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Store Wars Heat Up in Paris

PARIS — The swords are drawn in the increasingly spirited war between the department stores here.<br><br>Printemps, the Boulevard Haussmann store controlled by billionaire François Pinault, who also controls Gucci Group, has burnished the...

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Galeries Lafayette is converting the old Marks & Spencer into an additional floor.

Stephane Feugere

PARIS — The swords are drawn in the increasingly spirited war between the department stores here.

Printemps, the Boulevard Haussmann store controlled by billionaire François Pinault, who also controls Gucci Group, has burnished the luxury goods floor it christened last year by adding new in-store shops, including Bottega Veneta and Tiffany, slated to open in time for Christmas. It is also expanding its beauty offering and opening a new home furnishings department this month. Last month, it finished a major revamp of its lingerie department.

Down the street, Galeries Lafayette this summer revamped its designer sportswear floor, adding in-store shops for fall from Junya Watanabe, Martine Sitbon and Jean Paul Knott. The store also overhauled its men’s wear location by bringing in Dior Homme, Comme des Garçons, Dunhill and Valentino, among others.

Meanwhile, next year, Galeries Lafayette will open its own home store in a space that used to be a Marks & Spencer store. The new home unit will free up some 100,000 square feet already dedicated to the category at Galeries’ main store. That space will be converted into a new fashion and accessories department.

The changes come as luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton accelerates its overhaul of La Samaritaine, the storied Right Bank store it acquired two years ago.

“Certainly, we’re watching very closely what’s going on over at Samaritaine,” said Laurence Danon, Printemps president.

Philippe Houze, co-chairman of Group Galeries Lafayette, agreed that LVMH’s project to reposition Samaritaine is sure to “shake up the department store landscape in Paris.”

Beatrice Bongibault, a retail consultant and the president of the Claude Montana fashion business, contended that the developments reflect major changes in Paris retailing.

“People go to department stores now to see what’s going on,” she said. “Multibrand stores have largely disappeared and they have been replaced with monobrand stores. Shoppers go to the department stores for choice. They want to compare and get a bird’s-eye view of the market. Department stores in Paris have filled a void at retail.”

Designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, who has an in-store shop at Galeries Lafayette, said, “It is a very creative time for Paris’ department stores.” As an example, he cited Galeries’ high profile ad campaign by artistic director Jean-Paul Goude, featuring French model Laetitia Casta in frenetic, often comedic poses. Printemps and Bon Marche have also increased their advertising presence, plastering ads around Paris, especially in metro stations.

“The department stores have gotten in tune with what’s happening in fashion today,” continued de Castelbajac. “They know that they have to be fun to bring in shoppers. They know that shoppers want a full experience when they go to shop.” He pointed to department stores’ recent efforts to stage thematic exhibitions in their stores.

Muriel Zingraff, president of Paco Rabanne and formerly head of women’s wear at London’s Harrods, said she recalled how much things have changed since she was a student in Paris.

“There’s been a big shift,” she said. “Everyone has been sprucing up. Galeries Lafayette has become more fashion oriented. Printemps used to be the fashion leader and I think they’ve lost some ground to Galeries. The competition has become very fierce. And Samaritaine is sure to add heat.”

Rabanne operates corners at Bon Marche, Samaritaine and Galeries Lafayette.

The competition among stores coincides with a period of stagnant sales. All — especially the Boulevard Haussmann’s Galeries Lafayette and Printemps — depend on tourism, which has fallen dramatically since Sept. 11, 2001. Sales through June declined a percentage point at Printemps, while sales at Samaritaine, dragged down by its repositioning, decreased more than 20 percent. Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marche both eked out modest sales gains.

Philippe de Beauvoir, president of Le Bon Marche, who is piloting the renovation of Samaritaine, said the revamp would be staggered over the next three years and cost about $15 million.

“My objective is to totally reposition La Samaritaine,” he said. “That means completely changing the face of the store and its merchandise.”

Although La Samaritaine, founded in the 19th century, was once the crown jewel of Paris department stores — it is even cited in the novels of Emile Zola — its image tumbled in recent years. Among Parisians, for example, it is better known for its hardware department than for its fashion.

But, by the end of the year, de Beauvoir will have shuttered the hardware department. Meanwhile, a massive shoe department was inaugurated in September.

“We want to make Samaritaine more trendy,” said de Beauvoir. “We think there’s a niche to fill when it comes to a young and trendy, fashion-oriented department store.”

In the meantime, de Beauvoir is also polishing the tony Left Bank Le Bon Marche, which has been renovated extensively over the last five years. The second floor, devoted to women’s fashion, will be expanded next year to an adjacent store and a bevy of new luxury in-store shops, including Prada, Chanel, Fendi and Christian Dior jewelry, will arrive on the ground floor later this fall. Current shops include Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

“We want more luxury at Le Bon Marche. It’s positioned to be an aristocratic store,” said de Beauvoir. “The Samaritaine will be more democratic.”

Luxury goods has become a star category over at Printemps, too. Danon said sales on the newly minted luxury floor, which features in-store shops from such brands as Cartier, Boucheron, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel, are up 30 percent for the year.

“The luxury concept has been a winner for us,” said Danon. “It has become very important to be creative with new concepts. I believe new concepts bring in new customers.”

Danon acknowledged that the competition between the department stores here has heated up recently.

“In difficult economic times, when there’s less growth, the competition gets even tougher,” said Danon. “It’s the law of supply and demand.”

“Luxury used to be the daily bread of the elite,” said Houze. “Now it is the exception for the masses. Department stores have concentrated on luxury for this reason. A department store is more accessible to most people than a chic shop on the Avenue Montaigne.”

Bongibault agreed that many shoppers feel intimidated by stand-alone luxury shops. “Again, it’s a question of being able to compare what’s out there,” she said.

Houze said competition among department stores here flipped into high gear five years ago as the nature of shopping changed.

“Retail-tainment is important now,” he said. “Customers don’t come to shop, they come for the shopping experience.”

To that end, Houze said a men’s spa just opened in the store and that an increasing number of art and fashion exhibitions have been organized in a gallery space the store inaugurated last year.

“Five years ago, department stores were like old women in need of a facelift,” he said. “Now that everyone has been to the doctor, they want to show off their beauty. That makes for an interesting — and competitive — environment.”

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