bhv marais

PARIS — Long known for its basement DIY section, BHV Marais has upped its hip quotient since undergoing a major renovation two years ago. As the Paris department store celebrates its 160th anniversary, its ongoing reinvention is helping it deal with a morose retail environment and falling tourist numbers.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Residents of the Marais district have watched the once dusty flagship, which belongs to Galeries Lafayette Group, become a cool destination thanks to a savvy mix of fashion, homewares, beauty and restaurants, like its popular rooftop terrace Le Perchoir.

The transformation has been led by Alexandre Liot, who took over as director of BHV in 2013. He has increased fashion’s share of store revenues to 42 percent from 25 percent, thanks to the arrival of exclusive brands like Topshop and Anthropologie.

BHV has revamped its beauty floor, which now carries niche perfumes alongside brands like Aesop, Kiehl’s and Jurlique. It is in the midst of renovating the stand-alone BHV Homme men’s store and has opened dedicated men’s boutiques nearby for Moncler, Fendi, Valentino, Givenchy, Gucci, Nike and Polo Sport.

Now Liot is gearing up for phase two, which will see the neighborhood become a lifestyle destination stretching between the store and the Galeries Lafayette Foundation headquarters, designed by Rem Koolhaas, which will open next year. Between the two will sit Eataly’s first French flagship, set to bow in 2018.

Liot is frank about the challenges he faces. BHV Marais posted a 6 percent rise in sales last year but missed its target of breaking even, as the positive momentum was derailed by the terrorist attacks in Paris in January and November, he said.

The city of Paris stands to lose as much as $1.5 billion in tourist revenues this year, according to the Paris Regional Tourist Board, which last month reported a 6.4 percent drop in overnight visitors in the first half of the year. Floods and strikes have further tarnished the French capital’s image.

“We have been spared nothing, so it’s been a difficult first half with an impact on business,” Liot said, noting sales were down 2 percent in the first six months. “We’re on the road to profitability. In terms of 2016, the last four months of the year are so crucial that it’s difficult today to put a timetable on the turnaround.”

On the upside, BHV Marais in July became the first and only department store in Paris allowed to open on Sundays, after striking a deal with labor unions that has so far eluded the much larger Galeries Lafayette flagship on Boulevard Haussmann.

“We have seen good Sunday sales in line with our expectations, so this could be one of the levers that will allow us to meet our targets,” he said. “For the full year, it will boost our turnover by 6 to 8 percent.”

In addition, BHV Marais is gearing up for the launch of an e-commerce site in the second half of 2017, as part of an omnichannel push that has also involved bringing pure players in store: Its fourth-floor home decor section carries items from catalog retailer La Redoute’s AM.PM brand and online furniture seller Made in Design.

Having spent 35 million euros, or $45 million, on renovating its Marais flagship, the retailer is investing an extra 12 million euros, or $16.3 million, in its branch at the Parly 2 shopping center west of Paris. Work started in January and is due to be completed at the end of 2017.

BHV Marais is increasingly targeting foreign visitors to Paris, who now account for 15 percent of sales, up from 2 to 5 percent three years ago. Liot hopes to increase this proportion to 35 percent by 2020, noting the store is especially convenient for the scores of Airbnb renters in central Paris.

The retailer is also expanding overseas. BHV Marais will open its second international unit in October at Dubai’s City Walk mall. The franchise store in the United Arab Emirates is being developed with regional retail operator Admic, which has been operating a BHV Marais store in Beirut, Lebanon, since 1998.

“We will be very attentive to client feedback and the store’s performance,” said Liot. “International development is not our priority. Having said that, if any interesting opportunities arise, we will obviously seize them.”

In the meantime, he is counting on the anniversary celebrations to boost activity at the Paris store. The festivities will start officially on Sept. 12 with a visit from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, to be followed the next day with a party including video projections on the building’s facade.

To mark the occasion, brands including Michael Kors, Furla, Levi’s, Lacoste, Canada Goose, Coach and Fontanaarte have designed exclusive products in the store’s signature shades of orange and black, which will be available between Sept. 28 and Oct. 10.

BHV Marais has commissioned a project by artist Jean-Luc Moulène titled “Bleu de Costume” ahead of his retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in October.

The store is also taking part for the first time in the nationwide European Heritage Days on Sept 17 and 18. Images from its archives are on display on the wrought iron fence around Paris City Hall, across the road, until Oct. 8.

In parallel, an in-store exhibition running until Oct. 1 details the history of the store. Art lovers can see a reproduction of the bottle rack bought by Dada artist Marcel Duchamp in 1914, which he famously labeled a “readymade,” thereby paving the way for 20th-century conceptual art.

Above all, BHV — which accounts for around a tenth of revenues at Galeries Lafayette Group — has to be nimble. Going forward, it plans to focus increasingly on services, such as its recently introduced hands-free shopping facility and mobile payment terminals, which are in the test phase.