Imagine an outdoor mall made up of just beauty brands.
This story first appeared in the May 18, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That’s what’s happening in the Marais neighborhood. Flanking either side of the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, running west for half a block starting at Rue de Turenne (just a hop from the majestic Place des Vosges), there are about 14 boutiques selling fragrance, makeup and skin care. It’s a veritable who’s-who of the beauty world. Take one step and there’s Bobbi Brown. Another, and it’s Make Up For Ever, Kiko Milano, MAC Cosmetics, Kiehl’s, L’Occitane en Provence, Diptyque and Guerlain. The list goes on.
“It’s size, availability, cost and exposure that make it interesting for a brand,” said Jody Israelsky, principal of Retail Vision, a retail real estate consulting company.
In Paris it is not particularly easy to find well-situated small boutiques — in the 40- to 60-square-meter (444-to 666-square-foot) range — which are sought after for their profitability, she explained.
And whereas annual rent on the mega-trafficked Avenue des Champs-Élysées can ramp up to 18,000 euros a square meter (which works out to about $1,912 a square foot, at current exchange), on the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois tenants generally pay between 5,000 euros and 7,000 euros a square meter (compared to 2,500 euros some years ago), or about $530 to $743 a square foot, an industry expert said.
The Marais — with its historic and cultural locales such as the Rue des Rosiers and Picasso museum — is a huge tourist lure, due in great part to its shops being open on Sunday (a rarity in Paris), since it has been designated as one of the city’s international tourist zones.
“Shopping is a top priority for going to the Marais,” continued Israelsky. “On Francs-Bourgeois, you can get incredible brand exposure and still make money, even though the prices have gone up.”
The beauty boom really started a few years ago there, long after big-name fashion boutiques took a firm hold of the neighborhood that was formerly chockablock with independent stores.
“There was a whole transition from mom-and-pop [shops] to good brands from the Sentier [Paris’ wholesale district] to well-known French chains and then international brands,” said Israelsky.
The swell of beauty boutiques (that also includes Acqua di Parma, Jo Malone, Penhaligon’s and Fragonard) began after MAC Cosmetics and Kiehl’s set up there, according to Nathalie Razafine, a partner and head of national high street retail at Cushman & Wakefield, who also pointed to a global trend helping spur the phenomenon.
“The beauty and cosmetics sector is experiencing strong growth,” she said, adding of the Marais: “It’s the cradle of new trends with a hip population, frequented by demanding and cutting-edge trend originators with good purchasing power, [and] where designers and new concepts are present.”
Chanel is a case in point. Located a bit further down on Francs-Bourgeois, the brand opened its first permanent beauty boutique in the French capital late last year. According to the house, the location is faithful to the spirit of Gabrielle Chanel, who loved to be where she was not expected.
The shop, in the L’Hôtel Hérouet building, has maintained many original design elements, such as terra-cotta floors and tiles, stone walls and a 16th-century well.
“We were looking for a new setting for the discovery of our exclusive products and a place to express our creativity,” said Thomas Levy, general manager of Chanel France.
“The Marais is a neighborhood apart in Paris,” he continued, adding the Chanel shop is in the more fashion-oriented section of Francs-Bourgeois. “This boutique allows us to offer a unique quality of service as a complement to what we propose in the department stores. It’s a valuable contact with the capital, its inhabitants and visitors.”
Foreign brands include a preponderance of Brazilians and Americans, noted Isabelle Simon-Raffner, head of international retail for L’Oréal Active Cosmetics. That division has set up a DermaCenter location on Francs-Bourgeois. It’s a concept that launched in travel retail about two years ago, selling under one roof L’Oréal’s active cosmetics brands, including Vichy, La Roche-Posay, SkinCeuticals, Sanoflore and Roger & Gallet, plus offers consultations, mini-treatments and other services.
“We were looking to settle our European flagship in this area, and waited until we found the right place,” she said, adding the Marais-based DermaCenter “maximizes the visibility and attractiveness of the division’s brands and raises customer awareness.”
Beauty labels keep moving on to Francs-Bourgeois, with the next in line being Urban Decay, whose boutique is under construction. There is also a sprinkling of furniture and interior decoration shops alongside restaurants in the area. Eataly plans to open in the Marais in a few years.
Still, it is expected to remain primarily the realm of big-name beauty and fashion boutiques. Like Chanel, these might try out new retail ideas or products, according to Israelsky, “like little labs.”
“Brands can be creative there, do something special,” she explained. “It’s a great test market.”