterday if I was really that cold.


The object of my desire. It looks a litte grey-ish in the picture, but it's actually green. Also, I clearly have thing for dressing up trees with scarves.

I can't find the exact adress, but it's right where the street Hoogpoort changes into Nederpoort. If you're around that location and in need of a break, turn the corner and go to Huize Colette in the Belfortstraat. It's got a salon-feeling, with cosy corners and a selection of second hand books (you can buy them or read them for free right there). I'm devoted to Colette because of their great hot chocolate. I always take the Malteser one, my Brazilian friend took Yin Yan, a mix of white and dark chocolate, and proclaimed it 'best host chocolate ever'. If that ain't a quality guarantee, I don't know what is.

Over to 'Maaike Kleedt' in the Zuivelbrugstraat. This had been on my to do-list for a long time. The building used to be occupied by a bit of a boring shop before, but Maaike really turned it into something. She's as nice a shopkeeper as any, and sports an infectious smile. She looks a bit like the fashion godmother you've always wished for. Maaike Kleedt has a great selection of clothes you won't just find anywhere. I didn't know most of the brands, they were mainly Scandinavian: Odd Molly, Rules by Mary, Nakkna, Dagmar, ... The French Gerard Darel and (personal favorite of mine) Surface to Air are a few exceptions. I love the diversity, and the way the clothes are presented is really cool: they're on racks hanging from the ceiling. (Zone 09 tells me this is because the building is a little crooked. Before you raise your eyebrows, the building is part of a really old neighbourhood, called Patershol. And on a random sidenote, 'Pater' means 'Father', 'hol' means 'hole' but has the connotation of 'arse'. Just so you know where exactly you're shopping.) Prices range from affordable to quite expensive.

When you cross the street, you can get typical Gent candy in the cutest candyshop in the world: Temmerman (Kraanlei 79)!

Monday, November 7, 2011

5 Basic Tips for Shopping in Paris

Who doesn't love to shop in the city of light? There are few places in the world where you'll find such an enormous variety of clothes, ranging from really cheap to luxury only oil magnates can afford. The expectations can get pretty high, so I want to give you some tips to ensure a satisfying trip!

Picture courtesy of http://flybee.com

1. Come prepared

When I made plans to visit to Paris with a friend in february last year, I made a stores-to-visit list. It was the list of lists. If marriages between humans and lists were legal, I would have bought it a tux and dragged it to my city hall. I spent hours on the internet researching, scouring forums, scanning blogs. At two pages, it was a plethora of stores, ranging from very expensive to the cheapest of cheap. Vintage Chanel to flea markets: all on the list. I looked up locations on google maps, ordered the venues by arrondissement first and then by metro station.

Now I’m a former history student and a freak, and I like the process of researching. You may not want to take the effort I took, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider what kind of shops you want to apply yourself to. Do you want to visit the grand department stores, like Printemps, Le Bon Marché or Galeries Lafayette? Do you want vintage couture? Vintage cheap? Flea markets? Typical French brands like Maje, Sandro, Manoush? (Rue Vieilles du Temple is definitely your place to be.) If you have friends in Paris or France, tickle them until they release all of their best kept addressess. (You could always ask politely or buy them some wine, but does that really beat making them laugh until they’re crying and purple in the face? Au revoir elegance!)

Keep in mind that you most likely won’t manage to see everything you want to see. I mean, Paris is Paris. First of all there’s a humungous amount of interesting shops, scattered throughout the city. Secondly, there are so many other things to do and see! With less then two days time, we managed to visit maybe 5 stores on the list?

2. Ignore your plans from time to time

Despite everything I wrote above, leave room for improvisiation. The best discoveries are those made by accident. When I was walking through Paris with my boyfriend last year, we passed by Maeght, a gallery with a great collection of modern art prints. I discovered they also sold some cute jewelry by Del Re, an artist they were featuring. Prices were a bit above budget, but still affordable at 60 euros for a beautiful silver pendant. I regretted not buying anything, but discovered they sell them online while writing this. I’m exerting some serious self-control not whipping out the credit card here!

3. Dealing with French Shop Assistants

The French are surrounded by myths and prejudice. Most of them ridiculous, obviously: frog legs are not consumed on a daily basis, not everyone is carrying around baguettes (sadly), you will not have to pee in a hole in the ground (unless you’re planning on sleeping over in a gas station at the country side) and French women don’t shave their armpits any less than you or I do. The cliché of the haughty French lady is very much alive in some of the Paris stores, though. You never know when you will encounter one. They tend to avoid independent stores, because those rely much heavier on customer service, but these are in no way a safe zone. Anyway, you’ll easily recognise them. Their noses are turned up so bad you could fit three thick 19th century moustaches between their nostrils and their tight-lipped mouth. The look of pure disdain in their eyes will make you wonder if you maybe grew a hunchback overnight. Don't be intimidated. It's not you, and it has happened to all of us. It's not even because your French sucks. Maybe you don't look poised enough, or she has x-ray vision and noticed your blouse is from - mon dieu! - H&M. Keep your inner calm and concentrate on the goods - if they're worth it. If not, just get the hell out of there.

Gargoyles cheering Quasimodo up after he was snubbed by a nasty shop assistant.

4. Sales

The beginning of January and July in France mean one thing: sales! As anywhere, you’ll find some real steals in Paris these times of the year. Last july I bought the cutest pair of Maud Frizoni ballerinas (under the watchful eye of A Haughty French Lady) for under a 100 euros. They’re great quality, and still look spic and span, even though I’m horrible at taking care of my shoes. One piece of advice: Sunday is still the day of rest in Paris, and one of the only main streets with shops wide open is the Rue Vieilles du Temple. Do not go there. Unless you want to see some real French shopping frenzy, that is. I’m not kidding. If I would want to witness a fashionista bitch fight, this is where I'd take my chances. If ever someone would wind up in the hospital with a stiletto heel in her head, they would trace it back to this place.

5. Hydrate

While Paris food prices are okay (even in highly frequented shopping streets like the Rue Vieilles du Temple), drinks will cost you. Buy a bottle of water or soda in advance or on the road, so you don’t have to spend chunks of your precious shopping budget on all too expensive bottled source water. If you want to have lunch, you can always ask for tap water. It’s free and it’s just as good, usually. Keep in mind, I’m not telling you to skip on a good glass of wine. (I wouldn’t even dare – savouring a glass of Chianti as we speak. Woop!) Invade the Paris terrasses by all means. Just make sure the experience is worth the price. You don’t want to spend 5 euros on a coke when two more euros will buy you a glass of decent wine. If you're real lucky, you might just end up being scaffolded by John Galliano!

Picture courtesy of Solli's Lifestyle Blog

Got more? I'll be happy to hear them!