Back in the late 14th century, when King Charles V held court in Paris’s Marais neighborhood, one of the best addresses was Rue de Sévigné, where for the next three centuries French nobility built ornate limestone mansions. Today those mansions house must-see museums like the Picasso (Hôtel Salé) and the Carnavalet (Hôtel Carnavalet). But as far as the population goes, well, the royals are history, of course, and lately the cool crowd has been creeping north to what is known as the Haut-Marais, or Upper Marais, a tangle of tiny streets that run from the Picasso Museum to the Place de la République. Blame this recent migration on Bonpoint founder Marie-France Cohen, who opened her multi-brand fashion and décor shop, Merci, in an old wallpaper factory in 2009. Ever since, foodies and fashionistas have been flocking to the low-key, formerly working-class area to ogle Merci’s wildly creative displays of housewares, fragrances, and fashion before grabbing lunch at Grazie, the pizza restaurant opened last year by Cohen’s son, Julien, and then touring the local galleries of now-established neighborhood art dealers like Thaddaeus Ropac and Yvon Lambert. A slew of new Midcentury Modern galleries are popping up, including Mobilier 54, which sells a selection of Eames, Knoll, and Bertoia. For more eclectic decorative objects like taxidermy birds and Roos Van de Velde porcelain, Les Fées, farther down Rue Charlot, is another favorite.
As a fashion editor, I spent years schlepping to this corner of Paris to see Yohji Yamamoto runway shows at the Carreau du Temple, a nearby covered market that was the site of a prison during the French Revolution. I have also paid many a visit to Chez Omar, on Rue de Bretagne, for heaping bowls of lamb- and merguez-sausage couscous. But I never ventured far beyond Rue de Bretagne until a recent trip to Paris when, after the obligatory tour of Merci, I decided to continue north along Rue Charlot and discovered the wonderful food stalls at the Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris’s oldest food market, with its fresh produce, fish, beef, and flowers. You can also sample an international array of prepared foods—sushi, tagines, pasta, crêpes—at outdoor tables. In typical French fashion, a store called Première Pression Provence sells an astonishing array of olive oil and olive-oil-based products, including Méli-Mélo Provençal, with artichokes, red peppers, and basil.
In fact, there are so many different kinds of places to eat lunch or dinner in this neck of the Marais that it’s hard to choose. Tartes Kluger, the creation of Catherine Kluger, a former music industry executive, serves both sweet and savory slices with a choice of salad or soup. You can sit at the communal table or take out. Across the street, the line forms early for lunch every day at the new outpost of Occidental-Japanese favorite Nanashi, where chef Kaori Endo fills bento boxes with house specials and serves tiny brioche pizzas, organic spring rolls, and hake with wakame sauce. The slightly undone Swedish-schoolroom-inspired interiors designed by Clarisse Demory are visible from the street, as is the open kitchen.
Even some of the neighborhood’s trendiest fashion boutiques seem to have a natural connection to food: they’re often located in old boulangeries, like the Isabel Marant store on Rue Saintonge. Instead of pain aux raisins or pain de campagne, the large vitrines feature Marant’s chiffon dresses in delicate floral prints and coveted wedge-heeled sneakers. Fashion and food also convene at the Hôtel du Petit Moulin, another former bakery, where each of the 17 rooms, decorated by Christian Lacroix, has a different color scheme and blown-up copies of the designer’s couture sketches. The quintessentially French finishing touch: the toiletries are from Hermès.
Kate Betts is a T+L contributing editor.
Video Tour: The Marais