I only learnt about Paris’ historic “passages couverts” (covered shopping arcades) after I had moved to Brussels. I was wandering around Paris, enjoying some time on my own and away from the computer, when I suddenly found myself at a cast iron gate that seemed to lead into a long corridor.
This “corridor” was none other than Passage du Grand Cerf. The sunlight was gently diffused through the glass ceiling and onto the wood-panelled shop fronts, creating an elegant, old-world ambience that was incredibly beautiful and exquisite. When I told AB about my discovery later in the day, he informed me that in the 19th century, the city planners of Paris built around 140 of such passages and these were the precursors of today’s shopping centres. This labyrinth of passages, many of them were connected, enabled Parisians to get around the city in the comfort of an extended sheltered walkway, away from the strong-smelling streets, rain and cold, and do some shopping or have a cup of coffee along the way.It’s a shame that the gorgeous passages were eventually disregarded in favour of department stores like Printemps and Bon Marché. Many were left to decline or were destroyed during the period of urban planning carried out by Baron Haussmann. Some 20 of them remain today and most of them have been classified as historic monuments or are protected by the city as part of the Local Urbanism/Protection Plan. While electricity is used to light up the passages these days instead of gas, I think most of them continue to serve the same purposes as before.
Passage du Grand Cerf is the tallest of the remaining passages in Paris. On one end, there is a charming bistro with a cheeky name “Le Pas Sage” – which means “the un-wise”. I’ve been meaning to dine or at least have a drink here. Maybe I’ll do so when I’m back in Paris next week or next month!There are several fashion boutiques here, many of which have an atelier located within. I particularly like the creations in Dear – quirky handcrafted earrings, beautifully restored vintage bags that don’t cost an arm and a leg, as well as ‘made in France’ dresses, silk scarves and other eclectic designs. Everything was made either in the atelier or sourced from other independent designers in Paris.I also like how bright and airy the space looks, especially on the second floor with small potted plants by the window.When I was there, a re-designed Hermès bustier dress from the 1970s or 80 was hanging from the ceiling as a nature-inspired installation. How quaint!When I was there a few months ago, the atelier had taken over the second floor and only a small selection of merchandise is on sale on the ground floor. I want to say that it’s a shame, but at the same time, if I were in the designer’s shoes, I probably would be quite contented to be able to create in such a tranquil and luminous space. Hopefully, this inspires some interesting designs : )