By Lily Hodges on April 4, 2009
PARIS (Herald de Paris) - An exciting new store in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement has had everyone buzzing lately. The creation of Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, Merci opened its doors in March and has since satisfied those looking for a fresh place to shop. “We get a mixture of all ages here, people who are very fashionable and cultiv√©,” said the Marie-France who sat me down for a cup of Earl Grey to talk about the new store.
Filling up a huge, converted, 1500 square-meter (roughly 16,000 square feet) showroom, Merci incorporates everything Marie-France loves: d√©cor, fashion, flowers and children, among others. With its open spaces and lofty atmosphere, the store feels as though it’s been imported straight out of (New York’s) SoHo, with a French twist. Comprised of three floors, and selling a mix of fashion and home decor; a flower shop, with moss covered ground; a cozy caf√©, with an eclectic grouping of benches and chairs; and a restaurant with, as Marie-France simply described, “healthy” food, Merci is an aesthetic delight. But this is to be expected from a couple that made Bonpoint a first-class line of children’s clothing.
“I’m so concerned with style. It has to be simple,” Marie-France explained. Few would disagree. Merci is a great example, where everything is displayed elegantly without crowding the space. “Every square meter has to be fabuleaux,” explains Marie-France, who worked with Muriel Bardinet, Adrienne Dubessay, and her architect Valerie Mazerat and more to design the new store. Whether it’s the glass cups of colored beads and buttons in the yarn and fabric section, or the pictures used as wallpaper to decorate a corner of the landing, their attention to detail shows. Yet, however fabuleaux Merci already is, Marie-France is always looking to improve. Halfway through our conversation she stopped to make a face, and wagging her finger said, “Ah, I don’t like this tea.” Then she smiled. “Its so hard to get everything perfect.”
The caf√© alone is a marvel. The walls are lined with second hand books in several languages, which are for sale to a hip crowd sipping coffee, or to those just passing though. It’s the extra touches like these book-lined walls in the caf√©, and the different pieces of art decorating the store – including a teeny, vintage, red Fiat Cinquecento at the entrance, overflowing with funky objects like a modern sculpture, that give Merci its unique charm.¬† The Cinquecento installation, created by the London-based photographer and style director Tim Walker, sits at the entrance like living, three-dimensional photo advertisement – improbable, yet there it is.
But perhaps what is most interesting about Merci is that it is more dynamic than just an innovated concept store. After selling Bonpoint, the Cohens felt the need to use their talent and connections to do more than just succeed. They are using all profits from Merci, after breaking even, to operate a co-op for young women, in Madagascar. While with Bonpoint, the Cohens traveled to Madagascar once a year and Marie-France was intrigued by the weavings the young women and children made there. Her aim is to build a workshop “to give them style and patterns, materials and colors, to help them make items to sell in the markets and then maybe internationally.”
At Merci, there is select merchandise, identified by a special tag, which the Cohens arranged to have sold to Merci at manufacturer’s costs, allowing the Cohens to sell at more affordable prices, while still earning a profit to send to Madagascar. And with clothing lines like YSL, Stella McCartney, and Bonpoint, and home furniture created especially for Merci, it’s hard to resist. There is even a perfume bar by Annick Goutal, Marie-France’s late sister, that sells scents through Merci in label-free bottles.
In this way, Merci is a win-win for the Cohens, who are able to offer their customers stylish items for less, and give young people in Madagascar an opportunity to develop their talents. The hope is that with future success, they can provide even more to their projects in Madagascar. Unfortunately, Marie-France explained to me that the French government currently has strict regulations concerning how much a company can give to charity. Then she looked at me and winked, “but we’ll work on that.”
The store is located at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais in the 11th arrondissement, right near the Marais. M√©tro: Saint-Sebastian Froissart, Line 8. (+33) 01 42 77 78 92.
(Photos by Lily Hodges, all rights reserved)