PARIS — Uniqlo is getting conceptual.
The Japanese fast-fashion giant has inaugurated a new retail model with the opening of its fifth store here in a 19th-century former factory in the Marais district, where it is selling clothes and accessories alongside a selection of other products, including books.
Yuki Katsuta, head of research and design at Uniqlo, said the store, at number 39 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, was designed as a flagship retail destination highlighting “the coolest Japanese lifestyle concept.”
“We are thinking of making that store…one of the best fashion-message concept stores in the world. Mainly we’re going to be merchandising Uniqlo products. We may also mix in some different items, maybe books, maybe furniture,” he explained.
“It’s supposed to be a completely different store to any other store,” said Katsuta, adding that the concept could be rolled out eventually to other cities.
Designed by Tokyo-based interior design firm Wonderwall, the store spans just over 8,800 square feet across three floors.
Located in a former jewelry-waste foundry, it juxtaposes modern elements like digital screens and LED displays with original features such as an imposing 115-foot red-brick chimney, which literally soars through the shop’s glass rooftop.
“Please visit downstairs,” encouraged Berndt Hauptkorn, Uniqlo’s chief operating officer of Europe, during the inaugural party on Thursday. “We created a museumlike atmosphere,” he noted, calling the place “a ruin” when the company spotted it.
On display are several of the old, highly specialized tools for cleaning and recycling gold and other precious materials, as well as a mock-up of the former factory.
Uniqlo has ventured beyond clothing before: In September 2012, it opened Bigqlo, a collaboration with Japanese electronics retailer Big Camera, in Tokyo.
The Marais opening is part of an aggressive overseas growth drive that could see parent company Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. open between 100 and 300 Uniqlo stores outside Japan in 2014. Earlier this month saw the opening of the first Uniqlo store in Germany, the largest in Europe, and another in Melbourne, Australia.
The maker of lightweight down jackets and the popular HeatTech line of thermal underwear also plans to open its first French store outside Paris, in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, later this spring.
The Marais store is the smallest to date for Uniqlo in the French capital. Its flagships at Opéra and La Défense clock in at 21,500 square feet and 17,200 square feet, respectively, while the Uniqlo stores at the So Ouest and Beaugrenelle shopping malls both span around 10,650 square feet.
That required a more selective approach to merchandising, said Jörgen Andersson, who joined Uniqlo from Esprit Holdings Ltd. in January as co-global chief marketing officer. To wit: The store’s offer hones in on the spring collection designed in collaboration with Parisian style icon Inès de la Fressange, who attended a presentation held at the new space a couple of weeks before the opening.
Andersson hailed the store as exemplifying a new retail model.
“The Marais as a district has really made itself known for being very creative. I mean, every company that comes there has been trying to preserve what has been there from the past and really respect the historical heritage of the area, and add something new to it, mixing the old and the new,” he noted.
“It’s much more back to where we used to be. Instead of going downtown to big flagships locations, we like to shop in the neighborhood where we live, where you have your local butcher, your local grocery store, your local Uniqlo store,” he added.
“I think that’s quite interesting. I could personally see that coming in London or any other big city around the world.”
The opening was accompanied by an outdoor advertising campaign featuring four local personalities: director and actress Géraldine Nakache and DJs Brodinski, Mouloud Achour and Inès Mélia. The four were photographed by Thomas Lohr and styled by Jonathan Kaye.