While London’s retailers greet the new season with a wave of discounting, in Paris the value message is much more muted.
The advent of the autumn/winter season at the start of this month was greeted in Paris, as in London, by sustained sunshine. Unlike the UK capital however, there has been rather more sunshine than rain generally in Paris this year and so, to an extent this was a continuation of what had gone before.
That said, on both sides of the Channel, retailers have a perennial habit of hoping against hope that they will shift outerwear in September, which has to be the triumph of hope over every kind of experience. At the beginning of this month therefore, Parisian shops were filled with mannequins wearing fleeces and heavy wool coats and there were even a few reindeer cut-outs in windows, presumably to get people in the mood.
The bulk of those promenading the boulevards were, of course, clad in shorts and T-shirts with not an outer garment in sight. Unlike the UK, however, the new season was not another opportunity to offer shoppers yet more promotions and most of what was on view was at full price.
Perhaps UK retailers might take note – there is more to an appealing store than windows that shout that things which were one price are now at a lower price…
Printemps, Boulevard Hausmann
Department store Printemps has devoted its windows to Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, in which white dots on a red background (and vice versa) are mirrored by featureless bob-haircut figures clad in dresses of the same design.
Nonetheless, if you want to see something dramatic, this is one of the most arresting series of windows in the city and is quite unlike anything that has been done before. Except that in London (and one suspects in other major Louis Vuitton outposts) Selfridges has devoted its windows to an almost identical version of what’s been done here.
Given that both department stores are flagships and emblematic of the cities in which they are located, this is a little disappointing – particularly in view of the frequent traffic between the two.
There are certain to be plenty of shoppers who will notice the similarities.
In spite of it being a very small chain, ballet flats and shoe retailer Repetto manages to make this branch feel as if it is a one-off (although there is an identical scheme less than a mile away on the Rive Gauche). Think autumn and thoughts might turn to dark woods, long nights and wolves – well, maybe. And picking up on this Brothers Grimm theme, Repetto has created a ‘chaperon rouge’, aka Little Red Riding Hood, window in which the hapless victim is leered at by a pretty hungry-looking cartoon wolf.
The crude nature of the 2D monochrome wolf contrasts with the 3D legless and headless bright red caped figure. What this actually has to do with shoes or selling them is probably anybody’s guess, yet it does serve to draw onlookers’ eyes towards this window rather than any of its neighbours.
C&A, Rue de Rivoli
Long gone from these shores, but very much up and running across mainland Europe, the windows fronting the C&A branch on the Rue de Rivoli have a stripped down, back-to-basics feel about them. This is a marked change from the sometimes over-fussy schemes that have characterised this retailer’s displays.
For this season, it’s a matter of white, boxed-in windows with a monochrome mood photo as the backing, contrasting with the coloured autumnal stock that takes muted tones and then uses a single highlight colour. This is hardly original, but it works and was actually considerably better than many of the other mainstream players along this strip in central Paris where mid-market retail comes out to play. And, like Gap, this will have been rolled out to stores from Madrid to Moscow.
Merci, Boulevard Beaumarchais
The design crowd’s homewares fix rarely fails to deliver in terms of visual merchandising and Merci’s current display in the atrium, just inside the main entrance, is no exception. Dozens of coloured headphones have been suspended from the ceiling. It is linked with other display elements dotted around the store, including a mannequin sitting in a suspended bubble chair and a row of the headphones against a white wall.
In fairness, while this looks interesting, it is not as original as might be supposed.
A fashion retailer in Berlin’s modish Mitte district was doing exactly this at the beginning of 2011.
Baby Gap, Rue de Rivoli
US retailer Baby Gap is one of the exceptions that proves the non-discounting rule in Paris at present. This window advertises the fact there is 30% off all jeans for very young children. It does so with a display that will doubtless have been created for use across the continent and which, owing to a simple backdrop and the use of balloons, will have been simple to install and roll out across the estate.
The clothing on each of the small figures dangling from the inflatables is certainly autumnal, but greeting the new season with a money-off promotion shows that in spite of 2012 so far having been more benign for the San Francisco-headquartered retailer than the previous year, margins remain under pressure.
Simplicity does have its appeal and, as a means of showing off brightly coloured garments, this is an effective vehicle. It is also worth noting that the 30% off denim promotion extends to the adult Gap, in a connected shop just around the corner – at least no discrimination is made on the grounds of age.
When was the last time you noticed a store window in London that features a slogan across the glassline in French? There may be instances, but they are infrequent. Yet in spite of the well-documented Gallic aversion to creeping Anglo infringement on spoken French, there are plenty of windows in Paris right now that use English to promote a message.
Nowhere is this more obviously the case than in Benetton, where shoppers are invited to inspect ‘the new Fall collection’ – which does sound like US rather than UK English and is odd coming from an Italian brand.
And perhaps to add insult to injury, the background to this window features Big Ben, bathed in autumn sunshine. Objectively, this window is not a crowd-puller, but it does at least send a clearly unambiguous new season message.
Habitat, off Rue de Rivoli
Habitat has not gone the way of C&A in the UK – its presence in France is now much stronger than the three stores that remain in this country. In common with the UK organisation however, reductions do seem to be the order of the day, with alternating windows in this long frontage showing full price and then reduced stock.
Unlike other retailers on the Rue de Rivoli, Habitat makes strong play of message rather than merchandise to grab the gaze of passing shoppers, with large coloured pointers stating “Ça, c’est un bureau” (this is an office) and “Ça, c’est un reduction” (no translation needed). This is straightforward value-led stuff and was one of the most overtly promotional windows in the whole of the city on the midweek day of visiting. It captured attention, however, mainly because others were not overtly discounting.