In 1863 Aristide Boucicaut introduced the world to the concept of the department store with le Bon Marché and changed shopping forever. Nearly 125 years later, Colette Lerfel and her daughter Sarah followed suit, creating the first-ever concept store, an idea that is bound to thrive well into the next century. Paris shopping culture is unique in that it supports unknown brands and artisanal goods even among the most influential shoppers, so the concept-shop concept is booming. Here are some of the top concept shops in Paris, each with its own specialty.
13, rue Saint-Honoré, in the 1st Arrondissement.
The first and still the foremost concept shop in the capital, Colette has three floors of goods, each with its own theme. Upstairs you enter the world of fashion with the best, most cutting-edge designs from across the globe. You’re likely to find an Alaïa dress that you saw in the Vogue coverage of fashion week, or the “it” bag that was last seen sported by some star in Elle. This is the place to come to master the latest look, with everything from bracelets to jackets. The first floor features art books, trendy electronics and Colette limited-edition designs from internationally acclaimed artists, and is often the venue for special events like book signings or flash-mob concerts. Downstairs is the Water Bar.
111, boulevard Beaumarchais, in the 4th Arrondissement.
Another Parisian retail genius, Marie-France Cohen, founded the sumptuously luxurious Bonpoint children’s clothing line and turned it into a considerable empire. With all her success, she wanted to give something back, so she started a foundation and the Merci concept store, with profits going to education in Madagascar, where much of French fashion is made. Because this is a nonprofit, stars like Isabel Marant and her husband, Jérôme Dreyfuss, are proud to design limited-edition pieces for the boutique. You’ll find everything here: hand soaps, kitchen utensils, bed linens, underwear, art supplies and fashion—all of it beautifully designed, luxuriously crafted and in support of a good cause. There is also a used bookshop and restaurant offering delicious yet healthy fare. Oh, and a Mini in the entryway!
Several locations throughout Paris; see below for link to website.
Far more common, yet fun and original, this chain of stores offers affordable gift items and home decor solutions for the young and the trendy. You’ll find some of the latest fashion trends, like Kilim boots and T-shirts from Eleven Paris, next to storage bags with clever French titles and the irresistibly tempting macaron key chains from Ladurée. The shop also carries an entire collection of melamine kiddie plates with lessons on good table manners. This is a great address for Parisian souvenirs that are easy to pack and items that are hard to find at home, often with a touch that is oh so français!
4, rue du Bouloi, in the 1st Arrondissement.
For the foodie and/or science geek in your life, Le Laboratoire was created by Harvard professor David Edwards, who hopes to create a “revolution in the way we package, consume and enjoy foods of all sorts.” Sound weird? It kind of is. But it’s also really cool. Its latest invention is the WikiPearl, an ice cream you can hold in the palm of your hand, soon available at Le Laboratoire’s WikiBar. Until then, there is a plentiful selection: products like the Air Future, calorie-free whiffs of chocolate, raspberry and green apple, or Le Whaf, a drinkable cloud that is absolutely heavenly!
Un Dimanche à Paris
4-6-8, Cour du Commerce Saint-André, in the 6th Arrondissement.
Four years ago Pierre Cluizel left his family’s third-generation chocolate business to open the world’s first chocolate concept store, Un Dimanche à Paris, located off the quaintly picturesque Cour du Commerce Saint-André. You enter through the chocolate shop and are immediately swept back in time with its display cases of pastries and truffles and other bits of deliciousness. The walls are lined with chocolate mills and chocolate-enrobed spices and chocolate bars. You pass the open kitchen where you can watch the pastry chefs at work before stepping into the modern dining room, where every dish comprises some element of cacao, even the cocktails. And as you enjoy the moment, you may want to appreciate the stone wall, which is a bit of the tower from the original city walls, making this place a national treasure for more than just its chocolate.