Shopping Blocks

These under-the-radar neighborhoods are quickly becoming go-to destinations for savvy urban shoppers.

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Estelle Ramousse

Photo By Dominique Maitre

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Fast issue 01/15/2009

These under-the-radar neighborhoods are quickly becoming go-to destinations for savvy urban shoppers.

The 20th arrondissement in Paris is famous for the Père-Lachaise cemetery, the last resting place for some of the most famous names in literature, art, philosophy and music, from Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde to Maria Callas and Jim Morrison.

But a stone’s throw from this leafy haven of tranquility hums one of the most alive and vibrant areas of Paris. In the Quartier Saint Blaise, there stand the remains of the 13th-century parish church, sentinel over what has become an area reflecting the diversity of people, architecture and the arts in this cosmopolitan city.

Located in the north of Paris, the hilly area stretches from Belleville to Ménilmontant, bordering the 18th arrondissement (Montmartre) and the 19th, known for its sprawling park, the Buttes Chaumont. However, unlike Montmartre, there is no tripping over hordes of tourists to go to one of the neighborhood’s eclectic mix of bars or restaurants, or to take in one of the many concerts, thanks to a vibrant music scene and a concentration of great venues.

The artiness and youth of the area have been reunited in the recent opening of a cultural center called 104 (104 Rue d’Aubervilliers/5 Rue Curial), a renovated warehouse building that provides accommodation for 200 artists. From art fairs, exhibitions and fashion shows (Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen were among the first), the 104 offers a unique cultural experience. Once considered to be an annex of Paris that welcomed an immigrant population, and a safe haven during the revolution, the 20th today has a distinct allure with its cobbled streets and an abundance of verdure.

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There are a number of charming restaurants that offer unpretentious meals at reasonable prices. A perfect example is Les 3 Chapeaux at 48 Rue des Cascades, a Moroccan eatery where couscous and tagine are on the menu and the entertainment is a jaunty mix of Arabic and French music. La Bellevilloise (19-21 Rue Boyer) and La Maroquinerie (23 Rue Boyer) are as popular with the locals as well as those from further afield. Sandwiched next to each other, La Maroquinerie has a constant flow of well-known acts such as The Rascals and Merlot. If hunger hits, pop next door and dine at La Bellevilloise, which on Saturdays has an organic menu to accompany the yoga class that takes place. Sunday brunch is also a must, and features a traditional French menu. A visit to the Cafe Animé La Mer à Boire (1/3 Rue des Envierges) is an enriching experience where customers can enjoy the ever-changing exhibition of illustrators’ works that hang on the walls. Recent exhibitions include the sartorial cartoons from the French paper Charlie Hebdo, and in January a collective exhibition of illustrators is scheduled, entitled “Bye Bye Bush!” Or marvel at the incomparable and spectacular view of the rooftops of Paris from the terrace, which overlooks the Parc de Belleville from which, if lucky, you may be treated to a stunning sunset.

For the fashion-forward there are boutiques and artisanal designers aplenty. Milliner Estelle Ramousse (67 Rue de la Mare) works from her atelier, making hats for the theaters and opera houses in France as well as for individual clients. A little further down the winding road, on the sloping Rue de Menilmontant, is the new boutique Vintage 77 by Dje (77 Rue de Menilmontant), which mixes designer labels such as Chanel and Courrèges with dresses from the Thirties and pieces by little-known French and Italian brands. Designer Stephanie Coudert (25-27 Rue des Envierges) also has set up her atelier in the heart of this district. And hidden away at 32 Rue de la Mare is a cobbler’s workshop called Les Chaussures Germaines, where Madonna is said to have shoes custom made.

A short distance away is the recently opened Philippe Starck hotel, Mama Shelter (109 Rue de Bagnolet). Formerly a parking garage, it has been transformed into a luxurious but affordable inn boasting various eateries and terraces, where those who still smoke can enjoy their drinks and cigarettes sheltered from the elements. The contemporary design of the hotel is very open and airy, and a monument to modern living. More affordable still is Ermitage (42 bis Rue de l’Ermitage). Although only a one-star hotel, it boasts a spectacular view of the major sites of Paris, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Sacré Coeur—something that not even a deluxe hotel will give you. And breakfast is a snip at a mere 5 euros.
—Natasha Montrose

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