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{SAVVY SHOPPER}

A Parisian present ... pour moi?

Nothing says love like a gift from the City of Light, a very appropriate place to splurge. Here, it's less about saving money than finding beautiful things that will last.

December 17, 2006|Susan Spano | Times Staff Writer

Paris — WHEN the holidays roll around, I'm like a pig in truffles. Finally, I have an excuse to shop in Paris. The rest of the year -- with the possible exception of the winter and summer sales -- I just froth at the mouth at store windows.

That's because the exchange rate is a disadvantage to Americans. Then, too, prices are stratospheric even for the French, who value top-quality materials and workmanship. They buy judiciously and make their costly purchases last.

Paris is the quintessential place for splurges. Bargain hunting here is like leaving an artichoke heart on the plate.

But I've developed a strategy for holiday gift buying. I shop in choice stores -- that's the fun part -- but buy only the least expensive things in the showroom. All through the year, I ramble around Paris searching for such places. Below, I've listed the addresses of some favorite shops; several have other locations.

(To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 [the international dialing code], 33 [the country code for France], 1 [the city code for Paris] and the local number. If calling within France, add a 01 before the number.)

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Apparel

Autour du Monde: With three stores in the 3rd, 6th and 16th arrondissements, Autour du Monde retails casual, comfortable Bensimon clothing and accessories made in France of natural fabrics, sewed with transparent thread and inspired by military surplus. I love the cool, brushed-leather high-top sneakers, which are also available in some department and shoe stores. (54 Rue de Seine, 6th arrondissement; 43-54-64-47, www.autourdumonde.com.)

Chercheminippes: This string of shops sells gently used apparel and decor items. There are Chercheminippes for men, children, the home, women's readyto-wear and couturier, featuring such labels as Dior, Gucci, Issey Miyake and Hermes. (Espace Femme Pret-a-Porter et Createurs, 102 Rue du ChercheMidi, 6th arrondissement; 45-44-97-96, www.chercheminippes.com.)

Espace Alma: New labels go on sale almost every week, discounted 30% to 90% from the suggested retail. One week, it may be Cachemire, Dona Louisa and Balmain; the next week, Hope Textile, Les Confuses d'Ozzei and Balenciaga. (181 Rue de l'Universite, 7th arrondissement; no phone; for a schedule and invitation, consult the store's French-only website, www.espacealma.com.)

Laurence Tavernier: Sleeping in something from Tavernier is a real treat, though the prices are high. His sleepwear is sold in five shops around Paris. The fabrics are dreamy and the styles classic: soft cotton milk-white and pastel nightgowns with a touch of lace; handsome pajamas and slippers for men in colors and patterns you don't find at department stores. (7 Rue du Pre-aux-Clercs, 7th arrondissement; 49-27-03-95, www.laurencetavernier.com.)

Petit Bateau: The French company known for its smartly packaged tees has about 20 shops in Paris, where the prices are somewhat lower than in the U.S. (24 Rue Cler, 7th arrondissement; 47-05-18-51, www.petit-bateau.com.)

Cler'S: A shop with a wide selection of previous-season Petit Bateau clothing at cut-rate prices. (24 Rue Cler, 7th arrondissement; 45-55-17-27.)

Repetto: Founded in 1947 by the mother of dancer-choreographer Roland Petit, Repetto sells leotards, tights, tutus and slippers to the ballet corps of the Opera National de Paris. It also sells lovely flat street shoes and boots that are comfortable to wear and inimitably French. (22 Rue de la Paix, 2nd arrondissement; 44-71-83-17, www.repetto.com.)

UPLA: This boutique near St.-Germain-des-Pres carries a collection of men's and women's accessories and clothing. Its practical, singularly styled handbags are its glory, made in canvas, leather and machine-washable synthetic. They come in graduated sizes, from clutch bag to carryall, have plenty of pockets, snap-in cosmetic pouches and secure grommet closings. (5 Rue St.-Benoit, 7th arrondissement; 40-15-10-75.)

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Bargains

Monoprix: Monoprix, with superstores throughout the city, sells reasonably priced clothing, housewares, food and beauty products. A smart buy is Le Petit Marseillais soaps, as inexpensive in Paris as Dial is in the U.S. (21 Avenue de l'Opera; 42-61-78-08, 2nd arrondissement, www.monoprix.fr.)

Books

Librairie Ulysse: This vintage travel bookshop on Ile St. Louis is my favorite place for finding treasures between two covers. Only owner Catherine Domain, a member of the Societe des Explorateurs Francais, knows how to find the wonders in this crammed closet of a store: prewar Baedeker guides, old French travel magazines, maps of Tombouctou. (26 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile, 4th arrondissement; 43-25-17-35, www.ulysse.fr.)

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Cooking

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