In Paris, vive le department store!

Listen, the things I do for you. We were in Paris for six weeks, okay?

Listen, the things I do for you. We were in Paris for six weeks, okay?

Never mind why.

You need to know a Big Mac costs two Euros, but you gotta order before three.

Three years ago, if you saw a Smart car in Paris, you got out the camera and took a shot.

Today, Paris is lousy with Smarts. Seething. There are Smarts at every light.

I have found a store called Zut! We should get worldwide franchise rights

for Zut! Whatever they sell. Also have your people call my people about Naf Naf. It is a hot babe’s clothing chain here. Naf Naf is the sound Paris Hilton’s hair makes when you ask her a tough question, like can you define ‘vapid’?

Alors.

If there is a Ghost of Christmas Past, he or she flew the shades of The Eaton Boys to Paris in December. Remember Eaton’s and Simpsons? The dead Canadian Department Stores?

Well here they are called Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. And they are so alive I cannot begin to tell you. But I will anyway.

Maps of the city identify the complex next to the Opera as Les Grands Magasins. If you were to tell someone in Winnipeg shooting cannons down the aisles of The Bay at 10 on a Tuesday morning that Printemps is mobbed, shoulder to shoulder at that precise hour, they would hardly believe that department stores are not a moribund retail concept.

Everywhere on the Metro, huge posters announce, in English, NOËL SO CRAZY.

There is a shot of the Printemps façade, gift wrapped in red, white and blue ribbons to make a Union Jack. Behind this is an aroused Carnaby Street dollybird circa

1966 wearing a blue fur busby and, in one such execution, a full-length ball gown made of blue Scottish tartan. I am not making this up.

At the Galeries Lafayette, each of many, many doors onto the teeming streets have a doorman, and each doorman is dressed as a Louis XIV courtier.

In Dickens’ London, bars had wooden ramps up to them so children could order

gin without having to wave their arms in the air.

In Paris, the Christmas windows have wooden ramps up to them so children of two and three can get their noses against the kind of festive windows John Craig only dreamed of.

Choruses of white mechanical puppies bark along in harmony to carols.

Tiny dolls at a Christmas banquet have run amok and mounted the tables to devour the feast whole, in spite of the large rabbits hired to serve. Astride the turkey, one doll triumphantly waves a bottle of Mumm’s champagne.

Show-stopping blue frog marionettes march endlessly around a blue bathtub wearing diving masks and flippers, carrying blue hairdryers and blue umbrellas.

In the men’s store at Printemps, they have created a British pub at the entrance where you can order ‘Les Grands Crus’ of English Adnam’s Southwold Bitter (earthy perfumes, hints of calvados) and compare it to Adnam’s Broadside Bitter, or Gales Prize Old Ale.

Paris is a treasure house of many things. And the Art of Retailing is not the least of these, enfants.

Barry Base is president and CD of Barry Base & Partners, Toronto. He clawed his way up through four major ad agencies and founded his own firm when still a small child. See highlights of his career to date on an egomaniacal Web site at www.barrybaseandpartners.com.