I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to the Louvre Museum’s gift shop, but just before the coronavirus outbreak, I discovered the Boutique de la Chalcographie du Louvre, the public face of the museum’s atelier that reproduces prints and sculptures.
It is a repository for more than 600 prints (or, as the museum calls them, engravings) made from panels in the Louvre’s permanent collection, rendered on museum-quality paper, with a lifespan of 100 years.
In normal times they are all on display and for sale to visitors. I spent hours flipping through the dozen of pages without ever paying the entrance fee to the museum myself.
With Paris locked, visiting the Louvre and the other museums and cultural spaces in Paris is not an option, but it is still possible to take advantage of the expertly curated gift shops.
You can find some of the best museum boutiques in Paris and all of France on the English language version of the online site Boutique de Musées. Other museums offer gift items on their own websites.
The Boutique de Musées, which delivers to destinations around the world, is organized by theme – including books, posters, home decor, toys, jewelry, gift ideas and prints on demand (including prints from the Louvre).
Under the Center Pompidou entrance there is a series of objects inspired by the museum’s works, including three stacking cups from the Dutch De Stijl movement, the central figures of which were the painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg (€ 51); Joan Miró socks for adults and children (€ 12); and skateboards with copies of artist paintings by The Skateroom (€ 220), whose non-governmental organization offers children and young people access to educational and skate programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.
My favorite museum shop – not part of the Boutique de Musées – is that of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs / MAD – MAD in French stands for fashion, arts, design. The products are so diverse that the shop on Rue de Rivoli is considered a travel destination in its own right in normal times.
Here you will find the most fashionable travel bag for on the go – a reversible shopping bag Loqi X MAD (€ 15.95); Japanese tea towels made of blue and white cotton (€ 9.95); and wool and silk scarves inspired by old carpets.
There is also a large selection of products from Alessi, the centuries-old Italian manufacturer of home design, and which espresso drinker wouldn’t want to give away eight espresso spoons – all different (€ 54)? And when was the last time you saw bold shoe clips with jewels (€ 29.95 to € 34.95)?
OK, some items are too precious for words – like the aluminum and leather miniature Eames chair (€ 629) or a flowered headband embroidered with Verbena (€ 690). But I will always feel a hint of regret that I have not dealt with a piece of history: an original lamp from the limited series worth € 540 from the Eiffel Tower, which is no longer on display.
Buyers with exotic tastes will love the boutiques at the Musée Guimet (dedicated to Asian art) and the Musée du Quai Branly (African, Oceanic, American and Asian works). Among the finds in the Guimet: a set of four sake cups made of thick, colored glass. The Branly offers heavy ornate Indonesian necklaces made of pearls, shells and bones – not to be worn, but as a work of art on the wall.
Some museum shops can surprise you. I wasn’t expecting much from the Monnaie de Paris – the French mint – which once produced all of the coins in the empire and now produces commemorative coins, jewelry, artwork and medals of honor like that of the Legion of Honor at its location on the Seine near the Pont Neuf.
Long before the pandemic, I went to the gift shop with a close college friend who was visiting from London. As absurd as it sounds, she and I were born in the same city on the same day. I noticed a gold-trimmed porcelain mug with pink roses on a background of eggshell blue and bright yellow with a celadon green handle. It was an exaggeration; it was perfect. We bought matching cups.
Mine is on my desk. I use it every day, a reminder of our long friendship.