PARIS — Printemps on Tuesday unveiled a new floor dedicated to sustainable fashion, reflecting growing competition among French department stores to attract environmentally minded consumers as they seek to compensate for the continued absence of Asian tourists.
Printemps chief executive officer Jean-Marc Bellaiche presented the seventh-floor space — called “Septième Ciel” (“Seventh Heaven” in English) — two weeks after neighboring Galeries Lafayette unveiled its own circular fashion space, Re(Store).
The executive, who has made uniqueness one of the three pillars of the strategy he introduced after his arrival in October 2020, said he believed Printemps stands out from the competition with services that include a vintage department where customers can sell secondhand items in exchange for store credit.
“We are not the first to tackle circular fashion and the secondhand market, but I think we are the first to do it with this force and this ambition,” he said.
At almost 14,000 square feet, the new floor is more than twice as large as the space at Galeries Lafayette, though the rival store took the lead on sustainability initiatives with the launch of its Go for Good label three years ago. While Printemps set in motion a series of internal measures in 2017, its efforts have been less consumer-facing until now.
The store initiated a big communications push on Sept. 2 with the introduction of its own label, “Unis vers le beau responsable” (“United for responsible beauty”), attributed to 400 brands that meet a selection of 22 qualifying criteria determined by a panel of independent experts, said Stéphane Roth, chief marketing and communication officer at Printemps.
“As a retailer, we are a vector between brands and the end consumer, so we are trying to create a virtuous chain in which we fully play our role of curator and trendsetter in favor of sustainable fashion and products,” he said.
To mark the launch, the store tapped Amélie Lengrand and Sophie Paumelle of Atelier Laps to create window installations featuring giant ribbons made of bamboo fiber, one of which also hangs under the building’s second glass cupola, which has been restored to house a space with eight pop-up stores that will rotate every two or three months.
Built in 1910, the Binet cupola was dismantled during World War II, and its original stained glass panes were subsequently lost in a fire. The space was later used as a staff canteen and an auditorium, its glass-and-steel roof obscured.
Stripped bare to let in the light, it is opening with a mix of brands including alteration service Tilli; vintage retailers Relique and Nuovo; sneaker care and customization service Docteur Sneaker; secondhand children’s clothes retailer Bonâge, and a selection of upcycled and recycled items from the Printemps-owned online homeware retailer Made in Design.
A central table will offer products ranging from Kintsugi ceramic repair kits from Dutch brand Mora Approved, to organic tampons and sanitary pads by Flo.
Next door is the Pont d’Argent, originally built in 1933, home to the Second Printemps vintage offer. Previously used as a show space, then for management offices, it opens onto a terrace with panoramic views of Paris, including the Opera house and the Eiffel Tower.
Furnished with recycled display units, and a mobile by artist Charles Kaisin consisting of 12,000 silver origami birds, the department is curated by vintage specialist Marie Blanchet, who has sprinkled the assortment with 20 percent of trending items, like ‘90s Prada nylon bags, and 10 percent of rare finds, including an Alaïa belt worn by Naomi Campbell.
Bellaiche said it marked the start of an ambitious strategy. “Initially, we will take back a limited range of products, but the ambition is much broader. The ambition is that, ultimately, we will be able to take back any product purchased at Printemps,” he said. “This process is only going to improve.”
While he did not unveil specific targets for the new floor, Bellaiche said it was in tune with Gen Z’s aspirations. “I think this will help to attract a younger customer,” he predicted.
Providing the first trading update since Printemps reopened in May after several months of coronavirus pandemic-related closures, the executive said group sales between June and August were up 30 percent year-on-year, but down 16 percent compared with 2019, considered a more reliable benchmark year due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
“When you take into account that there were very few Asian tourists in France this summer, we think it’s a good result,” Bellaiche said, noting that revenues from local customers were up 12 percent during the period versus the corresponding period in 2019, while digital and omnichannel sales tripled.
Bellaiche has shaken up the retailer’s management ranks. Among his latest recruits are chief omnichannel officer Mathieu Staat, international chief operating officer Olivier Schaeffer, and Laurence Nicolas, who took over in May as director of the department store chain’s Boulevard Haussmann flagship.
The store has introduced dedicated spaces for gifts, athleisure and games; rolled out its e-commerce site printemps.com in the U.K.; launched live shopping, and increased its program of in-store events.
In the next few months, it plans to merge the printemps.com and printempsfrance.com websites, and revamp the site for its fashion e-commerce site Place des Tendances. In October, it will extend its Printania loyalty program to overseas customers, before introducing a new visual identity and brand patform next March.
While plans to open a store in Milan have been scrapped, Printemps is scheduled to unveil its first overseas location in Doha, Qatar, in September 2022, just ahead of the FIFA World Cup, set to run there from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18, 2022.