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Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, February 23, 2004

Time for a break from all those "heavier than anyone should have to contemplate" subjects day in and day out.

Time for a rundown on what the folks across the small "big water" are doing vis-a-vis home furnishings.

While on the January European show marathon, I did a tour, albeit during the legendary sale period, to see how some of the French retailers treat their home departments.

Starting with the two major home stores in Paris, both British-based — The Conran Shop and Habitat — the sale atmosphere was countered with each retailer's new catalogs heralding the latest in home designs, from bed and bath to housewares, furniture and rugs.

Unlike circulars here, store catalogs are designed to herald the new, and to be used throughout the full season as decorating guides as well as buying media.

As important, there are clear buying tips for everything from window coverings to furniture.

From a department store perspective, Le Bon Marche, across the street from Conran's on the Left Bank, was far and away the star of the upper monde of retailing — sale time or not. The home textiles floor was neat, current and forward looking, and the store's "Interieurs Inspires" catalog was just that. In home textiles that means Frette, Yves Delorme, and Armani Casa, as well as Sam Laik and Toulemonde Bochart in rugs.

For these three retailers, quality of presentation in their catalogs is as important as the quality of the product in terms of paper, photography and layout.

As for the mainstream department stores — Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps — looking beyond the sale scenario, it was clear that Au Printemps had the lead for now in terms of merchandise and presentation with a separate home and mens' store adjoining the main store. In home, merchandise was shown by designer name with few repeating the names at Le Bon Marche — and mostly allowing cross-over from one product area to another in presentation.

As for Galeries Lafayette, this spring will see the opening of its Lafayette Maison, a superstore dedicated to the home that could well set a new standard for home furnishings in Paris.

And lurking in the wings is the new home business from Spanish-based fast fashion retailer Zara. Its Zara Home has opened more than 20 units since last summer. Paris is certain to be on the soon-to-open list.

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