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Modern Paris: La Défense and a Little Power Shopping

Paris, France

Enjoy the contrasts that the city offers, from the La Défense skyscraping district in the suburbs to the small boutique scene downtown, where we go window-shopping (called “window-licking” in French) to admire the high-fashion displays.

Complete Video Script

For a stark contrast in glass, head out to La Défense — a forest of skyscrapers nicknamed Paris's "petit Manhattan."

So often we travelers only hang out in the historic old quarters of Europe's great cities. To see the contemporary side of Paris — a celebration of modern commerce — hop on the Métro and visit La Défense.

With its striking architecture and 150,000 people a day commuting here to work and even more to shop and play, it's the engine of a modern-day economic power. Stroll the Esplanade. The glassy buildings — which house shopping malls with hundreds of stores, convention centers, and towering corporate headquarters — playfully compete for your attention.

With the social ethic embraced by French society, getting a building permit often comes with a requirement to fund public art. That's why the Le Défense Esplanade is like an open-air modern art gallery, sporting pieces that make going to work just a little more fun.

La Grande Arche, inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, is the centerpiece of this ambitious complex. The arch is big — Notre-Dame Cathedral could fit under it. Thousands of people work in its 35 stories. And as everywhere here, the architecture is people-friendly.

Back in the old center, it's time for a little shopping. Paris is a leader in the fashion world, famous for its high-end design. My Parisian friend, Delphine Prigent, is showing me how even window shopping some of Paris's many fine boutiques can be a cultural experience.

Rick: These windows, they put so much energy into their windows.
Delphine: Yes, they have to because we, you know, like, shopping is, like, a national sport in France and we call it lèche-vitrine. So lèche-vitrine means "window licking."
Rick: Window licking!
Delphine: See all these different details that they put on the window — it's very bright, very colorful.
Rick: Very appetizing, you could say.
Delphine: Yes. It has to be very appetizing, yes.
Rick: There are a lot of sales.
Delphine: Yes. This is a typical period in July to get sales in Paris. But the trap is that when you go inside you always finish by buying the new collection because they put the new collection just beside. You always buy something from the new collection at full price. This is my —
Rick: So the sale catches you inside. And then you buy the new collection.
Delphine: Yes, it catches…yes.

Department stores were invented in Paris. These venerable institutions — beautiful monuments to fine living — offer a chance to check out what's in vogue.

The Galeries Lafayette is a classic example. Its belle époque dome dates to 1912. And shoppers are welcome to catch their breath — or perhaps have it taken away — on the store's rooftop, where a grand city view awaits.