Twice a year, the world’s fashion capitals host a series of spectacular catwalk shows by top designers, with the most opulent of all taking place in Paris. Fashion insider Maria Esposito explains how visitors can share in the magic with her guide to Paris Fashion Week

Fashion is to Paris what jazz is to New Orleans. It is, after all, the city that gave us Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior; it’s the home of haute couture; and it’s the training ground of future designers from all over the world.

In February and September, the city comes alive in a unique way. Paris is the climax of four weeks of runway shows that kick off in New York, closely followed by London and Milan, and are collectively known as Fashion Month.  Without Paris, there would be no eagerly-anticipated Chanel show at the Grand Palais to round off Fashion Month; no Louis Vuitton extravaganza to raise the drama stakes. The city is transformed: photographers swarm the Tuileries, desperate to catch a great street-style shot of, for example, Giovanna Battaglia and Anna Dello Russo of Vogue Japan walking arm-in-arm to the next fabulous show.

While New York is polished, London is eccentric and Milan is all about the glamour, Paris continues to channel sheer drama. And while the fashion industry is hard at work, visitors to the city get all the fun of the fair with much less of the slog. Here’s how to live and breathe fashion during your Fashion Week trip…

Where to eat and drink

Between the glamour of the shows, the fashion pack of editors, photographers and web-influencers from all over the world seek out quiet, unassuming places where a little respite can be had. And in this fashionable city, there is no shortage of under the radar chic. Café Ruc, just a stone’s throw from the Louvre, is an all-round favourite: its cheeseburger is a remedy for all manner of woes (cheeseburgers may not sound very ‘fashion’, but take look a closer look and you’ll see that the insanely good-looking waiters are all wearing Maison Martin Margiela – no ordinary workwear).

A short walk away, on the city’s famed Rue Saint Honore, is where you’ll find Le Castiglione, the current dinner spot of choice. Located on the corner of Place Vendôme, just across from the Tuileries, its exquisite French cuisine is among the best in the city. After a day of running between endless shows and press appointments (the lucky ones have a car to drive them round, the rest of us walk), a plate of steak-frites is heaven – what better way to mull over the new season?

But even the fashion pack need downtime. For this, it’s just a short hop across Pont Neuf to the Left Bank and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Here, you’ll find all the important European fashion editors nestled inside Café de Flore, the famous, traditionally French café situated on Boulevard Saint-Germain. (NB: there is a wealth of great little restaurants in this area, so it’s worth having a proper wander around while you’re there.)

Where to stay

Naturally, there are firm favourites when it comes to hotels, too. Le Bristol, on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, is the editors’ accommodation of choice. A grand and historic hotel, it has beautiful views over the city, not to mention a three-starred Michelin restaurant and the stunning outdoor dining areas. Needless to say, it is just a few minutes’ walk from the most prestigious boutiques in the city: you’ll find Hermès, Givenchy and Gucci just down the street.

Where to shop

As true lovers of Paris know, the beauty of shopping in this city is in the choice. The Marais – one of the city’s trendiest districts – is home to an endless array of enchanting independent boutiques. Here, you’ll find the younger members of the fashion pack digging for treasure. From quirky jewellery and accessories shops to up-and-coming designers and art galleries, there is a unique buzz about the area that can’t be found anywhere else. Perhaps one of its best kept secrets is Studio W: a tiny shop where you can find vintage Yves Saint Laurent and Courrèges amongst many other treasures. When in Paris, it’s never a bad idea to pick up a piece of fashion history.

And how to get snapped by a street style photographer...

Of course, these unique finds, as well as the fresh-off-the-runway pieces wornby the most important of show-goers, are often what street-style photographers are falling over themselves to capture (vintage Courrèges being the current epitome of cool). The street style phenomenon was kicked off by famed photographer Bill Cunningham, with Tommy Ton, who now shoots for Style.com, one of the most talented following in his wake – and it’s at its height in Paris.

Once you’ve tracked down your one-off vintage piece, make a beeline for the Jardin de Tuileries. Head there around the time of a Valentino runway show (insider tip: you can find the schedule online at modeaparis.com) to experience the spectacle in all its glory. From Clémence Poésy and Alexa Chung to Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian, this is the best time and place to experience Paris Fashion Week at its finest. And who knows, Bill Cunningham may just spot you, too.

Photo by Martine Doucet Getty images

Hotel Offers

Worldwide deals and discounts for American Express Cardmembers