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COLUMN: French fashion is less shopping, more licking



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The Galeries Lafayette is an upmarket French department store chain. Its flagship store is on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Brielle Saggese Buy Photos

There are a lot of words that translate from English to French strangely. Take “French toast” for example, which I discovered on my breakfast menu had been translated to “pain perdu,” meaning “lost bread.”

How did it get lost? No one knows.

But I’ll take this language’s weird translations, only because it did one of them oh so right —window shopping or “lèche-vitrine.” I’m not sure how this phrase first got translated, but I’d like to thank the group of men and women who decided to give it a word that doesn’t mean shopping, but licking.

Yes, window licking — that is what we do in France. It’s what we should be doing in the United States. After all, more licking and less shopping is what fashion is really all about.

Of course, this kind of licking isn’t the tongue-variety. It’s for eyeballs only. The kind of eyeball action demanded when passing Paris’ Le Bon Marché department store windows.

Each window features several Christmas trees, standing solemnly in a bed of fake snow. But when music begins to play, the trees spin around, revealing something dressed in the holiday season’s latest styles.

Then suddenly, they grow limbs — not tree limbs, but long legs and arms of a “Nutcracker” dancer. They perform a few battements and pirouettes before spinning back around and waiting for their next cue.

The other observers and I licked up the whole scene. It wasn’t a shiny price tag or a Black Friday promotion. It was fashion, just meant for the tasting, and fashion’s never tasted so good.

If the store windows don’t appease your appetite, feel free to feast at the Galeries Lafayette department store. Here, a tree of strung lights towers four floors high. Ornaments the size of elves’ heads glisten between the light bulbs. Thousands of smaller fairy lights fall from the ceiling.

Everyone’s eyes get their fill and the best part? No one pulls out their wallets the whole time.

Of course, retail at the end of the day is about making money. Especially for Paris’ largest department stores and luxury brands, every square foot of floor space is expected to turn over a profit.

But there’s a reason the French have window licking. They recognize fashion isn’t just about a quick transaction like a stop at the drive-thru. If their customers are going to spend money, they want to appreciate every bite of the meal.

They want to taste, enjoy and linger — not just pull out their credit cards at the first sale sign.

So instead of selling fashion as a product like a fast-food burger, they sell it as an experience. Roll out the white tablecloths, polish the china and light the candles for the guests.

Why settle for a burger when you can dine like a king? Why settle for a 30-percent-off sign in the window when you can have dancing Christmas trees?

Lick more. Shop less. It’s as simple as that.

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