PARIS — Setting up a retail outpost is a bold move, especially for an independent brand. But more and more French men’s wear labels, especially those in accessories and swimwear, are taking the plunge.
This story first appeared in the December 4, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
François-Régis Laporte, for one, is rejuvenating France’s long-standing tradition of tie-making. “Oh yes, the tie is French,” Laporte said, relating how it made its way from the necks of Croatian soldiers who had been hired by the French army to the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, where it became a fashionable item, quickly spurring the creation of new styles.
Laporte’s accessories brand Maison F just opened its first stand-alone store, a 120-square-foot shop at 42 Rue de Verneuil.
Sales have doubled every year since the brand was founded in 2011 and it is now available at 140 sales points around the world, including Isetan, Saks Fifth Avenue and Printemps. But Laporte said that even though French department stores provide visibility, costs for staff and commissions can be onerous, which prompted him to open his own store. “I prefer to spend my money on my own shop. Also, it was time to introduce my concept,” he explained.
According to Laporte, while sell-throughs in multibrand and department stores are strong, since they operate mostly through licenses, “the pieces have no identity.” That’s not true at the Maison F store.
Best-selling items are short ties, retailing from 67 euros, or $83.90 at current exchange, which can be worn two or three at a time, and bow ties starting at 98 euros, or $122.70, in exotic shapes such as clover, moon and mermaid. They also come with a patented, magnetically adjustable neckband for extra comfort, and are made by hand at Paris’ last remaining “cravatier,” or tie-maker.
“You will see lots of young guys wearing bow ties,” he predicted. “Brands like H&M and Zara took up the category. And there’s been a flurry of new belt and bag brands at Tranoi and Pitti Uomo.”
“Globally, ties experienced strong growth in 2013, rising by 6 percent in value terms,” said Magdalena Kondej, head of apparel and footwear at Euromonitor International. “In fact, growth in ties far outpaced growth in men’s suits, as men look to push boundaries within fashion and do away with traditional norms. Many pair a tie with a button-down shirt and jeans,” she said, adding that the desire to accentuate their outfits makes them turn to a variety of ties, including “an above-average number of bow ties.”
In Western Europe alone, the researcher expects tie sales to jump 4.6 percent between 2013 and 2018. By comparison, the category was down 14.7 percent between 2008 and 2013.
In the swimwear arena, French surfer-turned-modern gentlemen’s brand Cuisse de Grenouille is taking a more real estate savvy approach to retail expansion. Having just set up its second stand-alone unit in Paris within a year, the young company is scouting up-and-coming neighborhoods before they turn into key shopping destinations and become unaffordable.
Its most recent scoop: Paris’ Batignolles district. “It’s like a village here,” said Séverin Bonnichon, a surfer-turned-entrepreneur who founded Cuisse de Grenouille with his brother Lucas in 2010. “For now, it’s mostly bars and restaurants, but APC just moved in next door and our real estate agent is telling us that more brands will settle here shortly,” he said of Place du Docteur Félix Lobligeois, where the brand occupies a 380-square-foot space.
The area is indeed experiencing a makeover: Paris’ new law courts conceived by Renzo Piano are soon moving here, DDB Worldwide’s new offices are already up and running, and a budding high-end residential project, separated from the store by nothing more than a charming park, is expected to bring an affluent and creative group of customers to the thriving label, which already has a presence on Rue Froissart in the city’s Marais district — formerly a sleepy side street, now part of a triangle that is the area’s new shopping hub for men’s wear.
The Bonnichon brothers, who are currently looking for a third Paris location, said they plan to add two new boutiques a year, first targeting Europe, then Japan, Korea and the U.S., their strongest international markets.
Having started as an accessories and swimwear brand inspired by the image of a surfer from the Sixties, the company has been quickly extending its range, too, offering chinos for 99 euros, or $123, and shirts for 100 euros, or $125. Its ready-to-wear collection in a range of high-end fabrics now accounts for 60 percent of sales.
A shoe capsule is to follow at Christmas, while a children’s line is to make its debut in 2015.
The idea for the latter came with the new Batignolles venue, the duo noted. “On Saturdays, you see a lot of young fathers pushing baby strollers around here, and it turns out they want the same pair of board shorts for their kids,” said Lucas. “So in a way, our stand-alone stores have become a testing ground of sorts.”
Still, the brothers have no intention of turning their back on key department stores. Come January, Cuisse de Grenouille, which generated revenues of 1.5 million euros, or $1.9 million, in 2014, will add a permanent presence in the swimwear section of Paris’ Le Bon Marché.
Christophe Vérot, founder and creative director of swimwear brand Robinson Les Bains, has a theory why indie brands are blooming all over the city: “A guy today is more demanding than ever before, always looking for something new and fresh. And France is a good place for that, there is a lot of variety. Also, many buyers regularly come to town, which makes it worth it, having an outpost here — competition is actually a good thing.”
Robinson Les Bains tested the grounds with a pop-up in the Marais before settling on its first brick-and-mortar unit a few streets down, at 14 Rue Saint Claude, due to open on Dec. 2.
“It’s not your typical retail street, but filled with little galleries; the Perrotin Gallery is just around the corner,” he said, suggesting that it was an alluring spot for an independent brand, off the quarter’s beaten tracks.
The 430-square-foot space, which comes with a showroom and an office on the upper floor, is designed like a mini concept store. While 80 percent of the mix is Robinson Les Bains, the remainder is reserved for a bunch of labels that complement the swimwear brand’s universe, in which a pair of swim trunks goes for 70 euros, or $87.60.
There will be travel accessories, Birkenstock sandals, hats and sunscreen. “The idea is: OK, I’m going on holiday, but I’m leaving in two days, what do I need?” explained Vérot, who is systematically expanding his own line beyond swimwear with items such as Windbreakers and sweatpants, as well as accessories, including bags and gloves, now accounting for 24 percent and 12 percent of the company’s total sales of 800,000 euros, or $1 million, respectively.
The brand has seen sales spike by 20 percent to 25 percent in the last few seasons, citing the Saint Tropez bag, which unfolds into a towel, among its bestsellers. In the next two years, Vérot’s goal is to achieve 50 percent of the label’s sales via retail, including its own e-shop, up from 24 percent currently.
The designer’s confidence reaches further: From January, the shop will offer a made-to-measure service for swimwear. “As far as I know we will be the first ones to do it,” said Vérot.