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PARIS — Retailers here, faced with a tepid economy and mounting fast-fashion competition, are using more personal and quirky flourishes to set themselves apart from the competition.

Take Galeries Lafayette, the mammoth department store on the Boulevard Haussmann, which enlisted rising architect Florence Doleac to renovate its women’s fashion department with a “warmer, organic look,” according Michel Roulleau, the store’s assistant chief executive officer.
“Minimalism — its sharp corners and clean surfaces — was the opposite of what we wanted,” he said. “That type of interior now scares shoppers off.

“We were after something like a flea market, in which the shopper can be surprised and have the impression that they are discovering on their own.”

Doleac’s concept has been dubbed “a fashion garden” because brands now are laid out on a kind of roundabout path with curved wood fixtures and a treelike light installation in the middle.

“Shoppers get bored very quickly today,” explained Roulleau of the renovation — the third in six years for Galeries’ fashion department. “We need to be like a theater of fashion, and in a theater you change the decor.”

Meanwhile, lifestyle underscores what’s going on elsewhere at Galeries, which has experienced success with its home concept and is now rolling it out to stores in the provinces.

The retailer also has just inaugurated a sports department at its flagship here, with brands from Lacoste to Sonia Rykiel.

“We call it sport attitude,” said Roulleau. “What we want to say is that sport is about well-being. Women wear sports clothes beyond the gym.”

Over at the Bon Marché, the Left Bank department store owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the women’s fashion department has been renovated with a “homey” environment called the “apartment of fashion.”

Philippe de Beauvoir, the store’s president, calls the new layout “convivial” and attuned to an easy and reassuring experience for shoppers perusing brands from Balenciaga to Marni.

There are olive trees, for instance, interspersed with paintings and other more “intimate” decorative touches such as intricate chandeliers. “It’s important to personalize the shopping experience more,” he said.

This story first appeared in the October 4, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That’s certainly the case at Les Belles Images, a shop just opened on the trendy Rue Charlot in the Marais. It has a retro decor with furniture from the Fifties to the Seventies, which it offers for sale alongside brands such as Véronique Leroy and Vivienne Westwood.

Sandy Bontout, a former Galeries Lafayette buyer who is now also commercial director at Véronique Leroy, called the store a counterpoint to the standardized shopping experience she found elsewhere.

“It’s an individual’s point of view,” she said. “What shoppers want is what they can’t find elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, shops have been popping up rapidly across the city.

Victoria Casal, known for her luscious fine jewelry, has opened an outpost on the Rue des Saints-Peres, on the Left Bank, with a boudoir-like interior, while Spanish jewelry firm Tous has opened a 700-square-foot space on the Rue Saint-Honoré, its first here, with dark wood fixtures and a clean, pared-down interior.

For her part, Véronique Leroy, a fashion insider favorite, opened her first boutique, on the Rue d’Alger, down the street from Helmut Lang and Diane von Furstenberg.

With her name visible in gold letters on the awning, Leroy explained she wanted to create “a shop that expresses the atmosphere I think of when I create my collections.”

She said the 600-square-foot shop — with walls covered in chocolate brown velour or painted chocolate in shiny lacquer, red velour-covered mannequins and a big window with a floor of brown marble — channels the worlds of David Lynch and Dario Argento, with a dark, sexy undercurrent.

“I wanted it to feel sensual,” explained Leroy. “It’s important to give shoppers an emotion.”

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