Sabbia Rosa may be at the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, but you could easily walk past its green shop front. In the window, exquisite camisoles and slips clothe shiny gold tailor's dummies. Inside, the cosseted atmosphere is that of a woman's boudoir, with neat green drawers and bras, nightdresses and silk dressing-gowns hanging on clothes rails. In a few weeks' time, they could well be hanging on a pair of celebrity shoulders, for this is where the rich and famous buy their undies.
The store's list of clients reads like a Who's Who of the fashion and showbiz world. It includes the models Claudia Schiffer, Karen Mulder and Linda Evangelista; the actresses Sharon Stone, Catherine Deneuve and Carrie Fisher; and the singers Madonna and Kylie Minogue.
"Our American clients say it is the place to come when you're in Paris," says the 46-year-old owner. Her name is Monette Bismuth, but she has become so synonymous with the store she opened 20 years ago that she is now simply known as "Sabbia Rosa".
A couple of hours after we meet, she has a meeting with the president of Warner Brothers and his wife. Such is their eagerness that they won't even stop at their hotel before dropping in at Sabbia Rosa. "Their chauffeur is picking them up from the airport and bringing them directly here," confides Bismuth. Dustin Hoffman and his wife come here and the members of Dire Straits are apparently "Sabbia Rosa fanatics - on behalf of their wives".
In fact, finding a celebrity who is not a client is almost like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. When I asked whether Isabelle Adjani pops by, the answer is "of course", as if I must be out of my mind to imagine otherwise. Bismuth insists, however, that she has not gone out the way to attract the stars. "It's all just been word of mouth and the quality also speaks for itself."
Her creations are made entirely of French silk. Each collection lasts for three months and each model is produced in 30 colours. The first collection was produced in 1975 and the boutique opened the following year.
Nowadays, Rue des Saint-Peres is lined with designer boutiques including Prada, Versace, Yohii Yamamoto and Ferragamo, but in 1976 it was out of the way. The only other store was the bookshop of the women's liberation movement. "On one side of the street, there were all these women who wanted to burn their bras, garters and stockings," Bismuth laughs. "And there was I on the other with everything which represented the seductress."
Her first clients would be a sign of things to come. When the door swung open on the first morning, in walked the iconoclastic pop star, Serge Gainsbourg, and his wife, Jane Birkin. Nowadays, the glitterati rarely come by unannounced. Instead, they set up meetings with Bismuth, who shuts up shop when they arrive and plies them with mint tea, raisins and pine kernels. Naomi Campbell comes by every two months and is, according to Bismuth, "the queen here".
So what exactly does Ms Campbell go for?" She likes very feminine things," confides Bismuth, "and anything which shows off her body - tight tops and slips with very low backs." Her favourite colour is apparently lilac, while Claudia Schiffer loves baby pink and Madonna will wear nothing but bordeaux, burgundy or mauve. Faye Dunaway would not go anywhere else for her pyjamas.
Bismuth says she encourages her clients to wear her underwear as outer garments. "It's much more original than going into a pret-a-porter boutique and buying a dress you find other women wearing at a party," she claims. The idea does have one big advantage - at least you don't have to get undressed before getting into bed.
8 Sabbia Rosa, 73 rue des Saints-Peres, 75006 Paris. Tel: 45 48 88 37Reuse content