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The New Trend-Setters in Paris

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, October 2, 2006

It's amazing how similar retailing is around the world, despite the cultural and product differences. Walking the floors of the key stores in a market will tell the story, no matter which country or city.

A case in point is the home furnishings world found in the major players in Paris — the enclave of Conran's, The Bon Marche, Habitat, and Lafayette Maison, among others. And how this world has changed!

For years, a visit to Conran's — whether in Paris, its home base in London, or elsewhere — was a must, one of the major places to see the latest and best in furniture design and marketing, in housewares, tabletop — with home textiles, often playing a second-fiddle role, but still indicative of trends. It always was a place that elicited a WOW! reaction and an inspiration to be translated wherever one's home base might be.

Today, it is tired, pricey, and shows little of the forward direction that once was its trademark. The Japanese merchandise promotion that launched last month abroad had little of the vaunted Conran's zip and zing in merchandise or finesse in presentation. C'est dommage.

The Bon Marche, formerly a revered dowager of Parisian retailing, has morphed into a glamour girl in both home and apparel, with a complete home furnishings department that is tightly focused but sophisticated. Not only is the home textiles offering at the Bon Marche a trend-right assortment, but the housekeeping is exemplary — something that U.S. retailers might use as an example of how to make the stuff they're selling look great. Case in point: two department people painstakingly folding a Ralph Lauren Home duvet cover to precise dimensions to be placed on a bed — a maneuver that took quite a few minutes. Happen here???

Department-store competitor Galeries Lafayette, which debuted its Lafayette Maison a few years back, has taken a step backwards — dumbing down what had been a showcase of top home textiles brands and outstanding presentations. Tant pis.

And then there is Habitat, a home store chain that long played second fiddle to Conran's. Today, its catalog outpaces the stores in presentation and direction, and it is several steps above its specialty store competitors. The catalog is an idea book as well as a product offering — but here the stores do lag behind the catalog.

While the state of home furnishings at retail in Paris has hit a moderating point, there is a new global inspiration for home furnishings design. The just-opened Quai Branly Museum that focuses on the indigenous arts and crafts of the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Oceania is a treasure trove of design inspiration.

The Branly's look has created buzz among architectural nabobs — but its collection of costumes, textiles and artifacts is destined to be a goldmine of inspiration — beyond ethnic looks to contemporary and classic designs.

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