So where are the best places in Paris to faire du lèche vitrines, or window shop?
Well, since 'tis the season, I'd start outside Petrossianin the seventh arrondissement. Their window displays are inspired year-round but are especially tantalizing before Noël. Of course Petrossian is not French, so if you'd rather salivate over truffles and pâté than caviar and blinis, I'd head across the Seine to Fauchon on Place de la Madeleine, where I once saw a middle-aged man in an expensive overcoat stop in his tracks to gape at a display of miniature chocolate cakes. I spied on him for a while and noted that he never did go inside. That's French restraint for you.
From Place de la Madeleine, it's a short stroll over to Boulevard Haussmann, home to les Galeries Lafayette and le Printemps. Their animated window displays are a must if you have children in tow; if you're on your own and in the mood for more gastronomic voyeurism, head up to the first floor (French) of le Printemps's Maison building, where you'll find chocolates by Pierre Marcolini, macarons from Ladurée, and an assortment of Algerian pastries from La Bague de Kenza, all lavishly displayed.
Prefer fashion to food? Skip this detour and walk south to 213 rue Saint-Honoré — it's the address of Colette, the fashion industry's Mecca. Colette is, for those who are unaware, a three-story, multi-brand boutique owned by Sarah Lerfel, a woman with one hell of un oeil. It reopened recently after a summertime "relooking" that resulted in an expanded streetwear section that includes some very cool casques de moto, or motorcycle helmets, which have become the city's most sought-after accessory. Colette's casques are so colorful and fun that I want one, and I don't even have une moto.
From Colette, you might wander up and down rue Saint-Honoré, which is the city's ultimate high-end fashion street, but, apart from Colette and John Galliano, I find it a bit boring because you will see these same shops, and sometimes even identical window displays, in every other major city in the world. It's the same story on Avenue Montaigne, and as for the mythical Champs Élysées — forget it. If it were not for its towering Arc de Triomphe, the street could be a wide boulevard in Los Angeles, Disney store included.
Much more pleasing locales for window licking are the arcade of le Palais Royal, where trendy labels Acne Studio and Marc Jacobs have boutiques, and the venerable Place Vendôme, the most gorgeous spot in the world to ogle $40,000 baubles. Both are located in the first arrondissement, a stone's throw from le Louvre.
Also in the area are two glass-roofed, 19th-century shopping arcades: Galerie Vivienne and Galerie Véro Dodat. Vivienne has a fanciful mosaic tile floor, a Jean-Paul Gaultier boutique, a few diminitive jewelry shops, and the very charming À Priori Thé salon, which serves delicious tartes salées (savory quiches) for lunch. Véro Dodat is smaller but equally picturesque. It is also headquarters of By Terry, possibly my favorite cosmetics company for its utterly luxurious lotions and cover-ups.
The first, second, ninth, and tenth arrondissements are dotted with vintage arcades like Galeries Vivienne and Véro Dodat. They are sometimes called "passages," and all are worth exploring. I adore the ratty ones, like Passage Brady — site of the world's worst Indian restaurants — as much as the chic ones, like Véro Dodat and the wonderfully funky Passage du Grand Cerf.
Other quartiers for window licking? I cannot sign off without mentioning le Marais, which, for better or for worse, now contains more boutiques dedicated to clothing and home décor than it does traditional boulangeries and Israeli falafel joints. It's un dommage for those who live there but a boon for anyone who likes to shop. If the crowds — especially thick on Sundays — get to you, head north up rue Vieille du Temple into the third arrondissement, which is technically still part of the Marais but is a lot less congested. All of Saint-Germain and parts of Montmartre (I'm thinking of rues Houdon, des Martyrs, and des Trois Frères) are also replete with creative, drool-inducing window displays.
This post could go on forever — and that is something à aimer about Paris, the world capital of window licking.