Question: where’s the best place to buy shoes in London
I’m serious. The price of a Eurostar ticket – but do remember you have to book way in advance to get the much-advertised £69 return – is more than outweighed by the amazing choice of wonderful shoes. Plus you get to go to Paris.
Of course, you’d have to be really obsessed to go there just to buy shoes. I normally use an exhibition as my cover. Yesterday, I had the lovely excuse of meeting up with some pals who were over from Sydney, and our lunch venue just happened to tie in nicely with a stroll around Saint Germain, which should really be re-named Saint Crispin, after the patron saint of shoemakers.
You’d have to be really obsessed to go there just to buy shoes. I normally use an exhibition as my cover
There is nowhere on earth, that I know of, with more amazing shoe shops in one small area. It’s heaven.
Of course, London has lots too, and a cruise round the Oxford Street environs will take you to all the mid-price ones, plus the faintingly expensive brands in Selfridges.
But in London, I found the choice very polarised. You’ve got the ridiculously priced ones that you can’t walk in, the cheapo ones you can’t walk in and the frumpy ones you wouldn’t want to walk in. That’s pretty much it.
French women are far too fussy about personal style to put up with that. They demand shoes that look great, but you can stride out in. They also insist on value for money, which means quality at a fair price, not taking what you get at the lowest price.
It seems to me that – in the same pragmatic spirit – all the shops selling these unicorns of the shoe world are gathered so neatly in this one area so you can do them all in an afternoon.
Shoe city: the streets to shop
Honestly, there are too many great shoe shops in Saint Germain to list individually here. Just get the Metro to Saint Germain-des-Prés, or Sèvres-Babylone, and wander around the key streets such as rue du Cherche-Midi. My best friend calls it ‘shoe street’, because practically every shop in it sells ’em. There’s also the very appealing Pain Poilâne café, if you need a delicious snack for shoe-shopping stamina.
So that’s a key place to start, and rue du Dragon is another goodie. A particular favourite of mine is rue de Grenelle where you’ll find, among many others, Paraboot (20 years ago, I bought my best-ever pair of brogues there, which are still going strong). And there’s the wonderful Charles Kammer, where the styles always have a bit of fashion edge, without compromising on quality. Brilliant boots from there for winter, too.
Also on this rue is Iris, which is the retail store of the Italian company that makes the shoes for high-fashion labels such as Marc Jacobs, Chloé, John Galliano and Proenza Schouler. So there is an amazing selection of all those brands in one place. But they are painfully expensive, and for me the real joy of shoe shopping in Paris is the elegant everyday footwear at everyday prices.
Colisée de Sacha, on rue de Rennes, is bit younger and funkier in styling than most of the others and a bit cheaper. Manfield, nestling among many others on rue de Sevres, is more grown-up and brilliant for work shoes.
But please don’t stick to these particular recommendations: get out there and hunt down your special venue, as there’s somewhere for everyone.
New Best (Shoe) Friend
My new best shoe friend, discovered yesterday when my sandals were rubbing my feet raw, is Fairmount, at 94 rue du Bac. They sell the most comfortable ‘car’ styles that I’ve ever had on my happy feet – like those Tod’s loafers with bobbles on the soles – and they come in a glorious array of colours and leathers.
I bought them in purple suede and wore them out of the shop and all the way home with nary a blister.
I also snapped up a pair of brilliantly lightweight nubuck lace-ups with sprauncy red rubber soles, which are perfectly trans-seasonal. I can wear them without socks now, and then with them as the temperature drops.
But one note of caution about Saint Germain: if you only have an hour to shoe-shop Paris, go only to Galeries Lafayette over on the Right Bank. It has the best department of any big store I’ve ever been to anywhere. (I much prefer Le Bon Marché as a shop, but its shoe department is oddly disappointing.)
And a final crucial tip: buy the shoes in the morning and do the culture in the afternoon. I’ve come home in the past with gorgeous things a size too big, because they were tried on hot, swollen, pavement-pounded trotters.