Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Canal Apartment gets some Unplggd love

Yep, our other apartment is getting noticed even after just one month. First gushing praise comes from tech site Unplggd, dedicated to "smarter home with fewer wires", which is slightly strange because we have a whole rat's nest of them behind the TV (that we'll be hiding very shortly).

You can check out the article here. There are details of where we found our inspiration and sourced the design choices as well as the obligatory silly comments from myself. For instance, the reply to their question about how we would describe the style of the place: French 'brocante' meets John Waters at the Willy Wonka factory. Kinda liked that one :-)

Thanks Unplggd! (click the photo to read the article on their site)

There's no escaping Xmas...

...anywhere in the world - more or less - but especially in Paris, chic shopping capital of the world. Our local supermarket had the Xmas chocolates out on display on 24th September, but we've waited a respectful couple of months after that before putting our decorations in place.

I have to admit, I'm not wild about Xmas, and was lacking inspiration for the decorations (and motivation to shell out a fortune for them). In the end, a cheap option was discovered (Ikea!) and I just sort of chucked it all together. No tree this year (remember last year's?), but plenty of red shiny things.

Oh, and whilst shopping for something else entirely, I came across the final touch, and couldn't resist. These little critters will be there to greet you every morning of the holiday season with their sweet, loveable, made-in-China-ness. Cute, or cheesy? Frankly, I don't care. I think they're cool.

Happy holidays to you all!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

L'Éclaireur, rue de Sévigny - poshness, cardboard and attitude in abundance

I don't think I'll ever have enough money to buy anything at l'Éclaireur, and certainly not the desire. This haughty, exclusive emporium has just opened a new branch not far from the Great Apartment on rue de Sevigny, and peacock proud of it they are too. Selling v-e-r-y expensive clothes and - yawn - smelly candles, it's a microcosm of almost everything we detest about Paris posing.

Admittedly, we hadn't planned on going, but came across the store by accident on the way to somewhere way cooler that we'll be telling you about soon.

After being greeted with the quickest-falling smile I've seen in Paris for a while, the hostess was busy showing off the new Microsoft Surface touchscreen. She thought it made her look like something out of Minority Report. We though it made her look like a dick. Another surly/emaciated shop girl very quickly barked at us that photos weren't allowed. So we took them anyway.

It's an interesting space to be sure, but the décor reminded me of the sets from Buck Rogers, or things we made at school with painted egg boxes. The official website boasts that there are 147 screens and two tons of wood contributing to this kinetic, organic, er, eyesore designed by Studio Arne Quinze. We think it looks more like the interior of an oversized treehouse or the chillout room at some crusty rave. And there's more than a faint whiff of indecency coming from a shop that sells overpriced black clothes against a faux-favela backdrop.

The only thing that caught our eye in a good way was the lighting presented in the front window, designed by Hani Rashid and made by Zumtobel. Good to keep in mind for when I win the lottery and buy that minimalist designer château...

Our visit lasted slightly less than a minute, I think. If you have lots of money, like being fawned at and need clothes in safe earth tones, l'Éclaireur is at 40 rue Sévigné, not very far from the Great Apartment. Tell them we say hi! (and make sure they realise it's ironic).

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Uniqlo, Paris. Or how hype can sometimes hide a pleasant surprise.

The area around Opéra has always been a shopping hub because of the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps stores, plus the fact that one of the major RER lines stops there, bringing in hoards of eager shoppers form the suburbs. In recent years though it has been the focus of even more retail expansion. After the Printemps de l'Homme reboot, the huge Citadium fashion/sports megaplex, and Paris' second Apple Store due to open in the area next year, there's a new big player in town: Uniqlo has just opened a huge flagship store there.

I must admit to not knowing much about Uniqlo apart from the fact that it has been called "the Japanese H&M", and frankly that didn't really make me want to learn more. The opening of the store on 1st October 2009 was a roadblock, with between 200 and 300 people queueing up daily over the first seven days to get in (how mad is that?), drawn by the lure of special opening offer and a suave advertising campaign feature French hipsters such as Mathieu Kassovitz (hasn't made a good film since La Haine in 1995), Sébastien Tellier (isn't half as cool as he thinks he is), Emmanuelle Seignier (possibly not loving being married to Roman Polanksi at the moment) and Hafsia Herzi (excellent 23 year-old actress you should look out for).

A month after opening, this have calmed down at Uniqlo. Slightly. Saturday afternoons there must be 'brisk' to say the least. It is, after all their only big store in the whole of mainland Europe. Usually we'd run a mile from this sort of place, but for once we braved the crowds and found the store to be bright, the staff cheery, and the clothes surprisingly good 'n' cheap!

There's a huge jeans section that's a lot less expensive than Levi's and has plenty of choice...

..and even the menswear wasn't half bad (makes a nice change)...

Plus, the store itself - it has to be said - is rather swish...

I managed to find myself a lovely hat to keep me warm this winter. The following photo is a testament to my joy (brace yourselves):

The store may not be right next to the Great Apartment, but it's not that far either. If you're nearby to see the big department stores, perhaps you should pop in and have a look?

Uniqlo is at 17 rue Scribe, just behind Opéra (here) and open every day except Sundays from 10am - 8pm (9pm Thursdays).

Feeling bored?
Let Uniqlo entertain your desktop with some cool silliness here! Or with some cool tilt-shift weather-related usefulness (as seen below) here!

STILL bored? Here's a little film of the latest art installation in the Uniqlo windows by Mona Kim. Similar installations are in place in the London and New York flagship stores until 15th November (via Le Journal des Vitrines).

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

a different sort of Parisian department store

Hype seems to be a very Parisian concept sometimes. Being a sleepier city than - say - London, Parisians like to jump on any sort of 'event', be it real or manufactured, and hype it to the max. The recent hysteria around the new Uniqlo store at Opera is a recent example.

We haven't mentioned Merci before because, well, everyone else seems to have. Created about a year ago by the two founders of Bonpoint (that they have now sold on), the store gives all its profits to charity (hence the name) but is run like a commercial concern and not a charity shop. They also ask top-end fashion brands to create a special item that is only sold at the Merci store, giving the place instant cult status in the city.

But is that enough to make a store special? For me, the most surprising thing about Merci is simply the size and style of it. The main entrance is through a corridor with the store's flower shop on the left and café on the right, giving onto a small interior courtyard that only hints at the space inside...

The front part of the shop wraps round this courtyard (which has a cute red car permanently parked in it), and together with the glass roof make it a very bright and airy space. Space is a rare commodity in compact Paris (the 17m² Great Apartment is the proof!), giving Merci an immediate feeling of luxury.

Of course, with almost all 'luxury' in Paris goes posing and snobbishness (the Great Apartment excepted, of course). The shoppers are very full of themselves indeed, enough to almost put us off visiting the place. The prices are also pretty steep.

However, Merci still has a lot going for itself. There are things here that you will not find in other shops, and few places have a cavernous layout like theirs. For example, if you walk through the first room, you'll enter a very large area with clothing, and more floors above and below with furniture, decorative objects, another café, lighting, crockery and more glass roof to let the light in...

They even have what looks like a herb garden (although you're not allowed to go out there).

They also sell, fabrics, wool, baby clothes, perfume... You want it, they got it.

Merci has a great setting and an interesting concept, but there is a slight scent of something dodgy hanging over the place. The profits go to a charity that the founders have set up themselves (there are no details given about it, except that it helps poor children in Madagascar), and the sight of rich Parisians thinking that they are saving the world by buying overpriced goods is faintly nauseating. Go there during Fashion Week and you'll be mobbed by glum-looking posers. For people-watching it's a bewildering spectacle, but whether it's doing any real good is yet to be seen.

Merci is at 11 boulevard Beaumcharchais, within walking distance of the Great Apartment. They're open every day except Sunday from 10am - 7pm.

P.S. The food at the café is rather good. Can't believe I said that.

Bigger map here