By and  on March 4, 2009

PARIS — A wave of innovative concept stores is out to breathe new life into Parisian shopping.

After selling their luxury children’s brand Bonpoint in 2007, Marie-France and Bernard Cohen will on Thursday unveil Merci, a 15,000-square-foot store in a loftlike 18th century building.


Next week, Hôtel Particulier, a concept store in a classical town house offering fashion, furniture and fragrances for a young clientele, will open its doors in the second arrondissement.

Meanwhile, actress Lou Doillon plans to unveil her own English-meets-French style store, mixing fashion and literature, in the 11th arrondissement later this year, while French costume jewelry brand Les Néréides recently opened a sprawling two-story concept store in the Marais district.

Fronted by The Used Book cafe and the florist Christian Tortu, the Merci complex will offer men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, plus home decor, fragrances and a restaurant, over three floors.

If concept stores are run like magazines, then Marie-France Cohen is Merci’s editor in chief, influencing everything from the store’s charitable raison d’être (profits will go to a children’s foundation) to a fragrance bar where fans of Annick Goutal, the scent house founded by Cohen’s late sister, can refill bottles for 40 percent less than a standard fragrance. “I throw away the refills every three weeks and it kills me,” Cohen said. “This is a time when you just can’t do that any more.”

That blend of eco and luxury resounds throughout, be it through a vintage clothing area or a drapery service where curtains can be run up on the spot. The store’s profits will go to needy children in Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries. That charitable element helped win support from fashion players who Cohen has tapped to deliver customized looks, such as safari suits from Yves Saint Laurent or a black all-in-one design by Stella McCartney, to sell exclusively at Merci. Labels will read “Merci Stella,” to thank houses for forfeiting profits so that items can be sold between 30 to 40 percent less than elsewhere.

Designers have greeted the concept enthusiastically. “Paris really needed new big spaces like Merci,” said Isabel Marant. “We are a big fashion capital yet there aren’t many concept stores with new ideas. There are many, beautiful multibrand stores and those we’ve known for years like Colette and L’Eclaireur, but mainly many, many monobrand stores.”

Designed by architect Valérie Mazérat, Merci has daylight pouring through a glass atrium over a central space where works by established and unknown artists plus fashion design students will be rotated. Starting with Parisian doll-maker Apolline, every season a new designer will select the fabrics for the ground-floor Merci Mercerie division.

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