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Big Designers With Small Prices

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

The new year is a good time to consider creating a new personal image or giving new color and shape to the old one.

It may be time for a new wardrobe, or maybe the addition of one or two basic pieces, plus several stunning accessories.

When it comes to making acquisitions to enhance a personal style, there’s no better shopping destination than Paris, where fashion is a way of life.

Shop windows, billboards, magazines and even people on the street can be inspiring.

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Prices are on the high side, however, but so is style. In general, French shoppers buy expensive clothes that wear well and are versatile, rather than fads that are pushed aside after one season.

Budgetary Solution

Economics are important, too. Paris is populated mostly by middle-class people who succeed in looking fashionable, despite modest incomes. They buy from younger, lesser-known designers with big talents and relatively small price tags.

A cluster of boutiques belonging to excellent, varied and relatively unknown (to Americans) stylists is in the 1st arrondissement, among some famous designer salons.

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Designer Sylvie Essel has two shops in the Forum des Halles (Level 2), Paris’ largest shopping mall. Essel’s clothes are beyond seasonal chic. Patches of velvet, silk, satin and lace are used to create layered skirts ($120 and up). There are color-coordinated sweaters ($150 and up) with applique, beads and fringe. Unusual accessories include handbags with bas-relief faces molded into the leather ($140), and belts ($40 and up) adorned with feathers, beads and coins.

Nearby is the boutique of Elisabeth de Senneville (3 Rue Turbigo), who worked with Jean-Charles de Castelbajac before developing her own line of haute sportswear for the entire family.

De Senneville is a good source for basics, sometimes faddish, and affordable accessories. Color-coordinated trousers ($50 and up) and well-designed shirts ($60 and up) are interchangeable staples, inventively detailed and made of unusual fabrics.

Look for a creative interplay of patterns, vibrant colors and basic black. The knit pullovers ($70) can be worn tucked in or belted or baggy.

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At 12 Rue de Turbigo, designer Ana Salazar’s boutique is a sea of gray, black and beige. This Portuguese stylist works frequently with tweed fabrics that are mixed and matched in tailored business suits ($200 and up), casual slacks ($120 and up) and jacket ($160 and up) ensembles.

A distinctive Salazar touch is the use of zippers, on pockets, up pant legs and in lieu of slits on straight skirts ($125). The boutique carries a line of Portuguese-made shoes ($70 and up) and other accessories.

Around the corner, designer Claudie Pierlot (4 Rue du Jour) shows cotton clothes in easy-to-wear, flattering shapes. Pierlot’s designs are similar in mood to those of agnes b., but prices are much lower.

Ensembles are made up of slacks ($60 and up) in a wide variety of shapes, with tank tops ($45), turtlenecks ($60), jackets ($100 and up), as well as dresses ($120 and up). Various sized and reverse-color polka dots are thematic, and the sophisticated use of dotted Swiss is especially attractive. Accessories here, too.

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Designer Sara Shelburne’s boutique is nearby at 10 Rue du Cygne. American-born Shelburne has a large following for her updated retro styles. Her clothes are feminine, luxurious and sophisticated. Sequined evening attire ($200 and up) is a specialty. Also combed wool and bi-colored day dresses ($145 and up) based on 1930s fashions. Anything can be made in any size or any of 18 colors, at no extra cost.

Versatile Ensembles

On a popular fashion street, Claude Barthelemy’s boutique (10 Rue Etienne Marcel) displays versatile knit, velour and wool ensembles, with varied skirts ($60 and up), slacks ($60 and up), jackets ($140 and up), dresses ($145 and up) and coats ($200 and up).

Barthelemy’s clothes also sell in other Parisian boutiques, but since this is her own shop, prices are lower. Styles are traditional, well-made, detailed and wearable. Colors are rich, but not flashy.

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Down the street, British designer Vincent Smith (52 Rue Etienne Marcel) outfits men in very chic, put-together outfits that mix traditional and avant-garde elements. A conventional blazer ($245), for example, is finished off with a Mao collar and worn with white front-pleated trousers ($170).

Near the famous Place des Victoires, Island (4 Rue Vide-Gousset) is a new designer label for outdoor and sports-oriented clothing for men.

There are woolen V-neck sweaters ($60 and up) in dozens of vibrant colors, plus corduroy trousers ($50), sweat shirt ($40) and pant ensembles ($30) and lively flowered cotton undershorts ($15). Coats and jackets ($145 and up) are stylish, warm and rugged.

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing .

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