Paris Has A Makeover For The 21st-Century Shopper
Is it really only two months since Paris’ famous Champs-Élysées got its mojo back? That was after a debilitating period since October 2018 when the populist gilets jaunes or “yellow vests” movement started mass demonstrations and regularly vandalised the most famous of Paris streets.
Now, although no one dares to announce that the street revolution is over, the protective wooden hoardings and metal window grates are quietly disappearing. In their place is a retail upgrade that started with the opening of a new Galeries Lafayette. That move by an established and well-known Paris retailer has now inspired a cluster of other upmarket stores. A few doors down from Tiffany – an early arrival on “the Champs” – Chanel has opened a beauty boutique right beside the entrance to Galeries Lafayette, and both shops stay open late (Galeries Lafayette until 11pm Monday to Saturday; Chanel until 8.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 11pm on Friday and Saturday).
There is a great deal to do to fill these hours. In line with changing attitudes to beauty treatments that let customers “help themselves” – as pioneered by Sephora further up the road – Chanel Beauty mixes an open attitude with ultra-exclusive products. Inside the streamlined boutique you can find lipsticks and sunglasses, but also super-glamorous, unique potions and accessories.
What does the Champs-Élysées stand for today? Visit Galeries Lafayette’s Citron restaurant and it seems both cool and high end: a combination of the young Parisian brand Jacquemus and Caviar Kaspia, a restaurant beloved by wealthy fashionistas.
Then there are examples of blatant tourism with international fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s. Significantly, “McDo” as the French call it, was the fashion choice of subversive brand Vetements, whose founding designer Demna Gvasalia rails against capitalism and corporate logos by appropriating their designs on baseball caps, hoodies and T-shirts. The anti-establishment concept of taking over McDonald’s for a fashion show underscored how fast the populist part of the boulevard is disappearing.
The newest arrival is the most elegant of “ephemeral” stores. While Dior is totally revamping its landmark building on Avenue Montaigne, its historic home has been transplanted to the top of the Champs-Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe. It will be there at least two years and – who knows? – may put down permanent roots.
With a giant replica of the famous and familiar original building at the entrance, the new Dior superstore – not too far from LVMH’s sister shop, Louis Vuitton – is a classy retail addition to the avenue. It stands out among a cluster of mobile-phone shops, while a sleek Apple store has already opened on the Champs.
Since the new millennium, stores have become more personal. Dior puts a focus on customisation – especially for handbags, but also shoes – while the generous space offers an opportunity to display men’s clothes and accessories as generously as womenswear.
“Sisterhood is Global” reads the slogan on a T-shirt, underscoring the bold, feminist spirit of Dior’s Creative Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. It also emphasises a fresh spirit for the Champs-Elysées, which has evolved since Marcel Proust described in “Swann’s Way” the upper class, distinctly Parisian spirit of an area where people would sit under the trees with a madeleine to dip in a cup of tea.
Today, it is an utterly international quarter that offers cappuccino and Diet Coke together with life’s luxuries – a 21st-century vision of shopping for a global clientele.
Yet there are a few historic touches that have been brought back to life, especially the six fountains positioned around the crossroads halfway between the Arc de Triomphe and, at the opposite end, the Place de la Concorde. Waterless for two decades, the fountains have been restored by designer brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. And just in case visitors to Paris haven’t yet grasped the symbolism of the waterfall, Swarovski has added crystal to the luminous fountains for a splash of sparkle on the Champs-Élysées.