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Shop Chez Moi

Tired of snippy French shopkeepers?Had it with Left Bank stores that carry the same big-brand merchandise available back home?Skip the conventional shops and ring the bell of an apartment, where the person who bundles your purchases also often happens to live. Highly individual and specialized, stores in residential spaces are giving career shoppers the intimate, personalized experience they're looking for these days. Bye-bye, boilerplate boutiques.

Vintage Fashion

The nexus in Paris for other people's gently worn clothes, many carrying labels with glittering marquee value, Anouschka is located just behind the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores. But few taxi drivers can get you there without consulting a plan de Paris. After much grumbling, they will leave you off in front of a none-too-promising, tall iron gate flanked by a pharmacy and an eyeglass shop. On the other side of the gate is a cul-de-sac lined with menacingly bourgeois buildings.

Everything about the setting feels wrong, even a little creepy. But creepiness is small change for women intent on a very Jackie-esque 1963 Pierre Balmain haute couture silk shantung opera coat. Indeed, no one said shopping in apartments was easy. As Anouschka demonstrates, it can require a leap of faith (but, happily, no French--funny how the retail transaction flattens the language barrier). To be admitted to the third-floor shop, an engraved copper door plaque advises TOURNEZ LE BOUTON S.V.P., but the bouton probably hasn't worked since World War II. Taped next to a second bell is a note with scribbled instructions to hold the button down when pressing. Finally, results. The sound of distant feet and Macy Gray ululations. The door opens-- first only a crack, opium den-style, then just wide enough to let you in.

That Balmain coat, a prim pre-Tom Ford Gucci leather handbag with knobby bamboo handle, an Elli for Eurosport copy of a Saint Laurent cotton canvas men's safari jacket with wooden buttons--they're all here, battling for space, literally, with Madame Grès, Cardin, Courréges, Hermés, Dior. Peeking through are signs of the shop's domestic origins, the private lives once played out in Anouschka's four rooms suggested by crystal chandeliers, gold-leaf mirrors, marble fireplaces. Still, it's hard to regret the apartment's new vocation. Where else are you going to find a Jean Patou sleeveless black crepe evening dress with a flutter of cock feathers at the hem? 6 Ave. du Coq, Ninth Arr.; 33-1/ 48-74-37-00; by appointment.

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