In 1802, when Napoleon commissioned the construction of the Canal Saint-Martin, he sought to provide fresh water for Paris and create a supply route for food and building materials to enter the city. Today, the 4.5km waterway is still central to Parisian life as the centre of one of its most fashionable neighbourhoods, to which it gives its name. From finely curated design shops to respected galleries, the area surrounding the canal has become synonymous with chic.
The city’s cultured trendsetters flock to the district’s picturesque streets, drawn by some of the best boutiques in Paris. ‘The neighbourhood is always moving and changing, and it’s still a little hidden,’ says Louise Damas, one of the two designers behind Atelier Couronnes. ‘Our shop contributes to this constant movement.’
Atelier Couronnes showcases Damas’s eponymous jewellery brand, which mixes texture, material and colour to great effect. The Phèdre necklace, for instance, brings together gilded brass, rock crystal and labradorite to make a dramatic and stunning statement piece. Her playful Salammbô earrings are worn behind the ears and, to add even more charm to this already exquisite piece, other earrings and jewels can be attached to each stem.
This stunning concept store also stocks co-owner Claire Rischette’s Fauvette Paris handbag collection alongside a quirky array of designer pieces such as pineapple-shaped hooks, a vast selection of candles and fragrances from French brand Kerzon, bottles, frames and shelves. ‘We select only things that we love and that we would like for ourselves,’ Damas says. ‘It reflects our very own atmosphere and that’s why people feel welcomed when they come here.’
Canal Saint-Martin has a strong Parisian identity, but its many shops also offer leading European designers and brands. La Trésorerie, a multi-level furniture and home store, ensures that at least 90% of its pieces are made in Europe, with alpaca blankets from luxury Danish brand Elvang and stunning tables from Designer Zoo. The three-storey Madeleine & Gustave homewares shop carries eye-catching, contemporary designs from British, French and Nordic labels.
For goods from further afield, head to Jamini, where designer Usha Bora showcases cushions, textiles and scarves from the Indian region of Assam where she grew up. ‘Our textiles are all handprinted and handwoven using traditional Indian techniques, with a graphic, contemporary touch,’ she says. ‘This is really our strength. We are known for our modern take on ethnic chic.’
The shop, which is flooded with light and is as welcoming as it is stylish, is renowned for its amazingly soft scarves made from Eri silk – often referred to as peace silk, as it’s made without harming the silkworm. Bora has worked with highly skilled artisans to develop the range. ‘My goal is to constantly reinvent the old,’ she says. ‘I never compromise on quality, no matter how long the production process takes.’
The variety of boutiques in the Canal Saint-Martin area is wide and diverse. Coin Canal stocks an ever-changing roster of vintage and hard-to-find furniture. The Artazart Design Bookstore sells glossy coffee-table books on fashion and architecture, and also boasts one of the largest cookbook collections in the city. At Atelier MaNo, there is an eclectic mix of home décor objects and accessories, from ceramic dinnerware to shelving to chopping boards.
Art enthusiasts should head to L’Oeil Ouvert – a small gallery with a big reputation for prints, graphics, silk screens and photography. A close-knit team of three people curates the artworks and prints; only 25 to 100 prints are made from each original work, all are produced in France by specialist craftsmen, and all are individually monitored at each stage, from lab to framing to packaging. The roster of artists changes constantly, but includes French heavyweights such as street artist Fred le Chevalier, American artists Chuck Sperry and 3 Fish Studios, and Japanese printmaker Sayaka Abe.
L’Oeil Ouvert has a warm, inviting vibe and seeks to democratise the world of art, which can be intimidating to new collectors. Its inclusive philosophy could apply to the ever-changing Canal Saint-Martin area as a whole. ‘We welcome everyone — visitors, clients, neighbours, students, collectors,’ says the gallery’s Laura Cossin-Nigra. ‘This is a place where everyone can find beauty.’