Europe Echelon: Paris – La Vallée Village, Hauvre-Caumartin

Note to self: take more pictures when window shopping.

Call it the product of Sematic sympathism, or the foundations laid down by Abrahamic commandments. Perhaps it was the decree of the state that this moment be observed as one of intermission and repose. Or, there’s a collective lackadaisical, unready atmosphere that the word “Sunday” just induces. Basically, all of France besides public initiatives like Metro, some retail stores along Champs-Elysees, and a handful of supermarkets which open till slightly after noon, virtually everything else is closed… which is why I had to do all my shopping today. Not that I had a lot of money… I didn’t, especially in the aftermath of the incident in Amsterdam. But financial planning had allowed me a wee bit of money – I’d skip lunch, and occasions, skip dinner in favor of an under 7 Euro sandwich which yielded me about 150 Euros to spend.

If Japan had thought me anything, it’s that fakes and imitation was never “the other” option if I couldn’t afford the Prada bag that I admired. There was always something, shall we say, in between. It’d look like the thing I want, kind of, but put together by a designer whose name was associated with being artisan and prestigious in his own right, and affordable, in a several hundred Singapore dollars kind of price range. So, with this mindset, I had set aside some cash just for shopping. I’m an unreluctant man’s man when it comes to buying things – I’d take everything I like, then I’d look at the pathetic state of my wallet or ponder a realistic budget, then wrestle with myself on what to put back. This time, I told myself “no more shoes”, so I was like, “Fine, what else needs choice, or needs replacing?” The answer was obvious – my hardy, trusty ole’ Muji tote bag.

The answer was obvious – my hard, trusty ole’ Muji tote bag, and my purple Calvin Klein bag. I’m just so disappointed with the latter, really, but on hindsight, it did go through my more athletic, roughed up days during canoe polo training, and has aged quite a bit. At the very least, I did take it overseas with me to Shanghai and Tokyo. But the one I really sought to replace was my black tote, which has survived the test of time, surprisingly, I might add. In its heyday, it was a bit more structured and formed, which frequently led to it being mistaken as the black Gucci tote. These days, it’s more stretched, and out of shape compared to when I first bought it. For me, searching for the right bag is as arduous as searching for a partner – there are so many pretty boys out there, you look good together in the mirror, but ultimately, we’re all one-half of a perfect puzzle piece: we’re looking for someone who can plug each other’s imperfections.

With enough coins, you can buy tickets to virtually any station in France. For Marnee La Vallee or Val d’Europe, select “Paris Region” and type the name of your destination station. The first 3 to 4 stations should yield appropriate results. At Chatelet-Les Halles, the RER hub for Paris, head to the platform and check the information screens. If a light appears beside your destination, board it.

Unlike Singapore, don’t move to the ends of the platform where there are lesser people. Try to stay near crowds at stations, and in trains. But don’t stalk them.

So, I thought I’d leave the tourist sights and spend this Saturday on sightseeing of a different kind in urban Paris: window shopping. But first, I really wanted to visit the famed outlet villages to see if they were really all that, so I went. The instructions were a tad confusing. It had me directed to Marnee La Vallee, the RER and TGV station for Disneyland Paris when in fact, it was the stop before, at Val d’Europe. To be fair, the official website had no real instructions, and the ones I sought advice from were the ones from Trip Advisor. No matter, I did manage to walk by the public area of Disneyland Paris which seemed “capitalist”. For me, a visit to Disneyland is reserved for the love of my life, and the bestest and most fun of friends. It’d seem more fun that way, you know what I mean? The outlet village was for the most part, unimpressive. The only store where I was happiest, was Burberry. I was like a kid in the candy store – I tried trenches of every color available, I walked around with the various bags, and everything was in-season! The stores in Paris were holding their Winter 2012 collection a little longer because of the extended winter, even though they had already began display of the Spring 2013 wear as well.

All RER services serve all Paris city stations, so don’t be surprised if you just see “Paris” instead of “Chatelet-Les Halles”, “Auber” or “Charles De Gaulle-Etoile” on your way back.

I hopped back onto the RER, and alighted at Auber, the station for Paris Metro’s Havre-Caumartin (Caumartin is pronounced “sow-ma-tahn”) where the legendary Printemps and Galleries Lafayette department stores were. It was really just love at first sight. I love shopping, but to date, only Tokyo captures my spirit – I feel like I could buy things… not just buying for the sake of buying, but clothes that I could wear, shoes that I wanted, bags that I loved. Sure, not everything’s good, but the choices available is so vast, you’re bound to find something. And that’s what I felt as I browsed the stores at Caumartin: euphoria.

Almost immediately, Printemps Homme became my second favorite department store in Paris. It was there where I witnessed Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent Paris collection. Lots of blacks (my favorite color for clothes) and subtle ebony embellishments that gave it a subtle 90s rock feel – think Kris Van Assche’s Dior Homme with personality and with less form. I was enchanted by the reversible bag which the good looking French Asian staff was all too eager to demonstrate. I noticed that Printemps staffs a lot of Asians, but I doubt the intention was to appeal to Asian visitors.

“Bonjour, parlez-vous Chinois?”

“Non, je parle Francais et Anglais, Monsieur”.

But ultimately, it was the Citadium department store adjacent to Printemps Homme that was where I felt in heaven. So many unknown brands, spliced with some that I recognize, including Converse, Superdry and Lacoste but all very me, I must say. I thought the branding of Superdry was very similar to former Singaporean but now Taiwan-based brand, NewUrbanMale except that it didn’t go aboard with its “campness”. But why would they? Superdry doesn’t resonate with the gay community in Europe, says Christian. “G-Star Raw is their thing”. I eventually bought two tees from the British label, you know, just to show those proudly wearing imitation the real thing. But in all honesty, I much prefer Superdry’s smart casual and formal lines.

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