Coups de Coeur

Coups de Coeur

Always wary of anything billed as the hippest new spot in town, I approached the ultra-hyped haut concept store Merci with the utmost caution. Launched by Bernard and Marie-France Cohen, who, as founders of the luxury children’s clothing line Bonpoint are more or less fashion royalty, Merci opened to an avalanche of press coverage when it was announced that part of the shop’s profits would be donated to charity.

A great idea, but does the store live up to the buzz? Indeed it does. The vast three-story former factory—16,000 square feet of industrial space flooded with natural light from overhead verrières—starts out with a strikingly theatrical decor. Vintage frocks spill enticingly out of antique wardrobes, contemporary designer tableware is displayed in retro kitchen dressers and the second-floor central stage set of flower-strewn bed and stuffed wild boar would not look out of place in a contemporary art gallery. The Used Book Café, a cozy library space with Oriental rugs, crystal chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves offers thousands of tomes, including an impressive selection of English literature and history.
The women’s fashion area boasts an agreeable mix of vintage designer hand-me-downs and cutting-edge looks from Marnie, Isabel Marant, YSL and Stella McCartney, while the men’s selection juxtaposes Paul Smith suits and Comme des Garçons shirts with Paul & Joe accessories and a trunkful of authentic Panama hats. The children’s fashion corner is equally branché with a small, exclusive selection of printed tee shirts by both Zef and Milk on the Rocks, miniature Dr. Martens boots and adorable Bonpoint outfits—all at lower prices than usual.

Recessionistas make a beeline for cut-price Annick Goutal fragrances and the old-fashioned dry goods corner to snap up balls of yarn and fabrics by the yard, but I tore myself away to browse the basement cavern of hardware and home gear, including 1930s-style Bakelite light fittings, Opinel knives and colorful melamine picnic sets. When I finally left, my purchases stashed in a recycled-paper bag, I said my own silent merci to the Cohens, not just for helping deprived children in India and Madagascar, but also for bringing such a drab stretch of Paris back to life again. 111 blvd Beaumarchais, 3rd, Métro: Saint Sébastien Froissard.

Cool Cocotte

Rue Paul Bert, a small, unprepossessing street on the border of the 11th and 12th arrondissements, is a one-block stretch of gourmet heaven, boasting three superb restaurants (Le Temps au Temps at no. 13, Bistrot Paul Bert at no. 18, L’Ecailler du Bistrot at no. 22), a specialist wine seller (Crus et Découvertes at no. 7), and La Cocotte, which bills itself as a “librairie du goût”. This cozy little boutique and tea salon is not simply a gourmet bookstore, but a hub of creative activity allowing the cooperative of female friends who run it to express their passion for all things culinary and design. Andrea Wainer, a former art director, has an eye for the aesthetic, freely admitting that many of the international cookbooks on her shelves were chosen for their beautiful covers alone. A spirit of joyous anarchy reigns here, with weighty tomes by starred chefs stacked alongside herb encyclopedias, Japanese mangas and Calamity Jane’s Letters to Her Daughter. Andrea and friends also design their own range of kitchen towels and aprons featuring Toile de Jouy farmyard scenes emblazoned with their signature hen. Customers are encouraged to linger over tea and homemade Argentine coquetines (dulce de leche cookies) or sign up for fun-in-the-kitchen cooking lessons. 5 rue Paul Bert, 11th, Métro: Faidherbe-Chaligny.

20th Anniversary

Serge Bensimon’s grandfather began importing second-hand clothes from the US to France after World War II, and in the 1980s Serge and his brother Yves followed in the family footsteps, customizing military uniforms and work overalls for their Bensimon Surplus label. Then one day Serge decided to dye a surplus stock of old white sneakers and the iconic tennis Bensimon was born. The cult canvas shoes have sold millions of pairs over the years to fans including Jane Birkin and Liv Tyler. In 1989, Bensimon opened HOME Autour du Monde in the Marais district long before the street became the main shopping artery it is today. The innovative store brings together lamps, furniture, textile collections and interior accessories by designers from around the globe. Bensimon was one of the first to work with the US Amish community, turning farm wood into furniture, and the store’s ecological outlook continues today with recycled metal poufs and Swedish-inspired furniture made in the Basque country. Bensimon also taps into what he calls the “Métropolurbaine” trend, offering cushions emblazoned with urban landscapes and house linens inscribed with witty graphics. If you’re looking for a sculptural Le Klint hanging lamp, a porcelain ramekin by Paola Navone or a Wishbone chair by Danish designer Hans Wegner, you’ll find it here. 8 rue des Francs-Bourgeois, 3th, Metro: Saint Paul.

News in Brief

Floral prints are all the rage for summer, so rush to Cacharel’s temporary pop-up store (21 rue d’Uzès, 2nd)—only another couple of months are left to snap up dresses, skirts and colorful shirts for men, women and children in classic 1970s Liberty prints, reissued in honor of Cacherel’s 50th anniversary. Shoe designer extraordinaire Pierre Hardy has opened a new Left Bank boutique (9–11 place du Palais Bourbon, 7th) with an art-gallery-style decor similar to that of his Right Bank Palais Royal store (156 galerie de Valois, 1st), where fabulous heeled creations for women and ultra-branché sneakers for men are displayed in a long dark neon-lit passageway. Women of all ages have been squeezing themselves into 12-ans tee shirts from Petit Bateau for decades. So we can breathe a collective sigh of relief that the famous childrenswear label has finally opened its first store for grownups (9 rue du 29 Juillet, 1st), with classic sailor-stripe tops for men and a surprisingly sexy collection of cotton lingerie for women.

See our complete Paris shopping guide

Originally published in the May 2009 issue of France Today.

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