Le Bon Marché will showcase technology

PARIS — The technology wave taking over retail has swelled into a full-blown tsunami. Le Bon Marché is embracing the new tide, and has embarked on a wide-sweeping tech exhibit that will run from Feb. 23 to April 22.

The department store will be stocked with futuristic gadgets of all shapes and sizes, including interactive displays, virtual reality, holograms, full-body massage machines and an infinite supply of personalized products — down to the very soles of shoes. Project organizers have roped in every department to take part in this futuristic experiment, and dozens of brands are participating in the technology bonanza. 

It’s about more than simply selling merchandise, explained style director Jennifer Cuvillier.

“We wanted to go further, for the client and really go for the experience, go beyond the products, to offer people a unique experience linked to new technologies,” said Cuvillier. “The idea was to do something fun,” she added.

Technology and the digital sphere aren’t always well understood, offering another reason for a department store to seize on the chance to engage in a large-scale project.

Casting a wider net, rather than sticking with small measures here and there, was a way for the store to bet on the future and help shed fears about new technologies, she observed. 

“It opens a rather extraordinary range of possibilities,” she said, citing the breadth of options offered by personalization as an example. What might seem basic for a technology company — a simple question of coding, for example, takes on a whole new dimension when applied to the retail universe, she added.

In the personalization department, a client’s initials take on new life as a full pattern, which can be applied to leather handbags by Valextra. The tone of a voice will be used to devise the font to spell out a word on a T-shirt, in another example, making the letters blurred, wavy, or perhaps boldly upright.

A virtual swing, meanwhile, comes in the form of a large handbag signed Delvaux, meant to be sat upon, facing a screen that offers a traveling experience in new landscapes. Ralph Lauren will offer a digital wall for building modern art works — handily e-mailed to the artist upon completion.

Grouping everything under one roof with a set time and place for exhibition pushed some brands to forge ahead with ideas they had been toying with for a while, in some cases, said Cuvillier. 

Virtual reality will take visitors on a motorcycle spin in the desert as Bradley Cooper, where they will notice he wears an IWC Schaffhausen wristwatch. The mechanics of a Jaeger LeCoultre or Zenith timepiece will be available for inspection via a holograph. 

In keeping with the theme, the project was drafted speedily, initially thought up just over half a year ago, recounted Cuvillier.

In the shoe department, Bettina Vermillon will offer different aluminum heels to customize pumps while Ecco Quant U takes things a step further with soles moulded to individual feet. Lemon Jelly, meanwhile, has crafted glow-in-the-dark soles on a selection of high-end rubber boots.

The makeup counter at Nars will offer a connected mirror showing different color combinations of makeup while Guerlain will employ artificial intelligence to help select the right fragrance out of a dizzying array of more than 100 choices.  

And if the techie onslaught fails to send heads spinning, visitors can trek upstairs for a stiff drink — mixed by robots. Cocktails conceived for labels Moynat and La Mer are already on the menu.

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