Q: Peter, there is a group of English-speaking volunteers in Paris who will show you around the city for free. Do you know their name and how to book a tour? Also, our 20-year-old fashion design college student is coming with us to Paris. Is there a possibility to arrange a "behind-the-scenes" fashion industry tour of some sort?
–Marlies Schaefer, Naples, Fla.
A: The name of the organization that you are thinking of is Paris Greeter. It is not a tour company but rather a nonprofit hospitality group staffed by native Parisian volunteers who speak English and offer free, two- to three-hour guided walks in various neighborhoods. Their aim is to acquaint visitors with the city and to give them a local perspective.
Greeters not only show you around, but they also share anecdotes and stories about their individual experiences of living in the city. They also answer logistical questions you might have about Paris—including how to get around on public transportation. While the service is free, you must reserve a spot at least three weeks before your arrival in order to ensure that you are paired with a greeter. Reservations can be made online through the Web site www.parisgreeter.org.
In terms of fashion-industry specific tours, you won't be able to tour the ateliers of the famous designers, but you can skirt around the edges of the haute couture industry. For example, the Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, which opened to the public in 2004, regularly hosts fashion-related exhibitions and maintains thousands of archival sketches, accessories, garments and other objects connected to Yves Saint Laurent's creative work. While the display materials available for public viewing are usually limited, you can make special arrangements to view additional archival objects by calling ahead. The foundation is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The Musée de la Mode et du Costume (City of Paris Museum of Fashion), otherwise known as the Musée Galliera, has revolving temporary exhibitions that showcase selections from its vast collection of 90,000 pieces that span three centuries (18th–20th). The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. except on Monday, when the hours are 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Chic Shopping Paris is a company that offers guided shopping trips in Paris, focusing on high-end fashion. The company also lets you arrange custom buying tours to suit your preference, whether it is boutique shopping, resale stores, or flea markets. The guides provide perspectives about new designers and unique shops, and they can arrange special atelier visits. The rates for guides vary depending on your requests, but they typically start at around €100 for a half day.