Thursday, July 30, 2009

Merci (Paris, France)

merci parisMain entrance in the courtyard.

There aren't a lot of ways to shop guilt-free these days. Items on offer can either be overpriced, badly produced, linked to dubious labor practices or just so trendy, you'll never wear them beyond a season. The answer to all this could be vintage shopping. Or better yet: going to a charity store. Even if whatever you buy ends up at the back of your closet, at least you'll know your money went towards a good cause. The only problem with this (at least in my case), is that charity stores aren't as wide-spread in mainland Europe. I've always admired the UK for having an Oxfam, Salvation Army or Red Cross in every city or town, stocking everything from boots to porcelain cups. France? Forget it... at least until recently.

merci parisEntrance to the flower shop.

Merci is a very unique way of saying 'thank you', at least when it comes to this store which opened its doors in March. Because the French like doing things on a grander scale, Merci isn't just your average tiny little charity shop in a backstreet. It's a luxury concept store, over 1500 (approx. 16 145 sq.ft) large that sells you anything you could possibly need, whether it's a book or a roll of yarn. The founders Marie-France and Bernard Cohen (who also created, then sold the luxury children's wear label Bonpoint) have gotten in touch with designers, artists, musicians, actors, stylists, authors and famous friends who have kindly donated items from their own collections or crafted special pieces to be sold there exclusively.

merci parisCafe/library entrance.

Some pieces are vintage, while others are brand new and either come from current collections or have been designed just for the store. The thing you need to know is that designers who are offering their goods on sale here are foregoing their profits, so all the brand new items will cost you around 30% less than the normal sale price. In turn Merci will donate 100% of their profits from goods sold to a foundation benefiting impoverished children in Madagascar, one of the poorest regions in the world and a cause close to the heart of Madame Cohen, who has traveled there several times. Her goal is to give young children (especially girls) the chance of an education so that they can one day have a career.

merci parisCourtyard decorations included greenery with bird cages (left) and a red Fiat (right).

What's even more amazing is that during the sale season (which thankfully ended yesterday), Merci slashed their prices even further. So in addition to getting already cheaper items for an almost wholesale price, you got another 30-50% off. Regardless of how much the stuff costs though, Merci is worth a visit, just for the store alone. Tucked away in a back yard, you won't immediately detect the main entrance, but instead see two different storefronts: one for the cafe and the other for the flower shop. Between these two, you'll find a gate that leads to an inner courtyard, where Merci has placed the first vintage item: a red Fiat Cinquecento, occasionally loaded with goods but currently only covered in green foliage. I'm pretty sure this item isn't for sale though.

merci parisOverview of the ground floor (left) and skylight (right).

merci parisSmaller home decor items (left) and eco-friendly plates (right).

merci parisRecycled bags and flower pots (left), some interesting mugs (right).

The first time I walked into this converted factory, I was stunned by how bright and airy it was. The biggest source of natural daylight is the big skylight in the main area, while palm trees and other plants give the impression you could be in a greenhouse rather than a retail space. It's also the least cramped place I've ever shopped in and the numerous staff members are probably one of the friendliest you'll come across in this city. The front area of the ground floor sold mainly smaller home decor and other items such as vases, pots, barbecue grills and a large selection of eco-friendly disposable wooden cutlery and plates. I found a few recycled bags and purses, but the biggest draw is probably the section towards the left.

merci parisAnnick Goutal perfume section (top and lower left) and the neon lit room (right).

Cohen, who's late sister happened to be Annick Goutal, managed to get the company to donate several scents which are on offer. Instead of selling them in the usual fancy flasks, they are sold in simple glass bottles, though consumers are urged to bring their own containers which can be filled with their favorite perfume. The benefit is that you'll save 40% off the store price. Another great deal.

merci parisJewelry housed in cabinets and glass domes (top image:

I was also fascinated by the fine jewelry, which was housed in various glass cases, some of them resembling displays of art. There was also an area filled with purple neon light, currently shut off, but I was told this section usually displays clothing.

merci parisThe vintage clothes section.

Heading towards the right side of this floor, you end up in another large room. The first thing I saw was a small collection of vintage pieces under a staircase, mainly formal wear including robes from Dior or YSL, though one rack also held some casual pieces such as vintage Levis or Adidas. Shoes were placed neatly on the ground, with bags and belts displayed on a rack nearby.

merci parisThe designer section.

merci parisSome interesting wall decorations along the stairwell.

The main clothing area is where you'll find the majority of the (new) designer pieces, including Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant, Barbara Bui, Azzaro, Acne, Jerome Dreyfuss and many more who are waiving their profits for a good cause. Some of these are exclusive store-only items, such as the famous YSL safari jackets, which have been reissued in khaki and white. There was also an impressive selection of menswear, and the old-school couches, vintage furniture and other memorabilia made it a fun place to browse.

merci parisMenswear (lower image:

The upper level contained mainly furniture, as well as some stationary, a haberdashery corner and a room for children's wear.

merci parisFurniture on the upper level (left), along with some beautiful art (right).

merci parisFell in love with this two-seater (left) and more furniture (right).

merci parisOverview of the remaining upper level area (left) and stationary + suitcases (right).

merci parisThe haberdashery section (left) with a nice selection of colorful buttons (right).

merci parisThe children's section with a very cute elephant (left). View of the ground floor from above (right).

The first few times I came here, I never realized there was a lower level as well. This is the place to come if you need household and kitchen items, whether it's a broom, a few light bulbs or a salad bowl. Towards the back you'll find the restaurant, with a wonderful view of the back garden.

merci parisLower level kitchenware (left) and cantine (right).

But the most cosy place to sit and have a drink or snack is probably the library on the ground floor, which has been designed to resemble an old-fashioned literary cafe. Entire walls are covered in second-hand books, with prices ranging from 3-10 EUR. Tables and chairs can be found in the main area, surrounded by more books, a perfect place to dive into a novel and enjoy a hot cup of coffee.

merci parisThe library (left) leading into the cafe (right).

And finally, if you suddenly feel the urge to recreate the look of Merci's interiors, but can't redecorate your entire apartment or house just yet, head over to the flower department, where you'll find everything from potted plants to impressive floral arrangements courtesy of the very talented florist.

The area on the left leads right into the flower shop.

Throughout the store, you'll find 'merci' printed on the wall, under which several names or companies are listed, a way for the owners to thank those who have provided the goods on sale. If you haven't noticed by now, this is the ultimate place to do some guilt-free shopping. My friend V. is currently in town for a visit and this is the first place I dragged her to. Some might be suspicious of the fact that a charity store could be so big, clean and design-oriented, but to be honest, it's probably a smart move to get people to shop here in the first place. A small dingy shop, that's cramped full of stuff is less likely to get this much attention or a lot of visitors, so I say: a brilliant idea and merci beaucoup!

Address: 111 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00

Merci Homepage

Monday, July 27, 2009

Comptoir des Cotonniers (Paris, France)

A lot of people I know have this misconception that the typical Parisian woman will strut around in heels and designer gear all day. And while I'm sure you'll find one or two examples if you look hard enough, the French prefer to dress comfortably (unless it happens to be Fashion Week). They also don't exactly make more money than women elsewhere, so it's all about wise investment purchases. Like most, they'll splurge on a few designer items per season, but the rest of their income goes towards well-made basics available in mid-market high street stores. Comptoir des Cotonniers is one of those retail brands that might seem pretty average and boring to those who prefer trend-driven concepts such as Topshop, but the whole idea behind CdC is to offer women timelessly chic basics that still reflect what's currently hip this season, yet in a more subtle way.

Comptoir des Cotonniers looksSS09 looks (images: Comptoir des Cotonniers)

Back in 1995, in a small village called Castelginest, Tony Elicha founded a company with the aim of giving women a contemporary and accessible interpretation of fashion. In 1997 two stores opened (one in Toulouse, another in Paris), followed by several more in the next years and the first non-French store in 2001. These days the brand can be found in over 240 points-of-sale. The emphasis didn't just lie in creating beautiful modern pieces though - CdC was always about giving women of all generations, feminine good-quality clothing. In order to highlight these brand values and create an emotional bond with their female consumers, the company came up with the brilliant idea of featuring real-life non-model mothers and daughters in their ad campaigns.

Comptoir des Cotonniers advertising campaignTwo examples of the current campaign.

This move proved to be highly successful and even though the women featured in the ads are still irritatingly beautiful to some, I'm sure more women can relate to them than they could to a supermodel or A-list celebrity. Twice a year, CdC organizes casting events where women from all across France can apply to become the next mother-daughter pair in an upcoming campaign. With the launch of their first store in the U.S. (in NYC of course), bi-annual castings are now also held in the States.

Comptoir des Cotonniers mother daughterMore mothers and daughters from current campaigns.

Of course all of this is pure marketing, but just the other week, I happened to pass a 10-year-old girl, dressed in a CdC skirt and t-shirt, holding the hand of her mother who was wearing a CdC cardigan. I'm pretty sure this wasn't staged, so the brand must be doing something right. Inspired by this, I decided to visit one of the bigger stores in the heart of Paris. Now when I say 'bigger', I should probably mention that the boutiques tend to be rather small. This is done intentionally in order to retain a familiar atmosphere and keep the retail space cosy. Most stores won't exceed a space of 75 m² (approx. 800 sq.ft.), though they're rarely that big. The store I go to when I get the chance is situated not far from Printemps and usually very well frequented.

Comptoir des Cotonniers parisOverview of the store.

The label makes a point of using natural fabrics when it comes to clothing and they've tried applying the same to the interior of the boutiques, which are dominated by light wooden floors and comfortable couches (for the bored boyfriend/husband) near the changing rooms. To be honest, the store itself isn't terribly exciting. It's a nice place to visit, because of the big windows allowing a fair amount of natural light to enter the retail space, but like most high street stores, the decor is kept to a minimum in order to avoid distraction from the actual merchandise.

Comptoir des Cotonniers parisThe center table displayed smaller items incl. this cute tee.

Of course the clothing is what you need to be looking at anyway. Because of the sales, the store was incredibly busy and most of the items stocked were still from SS09. Even though CdC has a reputation for creating mainly neutral-colored clothing, they did opt for more color this season, such as bright floral dresses with a vintage touch or the tribal-inspired tops and skirts. Many of the t-shirts featured cute prints such as the popular dog ones, and a few embroidered tunics could be found as well. The brand did jump on the 80s bandwagon with items that included harem trousers, batwing-sleeved tops and a small selection of jumpsuits.

Comptoir des Cotonniers parisAnother overview of the store (left) and a comfy couch for bored male partners (mine opted to wait outside though).

But if you really want pieces that will stay in your wardrobe forever, you'll need to seek out the draped tops, fitted skirts accessorized with bows, the perfectly tailored blazers and trench coats, as well as the chunky wool knits and fine cashmere cardigans. Some of the FW09 pieces could be found near the entrance, but I'm guessing more will follow. I spied a beautiful gray leather jacket and a perfect pair of matching flat boots. I really didn't want to spend any money though, so I quickly removed myself from this area and headed up to the first floor.

Comptoir des Cotonniers parisUpper level was even brighter and airier.

This section was surprisingly empty and displayed more sale items, mainly basics kept in black and white. A nearby rack featured a selection of children's wear, but the fact that most shelves were empty indicated that they were probably in the process of restocking this department. I really liked the fact that the middle of the room was made into a seating area (again, I'm guessing for the bored boyfriend/husband) with modern couches, a plush carpet and large white lamps. I was also fascinated by the giant golden baubles hanging from the ceiling. If you looked hard enough, you could tell that an effort was made to keep the store less anonymous than some of the other retail outlets out there. The large sideboard in the center of the store had a centerpiece of fresh white orchids and magazine editorials featuring CdC items were on display.

Comptoir des Cotonniers parisMore comfy seats (left) and the giant baubles (right) hanging above the entrance.

If you're ever in town (any town that is) and are in need of a wardrobe staple, I say give CdC a go. Many of my friends dismissed this place as being boring yet ended up buying more items than I can remember - after I had to drag them in. The collection is available worldwide in both standalone shops and department stores, so have a look - or even better, take your mom/daughter, if you get the chance. And I would also pay extra attention to the accessories. Their shoes and bags are pretty amazing as well and tend to sell out fast.

Comptoir des Cotonniers parisTwo looks from FW09 and current season accessories.

Address: 31 rue Tronchet, 75008 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00

Comptoir des Cotonniers Homepage

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rick Owens Boutique (Paris, France)

rick owens paris
One of the most popular trends these days coming from fashion houses (and subsequently the high street) seems to be the attempt to make clothing and accessories look more 'rock'. For many, the use of studs, leather and distressed denim seems to suffice when it comes to achieving this look, though to be honest, this is more in line with 80s pop than any kind of rock music I've ever been confronted with (Balmain's blinged-up jackets and overly bleached jeans are more Michael Jackson than Mick Jagger). Given the choice of picking a designer, I'm pretty sure any rock musician would rather go with the likes of Ann Demeulemeester or Rick Owens. In fact, the latter even looks like a rock star (a cross between a younger Iggy Pop and a goth version of a long-haired Anthony Kiedis). Not only that, but the typical Rick Owens customer I’ve encountered so far in his boutiques, looks more like he/she belongs in a mosh pit, than in a high-end store.

rick owens runwayrick owens runway menFW09 runway looks (images: Rick Owens)

The store and clothing reflect this vibe. As you can tell from this blog, I do occasionally frequent designer boutiques – mainly because I like seeing clothes in person. But I tire of the glitz and glamour that goes along with them pretty fast. Rick Owens is probably as close as you’ll get to anti-glitz. Hailing from LA, the designer moved to Paris in 2003 and (supposedly) hasn’t been back to the States since. One of the main reasons was to work for the traditional fur-makers Revillon, the other was to start showing his collections at Paris Fashion Week. Anyone familiar with his looks, knows how beautifully crafted and luxurious his dark, romantic and avant-garde pieces are. They hug the body like a second skin, are intricately layered and perfectly tailored. All items are created in a little factory in Concordia (Italy) and usually sell out pretty fast once they hit the stores.

rick owens parisLeft: Overview of the women's section. Right: A mannequin swathed in black.

The first ever flagship is everything you’d expect from the designer and slightly homier than the London and NYC sisters. Situated in the very bourgeois Palais Royal, the location might seem a bit odd, but Owens does like contrast, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The SA's tend to look a little alternative as well and the first person I spotted (a customer) looked like a spitting image of Owens himself, with long black hair, a black kilt and knee-high black boots. Apparently he was searching for a new coat. Heading towards the women’s section, I spied a mannequin wearing something from the FW09 collection and in fact, everything on this level was already from next season's range, though by no means complete.

rick owens shoesA few pairs of shoes and a very interesting piece of decor - yes, that's a real human skull.

Shoes were laid out near a mirrored wall, accompanied by a very chic skull-bowl. Some of the decor is for sale, as Owens creates his own furniture which is made of plywood, resin and bones (most of them human, sourced via the Internet), then covered with supple cashmere, mink, and fox fur left over from his collections. He has admitted that this is an expensive hobby, but something he is completely committed to. Browsing the racks on this floor, I also found a nice selection of his Lilies range (jersey pieces) as well as the DRKSHDW denim line. Sleek cabinets along the front windows contained some interesting accessories such as belts, collars, keychains and wallets.

rick owens accessoriesA selection of the women's range (left) and some accessories (right).

The store was relatively busy - one would think because sales were ongoing, but to be honest, it's always well frequented. I took a short walk up the stairs to see all the sale items laid out on the first floor. No doubt, this was the busiest area of the store, to the point where I ended up having trouble browsing comfortably. For those who need to rest their feet, a long gray couch could be found near one of the windows. The women's wear range still had a great selection of leather jackets, vests and asymmetrical dresses in various sizes, along with the discounted shoes, boots and sandals which were situated a few feet away.

rick owens parisThe upper level with a lot of sale items and (right) a couch covered in clothes.

I was most enamored by the jewelry though, housed in a big glass case. The giant statement necklace, which looked like it was made from a piece of gold-plated bone would probably be a bit too much, but another necklace made of crystal was so stunning I couldn't take my eyes of it (pictures don't really do it justice).

rick owens jewelryTalk about statement jewelry. The necklace on the right was pretty amazing.

I took a quick look at the backroom, which held more items, mainly men's leather jackets and a few fur garments from Revillon which are partially stocked here as well, along with the exclusive 'Palais Royal' leather and fur pieces. Two guys were eagerly trying on leather jackets on the other side of the room, while the Rick Owens lookalike finally seemed to have found his coat which featured a giant Dracula-inspired collar. Two very pierced goth girls were there as well, seemingly shocked at the price of a crystal pendant (1500 EUR on sale) and finally a group of chic American fashionistas entered this area, so you can imagine how busy it got.

rick owens shoesDiscounted shoes towards the back (left) and the stock area with more fur and leather (right).

I escaped by going back down and making my way towards the menswear section. Probably the most eye-catching thing here is the life-sized Rick Owens wax figure. I was told it was sculpted in London by artisans who work for Madame Tussaud's, and made for an event in Florence three years ago. The lower half of the figure was cloaked in a black cloth, but it seems removing it would reveal Owens with his jeans lowered, holding his best bit, peeing at whatever was below. I was wondering if I should ask the SA to remove the cloak, but on second thought... I'm not that desperate and there are certain things better left unseen. Slightly less disturbing than what I saw in the London store though, which featured his decapitated wax head on a pedestal.

rick owens parisThe life-sized Rick Owens. The black cloth covered the most provocative part (right image courtesy of the lovely Hanh of Life in Travel)

I continued to browse this section, which had a few FW items such as the denim kilts and leather vests. However there were still a lot of items missing from the new range (both men's and women's), as I was hoping to catch of glimpse of the ice-blue and silver pieces.

rick owens menswearMenswear section.

If you're a fan of anything Rick Owens, this store or any other retailer that stocks his items is a must. Most images don't really portray the soft fabrics and beautiful craftsmanship of his range very well. The Paris store isn't exactly intimidating and the clientele is probably the most diverse one I've ever come across. And let's face it, you'll hardly find another flagship with so many interesting props - or a life-sized version of the designer himself.

rick owens furnitureSome of Rick Owen's furniture range. Top right: DRKSHDW looks. Lower left: 'Palais Royal' jacket. Lower right: From the Lilies collection.

Address: Jardins du Palais Royal,
130-133 Galerie de Valois, 75001 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon: 10:30-19:00, Tue-Sat: 11:00-19:00

Rick Owens Homepage

Monday, July 20, 2009

Joan Pastor (Barcelona, Spain)

joan pastor
There's just one more store from last month's Barcelona trip I wanted to share. I will start off by saying the clothes aren't really my style, but there are many things about this indie designer (both the looks and the boutique itself) that intrigued me so much, it's still the most memorable shopping experience I had in the city. Imagine this... you're walking around the El Born district one sunny afternoon, one of those hip and cool places that wasn't always trendy but more industrial (like East London or NY's Meatpacking District). And though it's still not exactly picturesque, this area does have cute little streets and nice cafes. The majority of the stores reflect this: they either resemble vintage outlets (even if they aren't) or they have that typical spartan loft interior (exposed brick walls and metal piping) that seems to be so popular these days. The clothes they sell are edgy, modern and usually kept in neutral or dark shades.

joan pastorHow do they get the clothes over those heads...

In the middle of all of this, one boutique caught my attention more than anything else. The window displays featured mannequins with giant heads, resembling some kind of odd Japenese-inspired dolls crossed with Betty Boop and they were wearing the kind of outfits you would expect a doll to wear: frilly, girly and very cute. At first glance I wasn't even entirely sure this store sold clothes. I had never heard of Joan Pastor before. I was fascinated. And because I spied more giant-headed dolls inside, I knew I had to go in.

joan pastorRunway looks from 2006 (images:

I have since found out that Joan Pastor is an Andorran designer and from what I understand, the store in Barcelona is the only boutique he currently has. For a while, he took part in the Gaudi Fashion Week and also participated in Bread & Butter. He started getting tired of the media circus and hype surrounding these fashion events and instead decided to focus on opening his own shop which would feature his designs, none of which are made for a certain season. Instead, you'll find some of his older creations along with new pieces he'll bring out sporadically.

joan pastorAnother giant-headed friend (left) and finally.... some black dresses! (right).

Entering the store, the interior was even girlier than I had imagined. All the walls and the ceiling were covered in black and white floral wallpaper. There was even a doll, who's entire (giant) head was covered in it. The furniture and silk curtains were white. And the clothes... well, I'll get to that in a minute. Just when I thought it couldn't get more feminine in there, the very friendly male SA, who seemed quite excited to have visitors, immediately started darting around the store with a bottle of perfume, spritzing every corner with a flowery scent.

joan pastorLeft: Short halter-neck dresses. Right: Overview of the store.

My first thought upon seeing the clothes was that this would be something Gwen Stefani (or her Harajuku girls) could wear. Which implies (to a certain degree) that the pieces are reminiscent of Galliano's work and of Japanese fashion. What makes Pastor's designs interesting is that they are more experimental than you would first think. There are a lot of floral pieces, but the structure of theses dresses was quite architectural and interestingly tailored. There were a few boudoir and Victorian-inspired pieces with ruffles, but combined with mini-skirts, Peter Pan collars or floaty chiffon capes. There were also a few pink brocade items, such as garters, corsets and tops, but again with a slightly modern edge. Some of the most intricate pieces were the cut-out coats and dresses... a few were kept in white, while I found a whole rack of brightly colored dresses which looked like they were assembled from pieces of fabric resembling big flower petals.

joan pastorLeft: Petal-dresses and part of the giant Martini glass. Right: Brooches.

There were a few accessories as well - mainly jewelry housed in a glass case. And a giant Martini glass was filled with transparent globes that contained hair accessories and brooches. A small selection of menswear was available, most of them in hues of peach or cream. A lot of the clothing might seem a bit over the top, but despite my aversion towards anything too girly or pastel-colored, there were a few pieces even I could have worn, such as a cream-colored silk blouse or the black satin dresses.

joan pastorLeft: Another giant doll with a wallpapered head. Right: My Stylist Kits on the table.

One more cool thing I should mention is the 'My Stylist Kit', which contains an item of clothing that can be adapted, e.g. a cropped top that can be lengthened to cover the hips or a tank top that comes with extra sleeves. Definitely one of the most practical pieces in the collection.

joan pastorLeft: Menswear. Right: Jewelry

I have no idea if Pastor's range will make it to a online store or international retailers soon, but if you're ever in Barcelona, I would drop by just to have a look. Even if you're more likely to wear leather and bleached jeans than anything pink, it's still a fun place to browse and once you take a look at the pieces, you're bound to appreciate the workmanship of some of these incredible pieces.

joan pastorLeft: More runway looks. Right: Bread and Butter looks.

Address: Carrer del Bonaire 4, 08003 Barcelona
Opening Hrs: Mon-Fri: 11:00-14:00, 17:30-20:30