We’re just back from Paris and it was – as you would expect – amazing. The standard of retail, creativity and imagination is so high – it’s the land of specialty retail with very few malls, and maybe that makes it easier for retailers to experiment.
Added to that – like Sydney or Melbourne – Paris is a city who’s retail sales ride the tourism wave. You just have to look at the lines of tourists outside Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Élysées, Hermes on Rue Saint-Honoré or Gucci on Avenue Montaigne.
Ok, so that aside, here’s part 1 of our top 6 Paris stores (aka. 1-3):

1. Le Bon Marché:

Where do we start. This is truely the gold standard in departments stores. Yes, it’s a tourist Mecca, but this store does approx $21,000 per square metre* (that’s specialty level SPSM); and that’s not including La Grande Epicerie de Paris next store – aka Le Bon Marché food hall. Ok, so what makes this store so special. Here’s our list:
a. It’s LVMH:
No doubt department stores have notoriously struggled to create brands from their private labels and be vertically integrated. Well Le Bon Marchée is luckily part of the LVMH group and as such has the ability to pull the big names into the store through exclusives (like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy etc) – as well as their competitors who want to join in on the show.
b. It’s thematic:
One thing this store has continued to get better and better at is moving from the traditional department model – ie. womenswear, menswear shoes etc. to one where it is broken up by themes as well as departments and these are mixed together in a manner that works the shopper.
For example there are 2 different cosmetic departments – the traditional is downstairs, with brands like Tom Ford, Aesop etc, and the more up-and-coming brands are upstairs (like RMS beauty) with the more modern fashion brands (like Sandro, Kenzo etc). They also have an athleisure area, a denim atelier etc.
c. Cross-shopable: 
If that’s even a word! They’ve chosen to break the rules and create what we’ll call ‘cross-shop moments’ where they’ve taken something that would normally go in the ‘dump truck’ department that is ‘accessories’ like headbands, and created a moment for it in amongst the up-and-coming brands cosmetic department; or they’ve put a terrarium store (yes, you can buy your own plants) with classic fashion.
It’s a clever way of rethinking the space but thinking more about how the consumer might shop – not how the company is organised and therefore how the consumer will shop.
d. Customise everything:
While everyone in department stores is looking to food to drive foot traffic,Le Bon Marché is also looking at personalisation and customisation. They have different zones throughout each of their themes/departments dedicated to customising that particular trend.
For example, in the denim area there is a Notify Denim Atelier where you can create jeans from scratch and customise them with particular thread, studs etc; or in the shoes department there is another atelier where you can customise your shoes.
We personally loved the graffiti customisation – there was a bunch of graffiti artist in the designer womens area who would customise anything you want, be that an Hermes Bag, a suitcase or a Bon Marché Tote.
Le Bon Marché is a great example of what’s possible when it comes to a department store. It’s not about product and price, it’s truly about thinking through how a customer wants to shop and breaking down internal silos to make that happen.
Address: 24 Rue de Sèvres

2. Sézane:

If J.Crew or Club Monaco were french and started out as a pure play they would be Sézane (in fact J.Crews little sister Madewell did a collaboration with them a couple of years ago). This is brand that’s all about selling the chic Parisian lifestyle – from denim, shoes to homewares. It’s a highly edited range, presented in an instagram-able environment even with it’s own free photo booth. This brand is predominantly an online retailer with three retail experiences – l’Apartment – a retail showcase of sorts focused on fashion, la Librairie – focused on books, coffee and bags and La Conciergerie the place to pick up and return any of your online orders.
The idea behind the brand is they work with ‘the most beautiful workshops’ and provide the goods straight to the customer. Everything is original, and crafted beautifully. The three offline concepts are all situated within walking distance of each other.
L’Apartment: 1 Rue Saint Fiacre; La Librairie: 3 Rue Saint Fiacre; La Conciergerie: 32 Rue Des Jeuneurs.

3. Colette:

Sadly this Paris institution is due to close in December and not because it’s having sales trouble but rather after 20 years in business founder (and namesake) Colette Roussaux wants to retire. This is a store of only 3 floors that is constantly pumping and, although very high-end, knows how to get the masses in – through magazines, cool nick naks and an awesome cafe (with a mineral water menu – as you do).
They are also great at theming – there’s always something happening at this store and when we were there it was with iconic luxury brand, Balenciaga and it’s enfant terrible designer, Demna Gvasalia. The whole top floor was cleared to display a dissected Porsche, Balenciaga wears and a customisation station to create your own Balenciaga tee.
It’s such a shame that this store is shutting but nice they decided not to sell out and persevere their place in retail history.
Address: 213 Rue Saint Honoré
N.b: Le Bon Marché *sales US$472M and size is 30,000

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Author Pippa Kulmar

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Your comment about the lack of malls in Paris making experimentation and creativity easier got me thinking.

    So is it reasonable to extrapolate that to say that Westfield has been a contributor – albeit not deliberately – to the lack of Australian retail innovation, which in turn left local retailers so vulnerable to the invasion of the international chains?

    • Pippa Kulmar says:

      Hi Mark – we think high rental rates are part of it, but the other part is probably lack of great competition to push each other forward. I think Australian retailers particularly in middle market fashion were copying the international chains so when they arrived they couldn’t compete. Now they’re all searching for how to become great retailers – at least in our opinion.

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