Yes, I admit, I am biased! One half of me does hail from this part of the world and many of my earliest memories [e.g., my grandmother's apartment building, les Jardins du Luxembourg, la rue du Cherche-Midi, le Bon Marche...] are filled with sights, sounds, smells, visions and touches of absolute delight and amazement that to this day inspire me.
Nonetheless, as you read this, imagine translating some of this to your retail environment. Wouldn't that be a feast for the senses?
I was recently on vacation in Paris and before I left Christine [a.k.a. CB] asked me to be on the lookout for interesting retail experiences...
Now, I have loved the shops along the Rue de Rivoli since my first trip to Paris at the age of sixteen, but I was adamant… This was not a shopping trip! This trip was about atmosphere and flea markets… about croissants in the morning and chevre, a baguette and a nice Chardonnay for lunch… It was about watching the sunset from a park bench in the Tuileries.
Retail shopping? Not me! I was in search of the je ne sais quoi that is Paris! That is until I heard about the new ‘dime store’ brand of Chanel makeup available at Galeries Lafayette!
So away I went to Boulevard Haussmann where the 10-story flagship store for Galeries Lafayette is located. From furs to fromage – from champagne to Chanel – it is all at Galeries Lafayette!
The fragrance and make-up department is certainly a site to behold under the 19th century neo-Byzantine dome. And the new Chanel line, Bourjois, was all I expected and more… even with the ridiculous exchange rate that week!
Christine had suggested Lafayette Gourmet as a possible place for lunch and -as luck and good planning would have it- once I had played in the makeup and then purchased as much Bourjois as I thought I could pay for when good sense returned and my American Express bill arrived, it was indeed time for lunch!
It had been several years since I had been in the department store so Lafayette Gourmet was new to me. Having lived in London for many years, I wondered how any continental food hall could possibly compare to the food halls of Harrods...
And, as I exited the elevator in Lafayette Gourmet I instantly understood that I was in a place unique in all the world of food shopping. This was not a place to buy groceries. This was a place to shop for a gastronomic experience. This was a place that said choosing was as important as preparing and eating the food.
I learned from Mireille Guiliano’s book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure, that a French woman is very particular about the way in which she chooses and prepares her food in much the same way she is particular about the way in which she chooses her fashion. Lafayette Gourmet seemed to reinforce that principle at every turn.
Dare I say it about the Parisiennes? In Lafayette Gourmet my sense was that choosing food might just rank on a par with choosing fashion. In fact, as I thought later about this retail experience it dawned on me that in Lafayette Gourmet food is fashion!
It was apparent in the way the food was presented - can you imagine Rice Krispies merchandised in such a way they appear to be a special offering? The packaging on everything from cookies to tea bags was fashionable, many with ribbons and bows – easily done when items are sold in reasonable quantity rather than bulk quantities to feed American appetites! Displays of featured items were beautifully arranged and lighted for the best effect – I observed a woman considering an artistic display of spices in much the same way I had seen someone regarding a lovely display in Hermes the day before. As in fashion, it was apparent that color and texture were strongly considered in merchandising the food items. Even in the seafood section red snapper and pink shrimp were arranged together.
The store was laid out to propel the consumer through a fashionable and intimate food experience. The aisles were wide enough for a consumer to stroll with her small gold-toned buggy, carefully choosing each item for the food experience she wished to create. The sections were well marked with delicately lettered signage that said, ‘here is something you’ll want to see and taste,’ the floors immaculately clean and shiny. Shelf stocking was done so discreetly I hardly noticed until a stock person politely excused himself to hand carry the boxes he had just emptied away from the aisle I was in.
The Lafayette Gourmet retail experience was just that…..an experience – a memory of the flair for fashion that epitomizes Paris for me.
And by the way, Christine, lunch was wonderful!
Thank you, Marianne, for bringing to life through your words and images this sensory feast from Paris !
It's amazingly powerful to witness the magic that special loving touches can bring to a category. Particularly when those touches truly appeal to the senses. If Rice Krispies [which my French Grandmother referred to as 'Krispies'] can be made to appear special, then imagine what might be done to make carpet or flooring look as enticing to the consumer as she wishes the end result in her home to look? Magnifique, non?
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