Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Have What I Have Given

“J’ai ce que j’ai donné”
Jean Giono

The newest "concept" store in Paris is called Merci, and they thank you coming and going.

The idea and execution come from Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, the couple who founded Bonpoint, the French chain of upscale children's shops, one of which Michelle Obama visited with Sasha and Malia on their summer visit to Paris. Mme Cohen's sister was the perfumer Annick Goutal who died too young 10 years ago. When the Cohens sold Bonpoint they decided to do something different to "give back", using their retail background and connections to make a place that both feels good and does good.

This store is gorgeous, wandering over three floors, selling interesting, fun and reasonably priced new and vintage clothing, housewares, furniture, fabrics, books, jewelry, plants, perfume, flowers and art, all donated or supplied at cost by designers and manufacturers in response to the question of how to generate funds to give away without operating as a traditional charity and charity store. These are not leftovers or overruns but things you would buy anywhere and at higher prices.

Because of this structure, the merchandise changes all the time, and the design of the store is constantly in flux. All profits are donated to "the poorest of poor children", specifically those in Madagascar at the present. The Gap has just announced the opening of a Merci Gap to remain open for only a month in New York, beginning today. And I overheard one of the staff telling someone that they were expecting a big shipment from The Gap in the Paris store tomorrow.

This little red car has been parked in the courtyard since the opening last year, changing to fit the seasons. Now the theme is la rentrée, the return to daily life after summer's end. Parisians have taken to this place big time and were lining up at the counter to pay for their purchases, including steeply discounted Annick Goutal perfumes and vintage YSL stilettos.

The Italian porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori is the creator of the installation filling the central space at the moment, stacked on pallets and hanging from the ceiling. He has decorated thousands of pieces specifically for this show and all of them have the Merci name on them somewhere.

The store includes a fabulous florist at one entrance (this cage is made of living branches!)

and a charming café at another, through which you can walk to choose one of the many books on the book shelves running the length of it.

And downstairs is a pretty lunch/tea room where you can look out on a small garden. This is definitely the way to contribute!

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