Byline: Alison Beckner / Robert Murphy

PARIS — The Rue Etienne Marcel is singing the blues.
The central Right Bank thoroughfare here, which links the upscale Place des Victoires with the hip Marais district, has become home to a slew of new denim shops.
Early last month, Italy’s Replay and Diesel both christened flagships on the street. Energie, part of Italian denim company Sixty SpA, also recently moved into the neighborhood, adding to tenants that already included Cerruti Jeans, G-Star and Marithe & Francois Girbaud.
The jeans firms said they stand to benefit from the street’s recent resurgence among hipsters, which they attribute to stores like The Shop and Kiliwatch, both of which cater to streetwise teenagers by offering vintage clothes, jeans, streetwear and electronic music. “We’re counting on benefiting from the clientele that comes here for their shops,” explained Martine Thiam, president of Replay’s French division. “The clientele is young, well-off and very fashionable. This neighborhood’s hot.”
Replay’s two-level 6,000-square-foot store, designed by Italian architect Maoro Bacchini, is located at the corner of Rue Etienne Marcel and the Rue Montmartre, just across the street from the new Diesel unit. It replaced a kitchen supplies store.
Its interior style blends “post-industrialism and retro chic,” explained Thiam. The floors are mostly wood with rough steel fixtures and resin tables. The building’s fresco-covered ceiling, protected for its historical value, has become the shop’s central feature.
“Initially, we wanted to cover up the ceiling,” said Thiam. “But it’s very beautiful. Still, we wanted it to be contemporary. Angels floating in the clouds are nice, but not very Replay.”
Catering to Replay’s tastes, Bacchini left a circular swath of the ceiling visible but covered the rest with a sleek metallic casing.
Thiam declined to provide Replay’s sales projections for the store, but she said the firm has high expectations. “There’s substantial foot traffic on the street,” said Thiam. “We’re banking on equally substantial sales.” Thiam added that Replay already has gotten a read on the neighborhood’s potential through the Eplay shop that bowed on Rue Etienne Marcel last spring. Eplay and Replay are both brands operated by Italy’s Fashion Box. For its part, Diesel also is a firm believer in the future of the neighborhood. “This is the emergent fashion street in Paris,” said Giovanni Pungetti, president of Diesel France. “It’s not only a denim street. It’s also strong on the fashion side.”
Pungetti pointed to designer shops already on the street, including Yohji Yamamoto, Patrick Cox, Kenzo and Barbara Bui, as giving Rue Etienne Marcel a strong fashion cachet. In fact, Pugetti said Diesel will open its own, more fashion-forward store on the street in early October: a 950-square-foot unit dedicated to its Diesel Style Lab brand.
In the meantime, the Italian firm has opened a three-floor, 2,500-square-foot shop for its main women’s and men’s Diesel line. Designed by Diesel’s in-house team, the shop features cement floors and antique fixtures.
“This is a very important shop for us,” said Renzo Rosso, Diesel chairman and owner, as he hosted the shop’s opening, followed by a blowout fete for about 500 people. “We believe in Etienne Marcel’s future.”
Rosso explained that the new shop will replace Diesel’s five-year-old shop in the Les Halles shopping district — which was remodeled this year — as its new flagship.
“Being on Etienne Marcel — amidst innovative fashion names — gives us fashion credibility by association,” said Pungetti. Although he declined to provide sales projections, he said the shop did about $11,000 in sales in just three hours on the first day it was open for business.
Pugetti said the new unit is part of a concentrated effort by Diesel in France to increase sales. As part of that push, a 2,700-square-foot unit in the southern town of Toulouse was inaugurated in September. Diesel also has added in-shops in Paris’s major department stores, including the The Bon Marche and the Galeries Lafayette. Pungetti said within the next three years there are plans to open 20 shops in France — including a unit for its New York Industrie line in Paris next March — and double sales within the next two years. Currently Diesel sales in France are around $8.5 million, according to Pungetti. Meanwhile, the three-level, 6,500-square-foot unit opened by Energie replaced what was previously a Chevignon flagship and houses Italian group Sixty SpA’s three brands: Energie, Miss Sixty and Killah Babe. For Energie, the new influx of jeans retailers creates an energetic retailing environment and promises brisk business.
“When there are a bunch of shops in the area, all catering to like customers, it’s good for everyone,” agreed Diesel’s Pungetti.
Francois Girbaud, who with his wife Marithe owns and designs the Girbaud jeans line, concurs. He said that the increased number of retailers and surrounding businesses already appear to have had a positive effect on the shop Girbaud opened on the street in 1997.
He recalls the radical transformation of the street since the Eighties, when he first opened a shop there, which he later closed before coming back. “It was a desolate street at that time,” Girbaud said. “It was cheap. That’s why we set up shop here.” He cited Comme des Garcons, which recently transferred its store from Rue Etienne Marcel to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, and Yohji Yamamoto, which still operates two stores on the street, for helping give Rue Etienne Marcel a more upscale cachet.
Sylvia Rielle, a designer who transferred her business from a 600-square-foot space on the street, which she turned over to the Costes, to the 2,000-square-foot shop once served as Comme des Garcon’s women’s store, said her sales have doubled over the last couple of months. Rielle opened her new shop in June.
“It’s an attractive street with attractive stores,” she commented of Rue Etienne Marcel. “No chains, nothing cheap.”
But not everyone is happy that the street has become “denim central.” William Halimi, president of Barbara Bui, the designer firm which runs four boutiques and a cafe on the street, complained that the denim firms are riding on the coattails of the fashion firms that made Etienne Marcel what it is.
“Their arrival won’t be good for my business,” said Halimi. “It won’t be bad, but we’re not going after the same clientele. We have a high-end client. Theirs is lower. I hope they don’t skew the street in the wrong direction. But I don’t think that will happen. There’s probably room for everyone.”
Meanwhile, as the street becomes a favorite to denim firms, Rue Etienne Marcel and its adjacent streets is attracting attention from other fashionable businesses. Armand Hadida, owner of L’Eclaireur, the designer retailer here, recently opened a new shop just off Rue Etienne Marcel on Rue Herold. And the Costes family, whose Paris empire counts trendy eateries such as the Cafe Marley, Georges at the Centre Pompidou and the Hotel Costes, is poised to open a new restaurant on the street. To be designed by graphic designers M/M and artist Pierre Huygues, its opening is scheduled for late fall, according to Thierry Costes.
“I love this neighborhood,” said Costes. “It’s central, hip and young. It’s good for business.”