H&M Faces Setback in Paris

Hennes & Mauritz's bid to open on the Champs-Elys?es here took a turn for the worse last week as the Paris mayor's office said it would appeal a French...

PARIS — Hennes & Mauritz’s bid to open on the Champs-Elysèes here took a turn for the worse last week as the Paris mayor’s office said it would appeal a French commission’s decision to allow the Swedish fast-fashion chain to hoist its flag on the famed street. H&M has been trying to gain permission to open on the high-traffic thoroughfare for more than a year.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In December 2006, the commission told H&M it was a no-go, saying the chain’s presence would “banalize” the street to the detriment of more cultural destinations, such as bookshops and movie theaters, which have been fleeing, thanks to escalating rents.

The same commission finally granted H&M permission in August, overturning what most found to be a controversial decision since chains like Zara, Gap and Mango already operate on the street.

The move by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë to revive efforts to block the store signals the beginning of a new, battle. In effect, the mayor is appealing the commission’s decision to a judge, who will rule whether to green-light H&M’s store. A ruling is not expected for months.

A spokesman for the mayor said the appeal reflected the city’s worries that yet another large-scale fashion shop on the street would cheapen its prestige.

He said the mayor was bent on protecting the street’s “magic” and “diversity” and boosting its number of so-called cultural attractions. Such attempts may seem like tilting at windmills: Retailers have always lined the Champs-Elysées, which draws more than 100 million visitors a year. Though more luxury firms have opened there recently, including Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Montblanc, the street has no shortage of popular sites, including a Disney store, a McDonald’s and a Virgin Megastore.

Rents on the street increased 8.7 percent last year, according to a study by Cushman & Wakefield, which said the avenue is the third most-expensive retail location in the world, after Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Average rent on the Champs-Elysées is $814 a square foot, the most expensive in Europe.

H&M tried to sweeten its project for a Champs-Elysées store to the commission by enlisting high-profile French architect Jean Nouvel to design the store. Nouvel recently was asked by the city of Paris to design a new hall for its philharmonic orchestra and was behind the critically acclaimed tribal arts museum that opened last year.

H&M declined to comment.