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PARIS — The Marais district in Paris was at one time an area of vegetable gardens cultivated by monks. Although men still inhabit the area, fashion is now the produce of choice.
“Men’s wear is certainly growing, even though in Paris it certainly advances a little slower,” said Clarent Dehlouz, owner of the multibrand store French Trotter, part of a new wave of men’s specialty stores to arrive in the historic neighborhood recently.
“Our clientele is of all ages and horizons, but what unites them is an interest in cosmopolitan culture,” said Dehlouz, who stocks contemporary brands such as Nom de Guerre and Scandinavian designers Mads Nørgaard and Won Hundred and Fillipa K.
Indeed, a range of new attractions — from eateries and chocolate shops to fashion and concept stores of all stripes — has kept the area throbbing with foot traffic, helping to insulate it from the economic downturn.
“There are two phenomena in this area: it is a huge hit with the young pop-rock crowd and the media and fashion conscious,” said French designer Christophe Lemaire, who anticipated the area’s potential by opening his flagship on Rue Poitou two years ago. “It is a really emerging area — there are also ad agencies and graphic design companies springing up.”
Taking the place of an old pharmacy, Lemaire was able to incorporate some of its original features — and yet it remains startlingly new. Lemaire, who also designs for Lacoste, recently refurbished part of the boutique. “I have redone the architecture and it will be a bit like a gym,” he explained.
The area known as the Haute-Marais, or upper Marais, is particularly hot, thanks to a steady stream of residents, tourists and Parisians from other neighborhoods who are attracted to the eclectic shopping mix — and Sunday opening hours, still atypical in Paris. Indeed Dutch men’s brand Scotch and Soda recently opened a store on the Rue Vielle du Temple, hoping the flow of pedestrians and seven days a week shopping will prove profitable.
While more established brands like APC, American Apparel and Les Prairies de Paris were among early arrivals, newcomers peddle a range of men’s wear, from conservative to street chic.
The flagship boutique of Croatian men’s designer Damir Doma opened this spring, tucked away on the Rue des Arquebusiers. The store is minimalist, a perfect foil for Doma’s androgynous silhouettes in muted hues.
Another international designer who chose to open his flagship boutique in the Marais is Philippe Zorzetto, who can be found at 106 Rue Vieille du Temple. The store showcases a “mixte” collection where the same style comes both in men’s and women’s sizes, along with handmade shoes.
Royal Cheese, which opened late last year at 26 Rue de Poitou, specializes in street culture and urbanwear, including the Japanese line Edwin, vintage labels and denim.
A few steps away on the Rue de Saintonge is Tigersushi Furs, its men’s collection inspired by owner Joquim Bouaziz’s record label of the same name. The designs include T-shirts with band logos, Throbbing Gristle being one, plus cashmere cardigans and other styles perfect for the underground indie music scene.
On the same street, another fashion and record label, April 77, stocks skinny jeans and rock-inspired collections for both men and women, while further along the road is Ventilo Homme, an offshoot of the casual women’s wear brand, and Vénus et Judes, a loungewear collection for men and women.
For some independent brands, the Marais has become a window to attract wholesale clients.
“During the week, the shop sees a lot of buyers come through the doors, from Japanese to Canadian to American. These buyers represent high-end brands and trendy companies, such as Barneys New York and Urban Outfitters,” said Lubna Playoust, public relations and communications manager for Surface to Air, at 129 Rue de Turenne, which started as a creative agency and is morphing into a lifestyle brand. A children’s collection has just been added, and the shop also stocks Opening Ceremony.
Similarly, Jacenko, a small high-end boutique, which carries labels such as John Smedley, Givenchy and Notify on the Rue de Poitou, has attracted quite a few foreign clients. “The arrival of more boutiques in the area is, for the most part, a good thing; however, expansion is only good if it’s not too cheap,” cautioned owner Frédéric Jacenko. “New stores coming in have been of good quality, and the neighborhood has been really evolving.”