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

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